Friday, July 15, 2011

Near Eastern Affairs Bureau in Action Gets High Marks: Outstanding Job, High Morale Amidst Intense Workload and Regional Chaos

Jeffrey Feltman heads the Burea of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). He is supported by PDAS Ambassador Ronald Schlicher, six deputy assistant secretaries, and 10 office directors.  Domestically, NEA has 321 employees. Overseas, 1,346 U.S. direct-hire and 7,007 locally employed staff work in 17 U.S. missions in the region. The total FY 2010 budget resources (domestic and overseas) for NEA were $1.2 billion (excluding salaries for direct-hire Americans). The bureau covers all the hotspots in the news lately and more: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman meets with
Iraqi Prime Minister Noori Al Maliki in Iraq on August 14, 2010.
Photo from
State OIG recently posted its review of the bureau. Excerpts below:

The crises in the Middle East gave inspectors an opportunity to see the NEA leaders in action in a time of enormous change and significance to the United States. Their extensive regional expertise, collegiality, and esprit de corps set the tone for all levels of the bureau. Employees knew their front office team was working as intensely as they were and that each person’s work counted. This knowledge contributed to generally high morale, although the intense workload and lack of progress on some issues influenced it negatively. Most importantly, the outstanding and timely products of their efforts, including policy recommendations for the Secretary and President, underscored the reputation of the bureau as one of the finest in the Department.

Some Key Findings:
  • The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) does an outstanding job pursuing U.S. interests in the region under particularly challenging circumstances. The Assistant Secretary has built a strong front office team dedicated to its mission and to sharing the often overwhelming workload with its employees.

  • This inspection took place during a period of change in the Middle East unprecedented in its intensity and impact, region-wide. NEA managed crises in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and elsewhere, while dealing compassionately with evacuated families. At the same time, the bureau was able to maintain its focus on its important work on Iran, Middle East peace, and the transition in Iraq.

  • Morale among employees is generally high, due to pride in working on critical issues and recognition from the front office. Morale is good despite an often inadequate working environment, and competition is keen for many NEA positions, domestically and overseas.

  • Interagency interlocutors praised the bureau for its leadership, inclusiveness, mastery of policy issues, and operational effectiveness.

  • The transition from a military- to a civilian-led presence in Iraq poses challenges for the Department of State (Department); it must ramp up its presence there quickly and securely, even with resource questions affecting its mission not yet decided. Department planning and coordination have been thorough with the Department of Defense (DOD) and other agencies dedicated to the transition. The appointment of an Iraq Transition Coordinator for the Department is a welcome addition, as the date for completing the transition approaches.

  • Staff in the Iraq office is not used effectively, and NEA needs to reorganize the staffing pattern.

  • A separate team in the executive office focuses solely on planning for the upcoming military-to-civilian transition in Iraq. Team members are proud of what they have accomplished so far. However, communication and coordination issues with the NEA Iraq policy office, as well as the unclear budget picture and occasionally confusing strategic guidance, are hurting the planning process.
According to the inspectors, the NEA bureau was also required to staff two 24/7 task forces and a number of “shadow task forces” through mid-March, in large part to make sure that the evacuations of the U.S. citizens from Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen proceeded smoothly, and to manage the effects of additional Wikileaks disclosures of purported embassy cables.

Related item:

Inspection of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Report Number ISP-I-11-49A, May 2011


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