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American Diplomacy
Letters from Readers

December 2000

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LATEST ON STATE DEPARTMENT REFORM

Stephanie S. Kinney, who contributed a landmark study of Foreign Service attitudes and opinions to the Summer 2000 issue of the journal [Developing Diplomats for 2010: If Not Now, When?], sent us the following “Open Forum” notice describing recent reform-related developments in Foggy Bottom.  ~ Ed.

 
United States Department of State
Department Notice




SOS for DOS

The Secretary’s Open Forum

Will host a town meeting on

SOS for DOS:
Salvaging State, From Words to Action

Date: November 9, 2000
Time: 12:00 noon-2:00 p.m.
Location: Loy Henderson Auditorium

This discussion will be off-the-record. Views expressed during this program shall reflect neither official opinions nor policies of the U.S. Department of State.

The statement below was prepared by a group of concerned employees. Views and recommendations regarding these issues will be discussed at the SOS for DOS Town Meeting.


OPEN LETTER TO THE NEXT SECRETARY OF STATE

SOS for DOS

United States leadership in a post Cold War world requires a rigorous foreign policy and robust diplomacy attuned to the realities of the present, not the past. The strategic requirements of the nation demand the existence of a vigorous, pro-active Department of State to advance, defend and implement the nation’s foreign policy agenda The American people expect and deserve nothing less.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that the Department of State is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to meet the foreign policy challenges of the 21st century. Outdated procedures and chronic resource shortages have taken their toll. The organizational structure is dysfunctional, its staff is overextended and many of its embassy buildings are crumbling. Further, the State Department’s traditions and culture block needed change while its dedicated employees are distracted with trivia and drift without a common institutional vision. We are entering the uncharted waters of the 21st century in a rusted-out diplomatic hulk that is no longer seaworthy. Multiple studies have identified the problems. We must act now to make the needed repairs.

As concerned professionals of the Department of State, we call on both political parties to recognize the strategic importance of a responsive, focused, and well-provisioned Department of State. We ask their bipartisan help to forge a revitalized and modernized foreign affairs institution that is fully trained, prepared and equipped to carry out the foreign policy of the next president of the United States.

We make this appeal recognizing that armed conflict often begins when diplomacy fails. Our embassies, in fact, constitute the country’s first line of defense. The work of our diplomats from Nairobi to Beijing is every bit as crucial to the country’s strategic defense and protection of U.S. vital interests as are military bases and installations. Unfortunately, the structural weakness, cumbersome procedures, and hollowed-out infrastructure of our organization undermine our diplomatic readiness, making the State Department the weak link in the national security chain

Today’s demands and tomorrow’s dilemmas require that we act now to fix the problem. We must craft a clear plan of action to modernize and renew our organization, procedures and infrastructure. We must transform our outdated culture and demonstrate a clear commitment to change. We must embrace new technology and managerial techniques quickly. We must acquire the modern systems and expertise required to integrate policy and resource management in ways that advance national interests and promote operational efficiency. We must train and develop a new generation of diplomats schooled in the use of 21st century tools. Above all, we must make a clear and compelling case for how we will use any new resources needed to underwrite and sustain a modernized and reinvigorated Department of State.

We seek to work collaboratively with both of the political parties, the Congress, the administration and the American public to guarantee that America’s global leadership role is maintained and strengthened. As career foreign affairs professionals we pledge to do our part to achieve this important end.

Above all, we take pride in our service to our country and its citizens. We salute our current Secretary of State for her devotion to America and its foreign policy interests. We stand ready to support and work with her successor and look forward to serving the next president and his administration.

In return, we ask for the support, involvement and leadership needed to undertake a long-term, bipartisan effort to modernize and strengthen the Department of State. The country needs a well-equipped, adequately staffed and modernized foreign policy institution. The era of quill pen diplomacy is over. At the dawn of the 21st century, we call for bold and decisive steps now to deal effectively with the problems of today while preparing for the challenges of the future — a future that is as close as tomorrow.

NOTE: Ms. Kinney reports that, as of December 8, the above statement had been signed by more than 500 Department of State personnel. She adds, “I think the next Secretary will have no alternative but to pay attention to institutional issues or pay a heavy price on a number of fronts.” In this connection, she suggests interested readers might also wish to study the COLEAD White Paper and the report from the recent Georgetown Conference on “The High Cost of Low Investment.” (We expect that the Craig Johnstone speech to the latter event, in particular, will be of interest to anyone concerned about the need for reform at the Department of State.) ~Ed.



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