U.S. to Shift Envoys to China, India
Friday, February 10, 2006
China and India have emerged as the big winners -- and Russia and Germany as the top losers -- in the first round of a broad restructuring of U.S. diplomatic posts ordered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Rice announced plans last month to shift hundreds of Foreign Service positions from Europe and other developed countries to more challenging assignments in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere as part of an increased U.S. focus on battling terrorism and bolstering security in threatened regions. But the secretary and her aides released few details at the time.
Two State Department lists obtained by The Washington Post this week -- one showing which diplomatic positions will be eliminated, the other specifying which embassies and consulates are due to expand -- provide a clearer picture of the impact of the moves.
Of 61 positions slated for elimination in the initial batch, 10 will fall in Russia and seven in Germany. U.S. embassies in several other countries -- Belgium, Poland, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Japan and Brazil -- will lose two or three posts. All told, 38 of the cuts will come in European nations.
On the plus side, of 74 new U.S. diplomatic positions, China will get 15, including a dozen at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. India ranks second with 12 new posts, seven of them in New Delhi. And Indonesia is third with five new slots in Jakarta. Other countries that are to receive at least three more U.S. diplomatic slots include Nigeria, Israel, Lebanon, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The lists of closures and add-ons constitute just the beginning of a major rearrangement that State Department officials say will affect a substantial portion of the 6,400 Foreign Service positions. A senior State Department official involved in the planning said the first round grew out of assessments by regional bureaus of jobs they could "safely give up" and of "places where there was a crying, urgent need to have additional representation."
"This is a down payment for a shift that will probably take place over several years," the official said.
Rice has portrayed the restructuring as an essential feature of her larger "transformational diplomacy" campaign, which envisions a more active role for U.S. diplomats in fostering the growth of democratic states worldwide. Although the shifting of posts has been welcomed generally by the American Foreign Service Association representing U.S. diplomats, the potential scale of the change has unsettled some State Department employees.
"We're waiting to see just how far the secretary plans to go with this," said one Foreign Service officer who has discussed the plan with senior department officials.
One particular concern, the officer said, involves future levels of security and support for the expanded embassies and consulates. The new jobs listed so far have been confined to political, economic and public diplomacy positions. No mention has been made of additional security personnel to enhance protection, office management specialists to handle heavier administrative loads or technology experts to deal with computer problems and other technical issues.
Asked about this aspect, the senior State Department official said parallel plans are being drawn to provide extra support staff.
Some of the overseas posts on the initial cut list had been due to receive fresh replacement officers, who already had begun foreign language training or taken other steps to prepare for the positions. State Department officials say that fewer than 30 such "broken handshake" cases exist and that the affected officers are being helped to secure alternate assignments.
To find volunteers for the newly created positions, the State Department issued a memo last month advising Foreign Service personnel not to wait for the formal bidding process normally used to decide assignments. Instead, willing officers were encouraged to make their interest known to the relevant regional bureaus.
"Bureaus will be authorized to extend handshakes even before the positions appear" on the bid list, the memo said.