Critical diplomat shortage faced
At least 150 jobs at the State Department have to be deferred.
Published December 13, 2007
WASHINGTON - A critical shortage of diplomats will force the State Department to leave open 10 percent of its vacant positions around the world, with the exception of key posts such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 150 jobs in Washington and overseas missions scheduled to be filled next year will have to be deferred as the department struggles with "severe staffing shortfalls" due to a lack of resources, foreign service director-general Harry Thomas said in a worldwide cable early Wednesday. The move comes even as the Bush administration is seeking to ramp up its international outreach.
"The department's staffing has not kept pace with current needs," Thomas said in the unclassified cable titled e_SDLq2008 Foreign Service Assignments, Deficits and Tough Choices Ahead."
"Bureaus have been tasked with restrictions on 10 percent of mid level generalist jobs in the current assignments cycle."
A copy of the cable was obtained by the Associated Press shortly after it was distributed through the State Department's internal messaging system.
Although keeping vacant positions open is not unprecedented - some embassies operate at only 70 percent of their full-strength staffing levels - the move follows a highly publicized dispute over the possibility of forced service in Iraq and comes as the department considers so-called "directed assignments" to other hardship posts.
"Critical new requirements (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya) and a growing number of one-year jobs have translated into serious deficits" in qualified personnel at various seniority levels and specialties, Thomas wrote, noting that training requirements for numerous posts often cause delays in assignments.
"We must continue to meet our nation's foreign policy needs, yet we cannot afford to stop training," he said.
Much of the problem, he said, lies with Congress, which has not authorized any significant increase in the size of the foreign service since 2004.
"At the same time, our requirements and training needs, particularly in hard and superhard languages, have proliferated," Thomas said. "We are, therefore, operating with significantly fewer people than positions."
"If we cannot fill every position around the world, we must fill those that are our highest priorities," he said, adding that he had ordered each bureau to determine by Dec. 17 which 10 percent of their positions to leave vacant.
"I have asked each assistant secretary to identify their bureau priorities for the 2008 assignment season," Thomas said. "Only those priority positions will be filled."
He asked that bureaus focus on domestic jobs and said no more than half of the total positions left vacant by regional bureaus could be at overseas posts.
The department has faced major problems in keeping its staffing levels up, especially at hardship posts and particularly in Iraq, where nearly 50 jobs that are to come open next year were unfilled until last month after Thomas warned that some foreign service officers might be forced to do tours of duty in Baghdad and outlying provinces.
The warning sparked a revolt among some officers who voiced serious concerns about compulsory service in a war zone in what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam.
Enough volunteers for those positions came forward to avoid having to resort to that in Iraq, but some 500 jobs at other hardship posts remain open and Thomas has set a Friday deadline for those willing to serve there to come forward.
If the jobs can't be filled, he has said directed assignments might be necessary.
[Last modified December 13, 2007, 01:07:57]
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