Sunday, January 22, 2006

Transformational Diplomacy

Recently, Secretary Rice gave a speech at Georgetown in which she outlined a new course for the State Department. Basically, we're supposed to be shifting our focus to the Middle East and Asia, to be accomplished through new promotion requirements (though the ones she mentioned -- assignment to a danger post, and 'fluency' in two languages -- have been in effect for at least as long as I've been with State), and the immediate transfer of 100 jobs from Washington and Europe to the new regions of focus, many of these jobs to be one-person posts. While I agree with the overall goal of this plan, I'm not sure that this is the best way to go about it. Let me explain.

My main complaint is that these immediate job transfers amount to a huge waste of resources. Many of the people effected have been in training for the European posts for some number of months now; I know of at least one instance in which an officer being switched from Russia to the Middle East is being forced to scrap five months of Russian training. That's five months of per diem, payment to language instructors, and time and energy on the officer's part spent completely for naught. Why not simply decrease the number of posts in Europe and increase the number in the desired regions, then rotate people into these new jobs after their current assignments end? Aside from perhaps making some political statement, I see no value in axing and switching jobs willy-nilly.

Additionally, in the case of middle-management officers, these European jobs were ones for which they had to lobby and petition; after reaching tenure, you have to apply for each post. Those people who spent a great deal of time researching and lobbying for a post in, say, Paris have often done so with an eye to schooling for their children, employment opportunities for their spouses, and other such concerns. It's not so simple as wanting to see the Eiffel Tower instead of the Pyramids -- jobs are sought out with families in mind. A great many of the Middle Eastern posts are more difficult for families, if not flat out unaccompanied positions. The sudden nature of these new assignments has the potential to really strain family relations; unhappy officers, however professional, can't make for very effective diplomats.

Precisely because officers must lobby for jobs after reaching tenure, taking people out of the Washington positions could have a broad impact on their future career. A rotation in Washington, though certainly not thrilling for the majority of officers (who joins the Foreign Service with an eye to working at some D.C. desk?), is considered necessary for networking. It's sort of a truism that you can't get promoted without doing your time back at the Capitol. If Washington positions are being eliminated, I hope the Department takes the additional step of ending job-lobbying entirely. Of course networking will always be important, but it would be nice if it weren't the primary consideration in giving someone an assignment.

Lastly, I do think that more one-person posts has the potential to truly transform US diplomacy, allowing officers to get out into the local communities in a way they might not be able to now. However, it's going to require a lot more language training than the Department is currently offering. What State considers to be fluent in a hard or super-hard language is going to have to change...

Meanwhile, I'm young and unencumbered by pesky things like a spouse, children, or even cars or pets. This 'new' emphasis on the Middle East and Asia can really only be good news for me.

10 comments:

michelprice49425664 said...
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Consul-At-Arms said...

Nice post. You've done a nice job of describing some of the human costs/factors that are glossed-over or poo-poo-ed in the press and in comment strings elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I also agree that one-person posts have great potential, especially if some of the management tasks are centralized in regional centers. However, I worry that the State Dept. would expect the same amount of cables/paperwork from a one-person mission as from a mid-size consulate which could all be eliminate the amount of outreach an FSO could accomplish. One-person posts will need to have a certain amount of autonomy to be effective, which will require good management but not micro-management.

I'm very much enjoying your blog. I'm scheduled to take the FSOA in early February, so with a bit of luck and some more work I may have the opportunity of joining your ranks soon.

Crawdad said...

Yes, I have that cable printed out to read. Have they published a specific list of the places that would receive one-person consulates? I can think of a couple places in India that will likely benefit.

While each person this impacts will be important, it's not really a sea change. If there are 6000 FSOs, and 2000 in DC, then this affects ... ... 5% of the DC folks. Actually, that will cause quite a ripple effect, won't it?

Well, I cling to my belief that this has been in the works for a while, and there has been some thought given to the impacts of a quicker rollout. There are smart people on the 7th floor, after all.

Great blog! Keep it coming, gambare, etc.

Crawdad said...

P.S. Sorry, this is Charles from A-100. Meant to say that before! I jumped to your blog from Prince Roy's site. As a New Year's resolution, I also started a blog, so I've been looking for other diplo-blogs. If you're interested, mine is at:

http://viceconsul.blogspot.com

It's great to hear all is still the same over there. I miss the socializing (and the Battlestar Galactica, of course).

Cheers!

Consul-At-Arms said...

Katie, I've posted your essay with comments at my web log here: http://travel.state.gov/visa/laws/telegrams/telegrams_2734.html

Consul-At-Arms said...

Correction, it's HERE: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/01/re-transformational-diplomacy-and.html

Spindrift said...
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Editfish said...

Will your Japanese & Portuguese both be sufficient to get your 'two language' requirements behind you?

Katie said...

Not unless I get more Portuguese training. But I think I might angle for a different language; we'll see what next year's bid list holds...