Friday, February 26, 2010

Quickie: Large Broom Still Needed at the State Dept

Patricia H. Kushlis of WhirledView has a follow up on her Large Broom post (see “ System in Need A of a Large Broom”) from a couple months back:  Large Broom Still Needed. Quick excerpt below:

[M]y “Large Broom” post has been widely read not only in the confines of the State Department (by several thousand people) but also on Capitol Hill and throughout the larger foreign affairs community. Nothing I wrote has been challenged. Au contraire. In reality, what I wrote at the time could be the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg, just as were the complaints raised at State’s most recent Town Hall with the Secretary.
As I’ve said earlier and I will say so again, the State Department has long had the reputation for having highly competent officers, but a very weak administrative structure. The system has traditionally rewarded a small number of senior level Foreign Service Officers who essentially clawed their way up through a very competitive, secretive, convoluted system and an overly hierarchical structure. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 made it worse. After the Cold War’s end, the Act was used throughout the 1990s to shrink the Department wholesale, forcing out too many hard language trained officers just at the peak of their careers.

To compensate for the personnel losses that never should have happened, private contractors recruit from the very pool of skilled but forced-out retirees to -- guess what -- staff Foreign Service positions in the Department. I know any number of highly experienced retirees who have either worked in State for a contractor or been brought back directly as temporary employees year upon year. There’s one thing about bringing back a temporary worker with the expert skills to ease a temporary shortage. But year after year?

This is not only bad management, but lends itself to the sort of abuse we see now by senior career officials in HR and elsewhere, who have brought back cronies who were senior administrative officials in days gone by and who are now ensconced in positions of influence. Positions of influence where -- because of special dispensations available only to the privileged few -- they are receiving not only their full pensions but good salaries as well.

But there are other serious State Department Human resources problems that need fixing. Here are two: 1) an all too pervasive attitude from the top down that the employee is always wrong; and 2) the lack of a functioning system of personnel oversight.

Read the whole thing here.

Patricia has written previous about management issues in Foggy Bottom; see her other posts below:     

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