I find it amazing that Sen. Ted Stevens is upset that Foreign Service officers in London were not overjoyed to assist him and his colleagues with their weekend shopping and theater outing {"Envoys Say Budget Cuts Harm Diplomatic Mission," front page, Oct. 18}. While the senator contends that such service represents only a "minor inconvenience" to the officers -- who reside on "easy street" -- I have to wonder how many of his constituents he escorts on shopping sprees in Washington. And he may be surprised to learn that there is an entire profession devoted to accommodating tourists -- travel agents.

Contrary to Sen. Stevens' statements, these congressional boondoggles usually do cost the State Department something in the way of overtime, motor pool and manpower resources. And there is no question that they cost the U.S. taxpayer a sizable sum. Though it is understandable that the congressional delegation wanted to recover from jet lag before the meeting in Geneva, it is not at all clear why it was necessary to do so in London. Geneva has plenty of hotels and, of course, many places to shop.

I certainly hope that the next time Sen. Stevens is in London or, better yet, Lagos -- which is the type of post at which most officers spend 20 to 30 percent of their "easy street" careers -- he at least considers the fact that an officer might prefer to spend the weekend with his family rather than shop with Sen. Stevens.


After all that has befallen the Foreign Service in this decade, Sen. Ted Stevens' reference to ''sitting on easy street in London'' is particularly galling. Most Foreign Service officers will spend a small percentage of their careers in places that attractive. The majority of assignments are to far less pleasant posts, and some of the traditional ''plums'' such as Rome and Athens have lost much of their appeal because of the threat of terrorism.

The senator's comments demonstrate one of the ironies of the State Department's relationship with Congress. We in the Foreign Service work hard to ensure that VIPs have enjoyable visits abroad. Often this results in a false impression both of the place visited and of the attractions of Foreign Service life. The choice of destinations also contributes. I do not recall a single congressional visitor to Iran during my tour there in 1979-80, and I saw only one delegation in more than two years in Katmandu. Yet, I worked on several dozen visits during a two-year assignment in Hong Kong.

In normal times most of us do not resent travel by members of Congress. We do the work, often on our own time, and we persuade our spouses to volunteer their services as well. These are not normal times for the Foreign Service, however. Budget cuts are destroying both our programs and our morale. The overall operating budget of the State Department is less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget, and the amount at issue now is less than one-third the cost of a B-1 bomber.

The budget is tiny in comparison with the budgets of other Cabinet departments, and Congress knows that the cuts will have a tremendous negative impact. We are forced to conclude that they represent a deliberate downgrading of the importance of foreign policy and a slap in the face of those who have made sacrifices representing the United States abroad.

We know that the need to manage our relations with the rest of the world will not diminish along with our budget, and that we will be expected to do the same job with fewer resources. And when the next perceived foreign policy failure occurs, we are likely to be blamed despite not having been given means adequate to the task. This dilemma generates much of the frustration that was captured in the story.

MARK J. LIJEK Arlington