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Rep. Cummings should read GAO report—State budget didn’t cause Libya meltdown

Cover of a report from the Government Accountability Office in June, 2012. [Screen snip]During the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) blamed the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya on budget cuts made by Republicans.

Cummings is mistaken or he is deliberately misleading his constituents. Had he taken time to read a report issued by the Government Accountability Office, he might have cast his partisanship aside and recognized a real problem. President Barack Obama apparently missed the report as well.

Issued in 2012, the report titled Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring addressed overall hiring practices, not just midlevel hires.

One fact that captures attention has to do with the administration of President Bill Clinton, Cummings’ fellow Democrat:

State has sought to rebuild the size of its Foreign Service after a period of hiring below attrition levels during the 1990s that contributed to staffing gaps overseas and endangered diplomatic readiness, according to the department. To address these gaps, State implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, as we previously reported, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Republican was president in the 2002-2004 period.

The real problem in Foreign Service has to do with hardship positions. We can assume Libya would be classified as such in the real world.

GAO said:

State increased the size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but overseas experience gaps—the percentage of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments—have not declined since 2008 because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging diplomatic priorities. These gaps are largest at the midlevels and in hardship posts.

Then there’s this:

State made substantial progress in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 toward the Diplomacy 3.0 goal of increasing the size of the Foreign Service by 25 percent by 2013. In those years, State hired about 1,900 Foreign Service employees above attrition, increasing the total size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent, or over two-thirds of its total 5-year goal.

Despite all the hiring and any budget constraints that might be mentioned, State has not been able to fill certain hardship positions for obvious reasons—your life could be at risk. At all times, State has continued to hire above attrition levels.

State decides how to allocate manpower. The government knew we would need more manpower in AIP countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan) and we prepared for that under President George W. Bush. However, Libya was an unplanned incursion—Obama didn’t even go to Congress before deciding to intervene.

GAO pointed out the allocation of employees:

[T]he majority of new positions are in a small number of countries where State has high levels of engagement. Specifically, about 40 percent of all new positions are in AIP countries and an additional 20 percent are in 5 other countries: Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and Russia. State officials noted that this distribution of new positions reflects the department’s changing foreign policy priorities. For example, positions were added in Brazil and China in response to presidential directives to expand consular capacity in those countries. According to State officials, the department has also created positions to address emerging diplomatic priorities, such as climate change and global health.

Obama focused on priorities like “climate change” and “global health” and other matters in China and Brazil.

Bottom line: Cummings simply cannot hold anyone accountable for what happens at State except for one person, Obama.

Furthermore, the GAO report said State anticipated vacancy rates to drop to about 9 percent by the end of 2012.

Foreign Policy Magazine said:

The [GAO] report was requested by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management…"The State Department continues to struggle with staffing, experience, and foreign language gaps, which undermine our diplomatic readiness. State must continue to develop effective workforce strategies and address staffing gaps to effectively respond to quickly evolving diplomatic challenges," Akaka said in a statement. "I commend State for their ongoing efforts to address these staffing shortages. I urge the Department to implement GAO's recommendation."

During the hearing on Wednesday, a number of Democrats brought up the funding issue. Fact is they should start with President Bill Clinton and work their way up to Obama when it comes to failures at the Dept. of State.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Oct. 11, 2012)

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