More jobs in foreign service advised

federal workers

November 09, 2007|By Melissa Harris

The entire U.S. diplomatic corps is about 119 times smaller than the active-duty military and could comfortably fit inside Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena, leaving a few thousand seats open.

America's capacity for "soft power" -- winning friends through diplomacy and without coercion -- is small compared to its capacity to wage war.

A series of reports this year -- some released, others expected this month -- are calling on Congress to increase the size of the 11,500-member foreign service to fight ideas, rather than states or terrorist groups.

A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies released this week called for a 1,000-person increase in the foreign service. A report from the center last month, "Embassy of the Future," outlined the State Department's self-assessed staffing deficit of 2,094 foreign service officers.

"America should have higher ambitions than being popular, but foreign opinion matters to U.S. decision-making," wrote Richard L. Armitage and Joseph S. Nye Jr., authors of the center's "Smart Power" report. "A good reputation fosters good will and brings acceptance for unpopular ventures."

The need for growth appears to have reached its most critical point since the Vietnam War. The State Department is expected to order as many as 50 diplomats to Baghdad. Those who refuse risk being fired.

"The whole issue of staffing in Iraq, it relates in part to the lack of bench strength," said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats' union."

The State Department has struggled to meet President Bush's needs for the troop increase and new counterinsurgency strategies that require nation-building as well as combat skills.

For instance, when the State Department could not fill its spots on Provincial Reconstruction teams, which rebuild regions and provide aid, the military had to fill those roles temporarily.

"If there are going to be further reconstruction efforts, such as what we're doing in Iraq, the civilian component is absolutely going to need to be strengthened," Naland said. "The military has 1.2 million people and 500-person planning staffs. When Iraq happens, they assume there are 10,000 civilian reconstruction specialists sitting around, and there are not."

Bush has called for 254 more foreign service positions in the current fiscal year budget, which was supposed to go into effect Oct. 1 but has not cleared Congress. Naland said Congress is considering fewer positions than what the president requested.

Diplomacy and humanitarian aid are "neglected in part because of the difficulty in demonstrating their short-term impact on critical challenges," Armitage and Nye wrote. But an extra dollar spent on the military "will not necessarily bring an extra dollar's worth of security."

Mailbag

Ronald G. Bernoski, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, was among those who responded to last week's column on the government's new roster of more than 600 administrative law judge candidates.

The Social Security Administration "indicated it had funding to hire 150 new administrative law judges and 92 support staff members to begin clearing the backlog of disability cases," Bernoski wrote. "This is an unjustifiable management decision.

"Each judge needs four to five staff members to prepare cases for the judge to review and to draft the judge's decisions. The 1,150 judges in SSA are already severely short of staff members. In many offices judges are unable to get enough prepared cases to fill their schedules.

"To hire 150 judges and only 92 staff members is a hollow gesture and another example of poor management decisions at the Social Security Administration."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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