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February 2005

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The following remarks were delivered on Feb. 11, 2005, before a quarterly luncheon meeting of the Carolina Friends of the Foreign Service at Chapel Hill, NC. —Ed.

The Future of the Foreign Service

Thank you for that gracious welcome. It always is a pleasure for me to meet with colleagues who have given so much in service to our country.

I appreciate your hospitality and the opportunity to meet with all of you today. It is especially gratifying to have been introduced by Ed Williams, from whom I learned so much when I started out in my career.

I'd like to tell you about fundamental changes that my colleagues and I in the Bureau of Human Resources—what we used to call "Personnel"—are putting into effect to ensure that the people who comprise the State Department will be able to meet future diplomatic challenges. After that, I would be delighted to take any questions that you may have.

As you know, for many years the State Department did not have enough—people both to staff our positions and to provide for critical training. We had to compromise, and that meant critical functions were often understaffed and that not everyone got the training they needed. During the mid-‘90s, our situation worsened, with several successive years of hiring at rates well below attrition.

By the end of the last century, we could not fill many critical positions overseas, and our training was not keeping pace with needs, particularly for foreign language skills. In short, our "diplomatic readiness" had reached an unacceptably low level.

We have been very fortunate, with the active support of the President, the Department's leadership, and the backing of Congress, to have been able to add over two thousand new employees to our Foreign Service and Civil Service ranks in the last three years.

This is the largest additional growth in our Department in a similar period since World War II. And our work force is also more diverse than ever: twenty-two percent of Foreign Service employees hired since 2001 are minorities and thirty-five percent women.

We have ramped up training in all areas, readying ourselves to meet the many challenges the future will bring.

We are especially fortunate that Secretary Rice has joined us at this time in our nation's history. Her stewardship at the Department is an opportunity to move forward on the great issues of the day, using what she calls "'transformational diplomacy"' to deal with terrorism, strengthen democracy, build prosperity, and provide help to those who need it most.

Secretary Rice is committed to ensuring that the Department has proper training, funding, mentoring, and other instruments it needs to carry American diplomacy forward in the 21st century.

We have now begun to build the "training float". It is not yet the ten percent we ideally would have, but it is a huge improvement that is already allowing us to bring our people to higher levels of capabilities, particularly in language skills.

Our current focus is on putting that new capacity to work for America. An early challenge was the requirement to establish 145-plus positions at our new embassy in Iraq and to staff support jobs here in Washington and elsewhere. Our new higher level of diplomatic readiness delivered quick success. We had over 200 qualified volunteers for those 145 positions.

Our responsibilities in the world continue to expand in two broad categories: the traditional functions of foreign affairs that we have always had, and the new international challenges of the twenty-first century. The world remains a difficult and dangerous place, with nearly fifty percent of our posts overseas fifteen percent hardship or more, and more than a dozen posts now unaccompanied.

At the same time, we know that we cannot wait until an event occurs to start organizing ourselves to respond. We need to be prepared to engage quickly and capably wherever we are needed. We also must be prepared to address important new issues such as health, environmental, and maritime concerns.The recent Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, which affected a dozen countries across thousands of miles, is a perfect example of a crisis for which we need to be prepared. I'll say more about that in a moment.

In order to meet these new responsibilities, we have taken and are taking five key steps.

First, we have created a Readiness Reserve for the Foreign Service and the Department. Over ninety percent of our people have served in at least two geographic areas and many have more than one language. Those who have relevant skills constitute our active reserve, and we will develop them more systematically.

While active duty Department employees constitute the bulk of "first responders" to a crisis, we are exploring ways to involve interested and capable retirees directly in our operational readiness reserve.

Second, we have created a new skills inventory personnel database called EP+ that provides us with a richer picture of our people before and during their service at the Department. We used this new inventory for the first time to help staff our response to the tsunami disaster. We have switched from a jobs history inventory in our personnel database to a skills inventory, because we are less concerned with what our people have done than with what they know how to do.

Therefore we have asked all Foreign Service, specialists and generalists, Civil Service employees, and non-career political colleagues to use EP+ and to keep their records up-to-date. This new system is key to our need for operational diplomacy now and in the future, because it documents our capacity as an institution.

In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, we knew that we had to find additional people to help quickly and effectively. Using EP+, we were able to immediately identify and supply CA with lists of persons with Sri Lanka country experience and Thai language skills, for example.

EP+ enabled us, for the first time, to include Civil Service as well as Foreign Service employees with the appropriate language and professional skills.

EP+ is currently limited to State Department employees, WAEs and working family members, but we are working with AID, Treasury, and other foreign affairs agencies on similar mechanisms, which, hopefully, in the future can. be coordinated or combined with ours.

Third, last winter. Secretary Powell asked me to create for the State Department an office to ensure effective civilian recovery efforts in crisis states. In July, we set up the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). By Presidential authority, the State Department now has the lead responsibility for the interagency coordination for civilian response in failed, failing, and post-conflict states.

In order to organize the State Department's resources and the resources of the interagency, S/CRS performs four functions: to monitor potential crises, to plan options, to organize personnel to respond to crises, and to ensure that crisis implementation plans are implemented effectively.

Fourth, to take advantage of our new assets and "to respond to new responsibilities, we recently announced a new career development plan that requires Foreign Service Generalists to diversify themselves more broadly in their careers, to have greater language capabilities, to serve and be specifically trained in difficult and crisis management circumstances, and to be able to deploy more quickly and more effectively for ourselves and with other people when crises occur. We are working on a complementary approach for Foreign Service specialists.

Finally, and in. recognition of the changing needs and expectations of our Foreign Service families, we are reinforcing our efforts in helping those family members who want to work overseas in several important ways. This includes encouraging NGOs and multinational corporations to hire our people, exploring opportunities with the private sector to create telework opportunities so that work can follow the person and not the other way around, and reinforcing our existing network of local employment coordinators overseas. Without proper support for families, our other initiatives will be at risk.

This is the approach that my colleagues and I in the Bureau of Human Resources have taken in the last year to be able to create a new capacity from within ourselves, to train better, to be able to cooperate more directly with national and international players, to respond more quickly with more expertise today, and to build that expertise for the fumre.

Under Secretary Rice's leadership, we will build on what we have accomplished and continue to do the best possible job we can for the Department and for the American people.

Thank you for your attention. I'd be happy to take your questions or comments in the time that we have left.


W. Robert Pearson is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who entered the Service more than twenty years ago. Immediately prior to his appointment as Director General, he held the position of U. S. ambassador to Turkey. Ambassador Pearson is a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and speaks three foreign languages.

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