Clinton declares war on paperwork in State Department

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 10:17 PM

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has declared war on paperwork in her agency.

Clinton announced Wednesday that she has dispatched her staff to eliminate the mind-numbing reports routinely required of U.S. diplomats, acknowledging that most of the thousands of reports ordered up every year "are never read."

"All too often, you and your officers are tied to desks fulfilling hundreds of reporting requirements mandated by both Congress and the [State] Department," Clinton told a group of ambassadors gathered in Washington for the Global Chiefs of Mission conference.

"This can and must change," Clinton said, pledging to consolidate and eliminate overlapping reports, make them shorter and reduce the burden of writing them on the State Department's far-flung embassy staff.

Clinton said she is following the recommendations of Inspector General Harold W. Geisel, who concluded in a 55-page audit released in January that diplomats are drowning in paperwork, even if conditions the diplomats are writing about do not change from year to year in many countries.

The watchdog called the reports too long, hard to understand, hard to track and expensive, costing more than $50 million a year to complete. Although the issues that require reporting are vital to U.S. policy, writing them has become a full-time job for employees based in Washington and stationed abroad, investigators said.

The inspector general surveyed staff members at 55 embassies and visited small foreign posts in Barbados and Honduras. More than a third of the staff members cited the burden of paperwork.

Pruning paperwork is one of the first changes in a four-year strategic plan the State Department is putting together.

Clinton admitted to to falling into the paperwork trap as a U.S. senator. "I have to confess, as a senator, when in doubt, order a report," she said.

The revelations by the inspector general opened her eyes, she said. "I was appalled; nothing like sitting in a different seat to see things from a different perspective."

Instead of writing three reports mandated by Congress, on the same or similar issues, the length will now be shorter. And no report or memo should be more than two pages, Clinton said.

Clinton said her staff has signed off on "a long list" of reports that will be scratched or cut. She said less paperwork will have an important effect: Diplomats and their staff members will be able to carry out diplomacy and "engage more actively with the world outside the embassy walls."

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