- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Low experience levels of federal employees sent to Iraq and their short deployments are hindering the U.S. government’s efforts to quickly establish well-functioning government ministries there, say Bush administration officials.

The officials said rules from the Office of Personnel Management meant to safeguard deployed employees can result in sending less-qualified persons. Their expertise is needed to teach such basic government functions as banking, reconstruction, policing and farm policies.

As a result, the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies are brainstorming about proposals to create a permanent rapid-response corps of federal civilians who would deploy on call to rebuild a nation.

“A lot of the biggest challenges we face in Iraq are political and economic,” said Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “What we don’t have in this country is a corps of qualified and capable civilians that are available for rapid deployment to places like Iraq.”

The process is now done on a more-or-less volunteer basis. The State Department assesses what Iraq needs in terms of American advisers and puts in requests to various agencies. At this point, the system sputters.

Under rules by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), any person who volunteers for duty in Iraq is guaranteed their same job in the federal government when they return. This means a seasoned worker may be held back because the agency cannot permanently replace their best workers.

The length of deployments is typically 120 days.

“There is not good participation by other agencies in sending people who can really help the Iraqis set up their government ministries,” said a senior Bush administration official who asked not to be named. “The fundamental issue here is, while the Pentagon is at war, is the rest of the government?”

This official described Mr. Rumsfeld as “frustrated” by the process.

Mr. Di Rita said Mr. Rumsfeld has no complaints about the quality of deployed federal workers, but wants to examine setting up a fast-reaction team.

“There is no way the current government structure is going to solve the problem,” Mr. Di Rita said.

OPM officials defend the current rules. “Who is going to take a detail to Iraq and risk losing their job?” said George Nesterczuk, senior adviser to the OPM director for the Department of Defense. “The rule is there to make the temporary assignment work.”

The U.S. bureaucracy initially sent about 4,000 temporary workers to Iraq in April 2003. Since then, thousands more have been rotated in and out. About 800 federal employees currently are assigned to Iraq on a temporary basis.

Getting U.S. government civilians to go to Iraq ran into trouble right from the start of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

A recent report by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq said relatively few agencies responded positively to the call for volunteer detailees and that “interagency coordination of human resource management was generally weak.”

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