- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Morale at the State Department has suffered under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, mainly because of the strains Iraq has put on the agency’s resources, a bipartisan group of former diplomats and foreign-policy specialists said in a report released yesterday.

The group, the Foreign Affairs Council, urged Miss Rice to “devote more time and energy to acquiring resources for management purposes” if she wants to accomplish what she has termed “transformational diplomacy.”

It criticized the secretary for failing to request more funds for non-Iraq operations despite her influence with President Bush. But it also pointed out that Congress granted none of the administration’s requests “for training and transformational diplomacy” in the past two years.

“The bottom line is that the State Department has begun a major ‘transformational diplomacy’ initiative without sufficient trained professionals to execute and implement it,” the report said. “The Foreign Service has a deficit of about 1,100 positions above attrition.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected the criticism of Miss Rice, although he agreed that more people are needed.

“This is armchair quarterbacking,” he told reporters. “I think she’s been a bold leader and a bold manager in trying to reorient the State Department to the tasks of the 21st century.”

The council, an umbrella organization of 11 foreign-affairs groups, issues biannual reports on the department’s management. Its president, Thomas D. Boyatt, is a former ambassador to Colombia and a supporter of Mr. Bush.

Its reviews of Miss Rice’s predecessor, Colin L. Powell, were overwhelmingly positive, especially in praising his so-called Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI), which brought more personnel in the Foreign Service and made it more diverse.

“Widespread anecdotal evidence suggests worsening morale” under Miss Rice, yesterday’s report said. “This decline is exacerbated by the fact that, unlike colleagues at some sister agencies, all of State’s junior and mid-level officers take an immediate cut in base pay of 18.6 percent upon departing Washington for an overseas assignment.”

According to the report, “the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hit the State Department fully only after” Miss Rice’s arrival in January 2005, “vacuuming up the additional personnel resources gained during the DRI era, as well as huge amounts of other resources.”

Mr. Boyatt said Miss Rice’s priority should be filling about 200 empty overseas positions, as well as an additional 900 training slots needed to provide key language and other training.

“I don’t think we can go on for much longer like this,” he said at a press conference.

More than a fifth of all 7,000 Foreign Service officers have served in Iraq, the report said. It also noted that 750 positions in the world’s most-dangerous places are “unaccompanied,” which means that officers cannot bring along a spouse or other family members.

The council praised the State Department’s management “advances” in the areas of consular affairs, information technology, public diplomacy and overseas building operations.

In a recent survey of the best places to work in the federal government, the department ranked sixth among 30 agencies — up from 10th place last year.

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