Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reorganizing the State Department

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning a dramatic restructuring of the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world, redeploying hundreds of diplomats from Europe and Washington to developing countries including China, India, Lebanon, and Nigeria over the next five years.

She said her plan was part of a strategy for "transformational diplomacy." She said she hoped to create a new kind of diplomatic corps that can work with people abroad, as U.S. diplomats are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the intent of helping to transform developing countries into democracies and to fight terrorism.

Rice portrayed the changes as a move away from outdated vestiges of the Cold War.

Follow the link and read the rest of the article. This is a terrific move, however modest, that should have come years ago. The State Department has needed an overhaul for a long time, and this looks to be the beginning of keeping the organization relevant in the 21st century and beyond.

Shifting foreign service officers to areas more vital to US interests is one item mentioned in the article; changing the skill sets and ethos of the foreign service officer corps is the second major change that Secretary Rice says she will address. The State Department, according to Rice, is seeking out foreign service officers with organizational skills to help direct humanitarian activities and democracy assistance programs. State, like the Department of Defense, is planning to provide more effective language training as well. In short, the state department is looking to build a corps of foreign service officers who have the ability to accomplish US foreign policy objectives wherever they are posted.

I have often thought that the State Department is one element of the US government that has been largely neglected by people of all political philosophies, and that its effectiveness has atrophied considerably as a result.

State Department reform could be a great platform for the democrats in particular; building an effective organization that can engage and achieve US objectives without defaulting to military force is definitely a pragmatic alternative to the current administrations posture.

Likewise conservatives, ever cynical with government largesse and perceiving ineffectiveness in every bureaucracy, could demand more accountability and effectiveness for every dollar sunk into the State Department.

Alas, no brave soul from either party has demanded State restructure to achieve a greater return on the taxpayers' investment. It looks like Secretary Rice's modest initiatives will have to suffice for now. Someday, hopefully, Congress will enact Goldwater-Nichols type legislation to create a diplomatic corps to effectively address foreign policy issues the US has in her relationship with the rest of the world.

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