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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

July 2002

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Finally, Back on Track

Further to the Foreign Service and Department of State reform efforts underway in Washington, AFSA President John K. Naland published an op-ed item in the Federal Times Newspaper on June 24, 2002. Naland praises the initiatives of Secretary of State Powell and pledges continued support for much needed reform. Ed.

At first glance, the results of the State Department's first employee satisfaction survey ["Looking to Leadership," June 3 issue] are rather discouraging.

Among the findings: 39 percent of State Department employees say their morale is "fair" or "poor," 41 percent believe that jobs are filled on the basis of "know who" instead of know-how, 73 percent say that State's decision-making process either ignores or screens out good ideas from rank-and-file employees, and 84 percent describe the department's culture as being bureaucratic vs. 3 percent who find it to be innovative.

But here, as in the old Sherlock Holmes story, it is most revealing to focus on the hound that did not bark. The surprise is not that a large number of the State Department employees have low morale, but rather that nearly 60 percent say that they have "outstanding" or "good" morale. This high morale is remarkable given all that State employees have been through over the past decade.

The State Department ended the 1990s weakened and dispirited. The department was starved for resources, staffing had been slashed, and poor management limited the abilities of employees to perform to their potential.

The decade was especially hard on members of the career Foreign Service who staff our nation's overseas diplomatic and consular missions. During the 1990s, those facilities became increasingly unsafe and often dilapidated. Foreign Service members continued to be killed in the line of duty with sad frequencyan average of three each year.

Even as the burdens of overseas service increased, the rewards decreasedfor example, by the exclusion of overseas Foreign Service members from the locality pay system that adds from 8 percent to 19 percent to the base pay of almost all other federal civilian employees.

Things took a dramatic turn for the better in January 2001 when Colin Powell became secretary of State. Without minimizing the importance of his duties as the president's top foreign policy adviser, Secretary Powell also promised to work hard as the leader and manager of the department. During the past 16 months, he and his management team have tackled many of the problems besetting the department and have made considerable progress.

Last fall, Powell convinced Congress to provide the first of three installments of increased funding to alleviate under staffing, improve embassy security, modernize information technology, and improve overseas facilities. The second installment is pending before Congress in the fiscal 2003 budget request.

The American Foreign Service Associationthe professional association and union that represents members of the Foreign Servicestrongly supports Secretary Powell's determined long-range efforts to revitalize the State Department. Like the secretary, we believe additional resources are a necessary but insufficient requirement for charting a new course for State. As the employee satisfaction survey attests, a large number of internal reforms are also needed. Following through on this course correction will undoubtedly lead to improved morale among employees of the State Department.

More important, however, the ultimate beneficiaries of improved diplomatic readiness will be the American people. In fact, never has skilled U.S. diplomacy been more needed than it is now. As President Bush has stressed, destroying the network of international terrorists will require the combined efforts of many nations. Securing that cooperation is the task of U.S. diplomacy.

Indeed, since Sept. 11, U.S. diplomats have worked tirelessly to secure the military overflight and basing rights that are needed to bring justice to our enemies, to enlist foreign police forces and intelligence services in the search for our attackers, and to rally foreign governments to apply political pressure on countries that harbor terrorists.

The tragic events of last September underscore the urgent need for adequate resources for diplomacy, which Secretary Powell has aptly termed "America's first line of offense."

Give us the tools we need to succeed and the only people with bad morale will be our nation's foes.


Republished by permission from AFSANET, a free service of the American Foreign Service Association.The full text of the article is also available online at http://federaltimes.com/index.

July 9, 2002


John K. Naland is a career Foreign Service officer and president of the American Foreign Service Association.

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