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Federal Eye
Posted at 03:30 PM ET, 03/08/2011

Report: Foreign Service officers poorly equipped for crises

At a time when some Arabic speaking states are in chaos and America is fighting distant wars, the United States is sending its foreign service officers abroad poorly equipped to deal with the critical situations they face.

That’s the bottom line of a new report, by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, which will be discussed at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

“There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared,” says the report.

In its forward, Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, said that the report “emphasizes that on-the-job training alone is no longer a sufficient method, if it ever was, to develop a US diplomatic service that is second to none.”

The hearing by the Senate subcommittee on the federal workforce, chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), will examine State Department efforts to train foreign service officers.

One problem is there are too few of them.

By 2014, State plans to increase the foreign service corps by 25 percent and the Agency for International Development wants to double its staff, according to the report.

But in these days of strained budgets, those increases are not a given, the Academy warns. And even if the plans are fulfilled, the surge “will not be enough…” the report adds. “If America intends to be known for the quality and effectiveness of its diplomacy, we must sustain traditional skills and develop more broadly new capabilities demanded in an increasingly complex international environment.”

The report makes a series of recommendations, including a year of advanced study for foreign service officers before they are promoted to senior ranks.

“Professional education and training are essential to raise the overall level of performance of our Foreign Service,” the report says.

The Government Accountability Office also will present a report at the hearing that says “the department’s strategic approach to workforce training could be improved in several key areas,” while acknowledging that the department “has taken many steps” to increase training.

For example, State has developed guidance for employees on training opportunities and career paths, GAO said, but “the guidance does not provide complete and accurate information.”

The department also “could not sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate support for training,” according to GAO.

The GAO report released Tuesday did not look at language training because, the agency said, its September 2009 study called for a comprehensive State plan to address “persistent foreign language shortfalls.”

State has told GAO it has taken steps to improve language training.

By  |  03:30 PM ET, 03/08/2011

 
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