State Department Faces Personnel Woes Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and budget cutbacks have taken a serious toll on the U.S. Department of State. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has gone before Congress to request an increase in funding for hiring more personnel.
NPR logo

State Department Faces Personnel Woes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
State Department Faces Personnel Woes

State Department Faces Personnel Woes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

American diplomats have delicate and dangerous jobs. The U.S. embassy in Belgrade was attacked this past week, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered all but essential staff out of Serbia. This move comes at a difficult time for the State Department as it undergoes its own transformation.

In this part of the program, we're going to examine some of the difficulties faced by the department. Last November Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech at Kansas State University. When he spoke of past conflicts as well as new threats and challenges to the United States, he made a surprising move. The defense secretary made the case for the State Department to get more money.

(Soundbite of archive recording)

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): What is clear to me is that there's a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security, diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development.

HANSEN: The State Department's resources have been drained to help other countries rebuild and recover. It's been stretched thin by ongoing wars and U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget has been slashed and morale is plummeting.

John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, knows firsthand about these difficulties. He's a career foreign service officer and has served in several Latin American countries and as a U.S. consul general in Mexico. He came in to talk about a recent article in Foreign Service Journal that said the State Department was short somewhere between 2,000 and 3,500 people.

Mr. JOHN NALAND (President, American Foreign Service Association): Those are the State Department's numbers. And the context is that in the Foreign Service today, there are about 11,500 people. So when you're short 2,000, that's dramatic. That's 20 percent.

HANSEN: What has that meant for the department?

Mr. NALAND: Well, we don't have the people, the positions, to let everyone get the training they need. The Foreign Service Institute has negotiating courses, and about 15 percent of the Foreign Service has taken them. Now, imagine if 15 percent of the United States Marines learned how to shoot an M-16. It's just - it's ludicrous.

And so, you know, you hire smart people but just can't point them in the right direction and hope things turn out. They need negotiating training, they need leadership management training. They need advanced area studies. We need to have a fully trained foreign service.

HANSEN: Given that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked the Congress for something like a budget increase of 8.5 percent and some 1,100 - rounding - new staff members, should she have asked for more?

Mr. NALAND: Well, sure. I represent the employees and I say sure. But the truth is Secretary Rice has asked for smaller numbers in the last three years and they haven't been granted. So I'd say amen to the 1,100 positions and I just hope Congress pays some attention here.

You know, Secretary Rice is a great football fan, so I would say this is her fourth down and long play. I mean, this is her fourth year and last year, her last budget request, her last play and she's throwing kind of the ball down there, and Congress needs to catch it.

Whoever the next president is, Republican, Democrat, male, female, Independent, whatever, that president is going to want a strong, capable diplomacy to go along with our strong, capable military.

HANSEN: That was John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association.

As we just heard, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has asked for funding to boost the number of Foreign Service officers. Secretary Rice also hopes to establish a civilian reserve core to get the right type of people out in the field in post-conflict situations.

Our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has prepared a story for us on this.

Michele, how has Secretary Rice tried to persuade Congress?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, she's often talked about staffing problems that she's had. And some of these 1,100 new jobs, some of them would be this civilian response core. And the reason why she says she needs that is because, you know, when you go to Afghanistan and Iraq, the foreign service just doesn't have the type of people you need out in the field when you need an agricultural specialist or someone, a policeman or something like this.

So that's what she's been talking up on the Hill. And, you know, as she's made the rounds for this budget request, she's also had to acknowledge mistakes that the administration has made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): The way we did it in Afghanistan, I will label adopt-a-ministry. So one country took this ministry and another country took that ministry, and frankly we're still paying for the incoherence of that effort. Then we got to Iraq and it was given to the Defense Department. But they would be the first to say that they weren't capable of mobilizing the full range of civilian capability for reconstruction.

KELEMEN: She says things are getting better now but that's not the impression a former Republican congressional aide got after his year in Iraq. Manuel Miranda wrote a damning memo to the U.S. ambassador saying, quote, "we have brought to Iraq the worst of America, our bureaucrats, not the managers and experts that are needed."

Mr. MANUEL MIRANDA (Former Republican Congressional Aide): Here you have people who are the top of the line when it comes to their own profession, which is the foreign service and diplomacy. And they're fine people, they're well read, they're literate, they know how to hold a wine glass. But they don't know how to manage $18 billion in assets and human capital that that requires.

KELEMEN: Miranda is a controversial figure, having left his Senate job, facing an ethics probe. And the State Department has dismissed his memo as one man's view. He says he has gotten some angry e-mails from Foreign Service officers about his memo in which he said the Baghdad embassy is doing a bureaucratic imitation of the Keystone Cops, counting chairs and desks and reviewing decisions over and over again.

Miranda says some who worked with him share his views.

Mr. MIRANDA: So many of us would simply just roll our eyes and say it is impossible to believe that this is America's number one international policy consideration.

KELEMEN: Putting his personal views aside, some of what he has said has had resonance in Washington. Daniel Serwer of the U.S. Institute of Peace says the failures of post-war planning in Iraq have been well documented.

Mr. DANIEL SERWER (U.S. Institute of Peace): That we're five years out and we're still having some problems manning the effort in Iraq is just a testimony that in fact that you need some permanent institutional solutions to this problem. You can't do it without hackery(ph).

KELEMEN: He says the U.S. Institute of Peace has done a lot of research on how to create a civilian reserve core.

Mr. SERWER: How do you get policemen, for example, when every big city in America needs all the police it has? The question is what arrangements do you make with those cities to make it attractive for them to loan you some policemen? There's a lot of basic work like that that's already been done on the civilian reserve. People probably have a pretty good idea of how to make this happen, but they don't have authorization yet from the Congress to do it.

KELEMEN: The State Department is asking for nearly $250 million this year to beef up the project, which has started small. John Herbst currently runs the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department.

Mr. JOHN HERBST (Coordinator, Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization, State Department): We have a tiny, tiny active response corps in my office. We have 11 people in it. They've been in Darfur, in Chad, in Sri Lanka, in Nepal, in Haiti, in Lebanon, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Herbst says he needs a 250 person active response corps of civilians who would be ready at a pinch to provide basic services to post-conflict countries. There would also be a standby response corps, people who have other government jobs but who train together several weeks a year and would go overseas when needed.

And he's hoping to sign up 2,000 people from the private sector or state and local government to join this civilian reserve corps for a four-year commitment.

Mr. HERBST: It's a little bit like the military reserve system. They would train for several weeks a year. They would have a commitment to deploy for up to one year during this four-year period.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration, which came to office wary of nation building, is now trying to institutionalize it.

HANSEN: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)


This is the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where students are making their way toward the intercultural center building. The Edmond A. Walsh School of Foreign Service is inside. This international affairs school sends more graduates to the State Department than any other.

Robert Gallucci is the school's dean, a fitting position for a diplomat after a long career in the Foreign Service. He says some changes have proven to be real challenges for the State Department.

Mr. ROBERT GALLUCCI (Dean, Edmond A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University): Two things have been happening simultaneously and one is the nature of foreign affairs has been changing. So that even when we go to the use of force we find that there are enormous numbers of tasks that should be done by civilians that the military are having to pick up.

And second there really has been more so than in the past a downsizing and de-emphasis on the State Department.

HANSEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hopes to address these challenges with her civilian reserve corps. But why would anyone want to go into the foreign service now? We posed that question to two students in the Walsh School's masters program. Brandon Jackson(ph) in a moment but first Biada Angelica(ph).

Ms. BIADA ANGELICA (Student, Walsh School's Masters Program): I am going into public diplomacy and I think that is a very important aspect of Foreign Service. And I believe too that American public needs to realize how important public diplomacy is to counter the growing anti-Americanism overseas.

Mr. BRANDON JACKSON (Student, Walsh School's Masters Program): I believe in service. I definitely believe in how the actions that you can take, especially in a foreign context, can have long-term effects for the communities you're trying to serve.

HANSEN: The dean of their school, Robert Gallucci, who has spent most of his career in the Foreign Service, had something to add.

Mr. GALLUCCI: I do want to say generally here, as I've listened to our students talk about their own interest in the service, notwithstanding these tensions and these pressures and the shortness of resources, that a word needs to be said about the extraordinary character of this career. I could not imagine any other career that would've been as satisfying as this was to me personally.

HANSEN: This willingness to serve will be an asset for the State Department as it deals with problems in the future. Border tensions between Northern Iraq and Turkey, the unstable Balkans, the continuing foreign policy issues in Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, Africa and Korea.

So as the military continues to play important parts, it is hoped that the instruments of diplomacy remain in the arrangements.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.