More problems at State

Josh Rogin at ForeignPolicy.com tells us about a forthcoming GAO report on the State Department. These conditions clearly indicate major impediments to effective public diplomacy as well as demonstrate the need for Defense Department strategic communication and military public diplomacy resources (primarily, but not exclusively, MIST – Military Information Support Teams). Too many public diplomacy officers circulate only within the elite circles in their countries because of the lack of resources, time, or skills, while still believing (and reporting) they are engaging foreign publics. Hopefully Congress reads the GAO report – and other enlightening analysis of the state of State – as it considers funding Defense Department strategic communication in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, at least for the time being.

From Josh’s GAO report finds State Department language skills dangerously lacking:

About a third of Foreign Service officers in jobs that require language skills don't have the proficiency required to do their jobs, hurting America's ability to advocate its interests around the world, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report, which has not yet been released, but was obtained by The Cable, spells out the consequences of having a Foreign Service that in many cases can't communicate with local officials or populations, relies too heavily on local staff for critical functions, and can't respond to bad press when it appears in foreign languages.

According to the GAO, the State Department blames the shortcoming on the “recent increase in language-intensive positions.” The sad truth is the Department is struggling to undo its abrogation of responsibility under the past leadership as responsibilities were shuffled of to the Defense Department with little to not struggle.

Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) captures the essence of the recommendation in my Hitting Bottom at Foggy Bottom post when he says the State Department “must take advantage of this situation and plan strategically to meet short- and long-term diplomatic needs.”

But, as the GAO report notes, a strategic plan to address this problem does not exist. Secretary Clinton did, however, recently speak at State’s Foreign Service Institute and say increases were coming.

More to come on this.

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