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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Report: Foreign Service officers poorly equipped for crises

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Editor

At a time when some Arabic speaking states are in chaos and America is fighting distant wars, the United States is sending its foreign service officers abroad poorly equipped to deal with the critical situations they face.

That's the bottom line of a new report, by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, which will be discussed at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

"There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared," says the report.

In its forward, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, said that the report "emphasizes that on-the-job training alone is no longer a sufficient method, if it ever was, to develop a US diplomatic service that is second to none."

The hearing by the Senate subcommittee on the federal workforce, chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), will examine State Department efforts to train foreign service officers.

One problem is there are too few of them.

By 2014, State plans to increase the foreign service corps by 25 percent and the Agency for International Development wants to double its staff, according to the report.

But in these days of strained budgets, those increases are not a given, the Academy warns. And even if the plans are fulfilled, the surge "will not be enough..." the report adds. "If America intends to be known for the quality and effectiveness of its diplomacy, we must sustain traditional skills and develop more broadly new capabilities demanded in an increasingly complex international environment."

The report makes a series of recommendations, including a year of advanced study for foreign service officers before they are promoted to senior ranks.

"Professional education and training are essential to raise the overall level of performance of our Foreign Service," the report says.

The Government Accountability Office also will present a report at the hearing that says "the department's strategic approach to workforce training could be improved in several key areas," while acknowledging that the department "has taken many steps" to increase training.

For example, State has developed guidance for employees on training opportunities and career paths, GAO said, but "the guidance does not provide complete and accurate information."

The department also "could not sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate support for training," according to GAO.

The GAO report released Tuesday did not look at language training because, the agency said, its September 2009 study called for a comprehensive State plan to address "persistent foreign language shortfalls."

State has told GAO it has taken steps to improve language training.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Joe Davidson  | March 8, 2011; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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It may be time for the Department of State to adopt the professional development schools that the Department of Defense has been using to train its Officer Corps. The primary development schools that come to mind are the Command and General Staff Colleges, the War Colleges, and the School of Advanced Military Studies that trains officers for higher levels of responsibility. State can develop its own schools, or simply enroll their Foreign Service Officers into the various military programs. This would also bennefit military officers who are looking for greater inter-agency experience and interaction. Like the military, these schools would be mandatory for promotion to the higher echelons of responsibility.

Posted by: chadmpillai | March 8, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Is this the same Foreign Service that considers assignment to Muslim countries to be "a death sentence"?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 8, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: fregameeate | March 8, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse

actually, for the last decade most foreign service officers have considered assignment to Muslim countries as an "automatic promotion" rather than a "death sentence".

Posted by: troy6 | March 9, 2011 4:32 AM | Report abuse

Regarding above comment about DOS starting its own professional development schools similar to DOD, I'd like to offer the following (Caveat- I am not a DOS employee, but have worked with them throughout my career with another agency). Although there is alwasys room for improvement, DOS already has the Foreign Service Institute, where new FSOs are trained, and mid/senior level officers attend advanced courses. Also, DOS is well represented at all of the top level DOD schools. In fact, in my Naval War College class (2009-2010), there were more FSO's there than civilians from any other agencies. They were also well represented on the faculty.

Posted by: hickory91 | March 9, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

troy6, the Washington Post would disagree with you:

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 9, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Part of the problem arises from the fact that the DoS "hires" retired Foreign Service Officers as contract instructors. It creates a never ending circle of training from the inside and leaves other potential qualified outside instructors from bringing new knowledge and experiences to the students.

Posted by: TheJudge1 | March 10, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

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