The State Department needs a lot more than money

The State Department needs a lot more than money

By Dov Zakheim

Picking up on what Kori wrote yesterday, most combatant commands do have civilians operating at senior levels, and some actually have civilian deputies– e.g. AFRICOM. In addition to political advisors, most commands now have senior advisors from USAID.

The problem is not merely one of money, however, though I do not minimize the State Department’s lack of funding to implement the authorities it possesses. State is a terribly-run organization; whether Jack Lew can bring some order to an agency that undervalues management is an open question. In addition, State’s culture undervalues the importance of cooperating with the military. Diplomats serving as political advisors to the military, or POLADS, are often exceedingly talented people, but they are invariably in their terminal posting before retirement. If State really valued the relationship with combatant commanders, it would promote POLADS to meaningful follow-on jobs.

Finally, if State needs more money, it must have both the moxie to duel with OMB, which historically has treated the agency miserably, and to maintain a powerful legislative affairs office to coax money out of the Congress. State has not fared well on either count.

State now has an historic opportunity — not because Hillary Clinton is there, but because Bob Gates has chosen to remain at DOD. Gates is the ultimate team player: He has actually argued for an increase in State’s budget. With the Secretary of Defense buttressing the Secretary of State’s traditional plea for more funds, the Department should be able to do better in the budget wars. 

But first State must radically change its own culture. U.S. diplomats need to recognize that they must get serious about managing their agency properly. They must give priority to deploying their best personnel for "smart power" jobs. And they must devote the time, energy and effort to ply their wares as much on Capitol Hill and in the Executive Office Buildings as they do when they serve the nation overseas. In other words, for the Department of State, "smart power" begins at home.