- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is seeking greater powers for U.S. ambassadors over the “massive numbers” of government agencies at American embassies around the world, because coordination has become “an almost impossible task.”

Miss Rice told Congress this week that ambassadors have an increasingly heavy task of balancing the often competing interests of as many as three dozen agencies, including the Pentagon and the Justice and Treasury departments.

“One of the challenges is that the chiefs of mission, who are the face of the U.S. government to foreign governments, are going to, perhaps, be given greater authority to coordinate, and indeed to direct, the various agencies that are under them in the field,” she said.

“They have that authority in theory,” she added, referring to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and a letter of instruction signed by President Bush. “Sometimes they don’t actually have it in practice.”

Miss Rice does not need congressional approval to expand that authority because an ambassador is the president’s representative in a foreign country. However, she is seeking the support of all other agency heads in Washington.

“It’s become, in some places, an almost impossible task of coordinating massive numbers of agencies on the ground,” she said. “And not just having the military there and having [the Department of] Justice there, or Treasury there. We are talking about [the Drug Enforcement Administration], for instance.”

During a joint appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, both Miss Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the State Department should be the nation’s leading foreign-policy agency, perhaps even a “super agency.”

Still, “whatever we do back here in Washington, if it doesn’t translate onto the ground, if the decisions aren’t made on a timely basis on the ground, things are not going to flow properly,” Miss Rice said.

About a dozen chiefs and deputy chiefs of mission on four continents said in e-mails to The Washington Times that managing a post requires a good understanding of the Washington interagency process. They asked that their names not be used, because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

They said officials from U.S. agencies, known as the country team, often have better coordination with their headquarters back home than with the embassy management.

“Good chiefs of mission try to show their country team that they can accomplish much more by working together than by operating along entirely separate tracks,” an ambassador in Europe said.

An ambassador in Asia said that chiefs of mission “have little or no influence over the practical incentives that matter most to employees of other agencies, such as their career advancement and their next assignment,” which are determined in Washington.

Another ambassador said that chiefs of mission must “take off their State Department hat and start acting like the president’s representative” if they want to “succeed in truly commanding the loyalty of the other agencies.”

About a third of all U.S. ambassadors are political appointees employed by the State Department during their tenure. The remainder are senior Foreign Service officers, including deputy chiefs of mission who often serve as acting ambassadors.

“I’ve run three missions and never felt any lack of authority over other agencies,” an ambassador in the Middle East said. “It’s all about collegiality and leadership. It’s a question of selection of chiefs of mission for the right qualities.”

Another ambassador in Europe said that most career diplomats are either “field experts or Washington policy wonks,” adding: “Now, in the toughest and most exciting jobs, you have to be both, and you have to be a good public advocate. It’s more challenging than ever, but also more fun.”

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