State Department struggles to clear interns

On Sunday, the NYT’s Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House’s incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees. ...

581756_090824_intern25.jpg
581756_090824_intern25.jpg

On Sunday, the NYT's Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House's incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.

This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn't that reassuring? 

On Sunday, the NYT’s Peter Baker noted that only 304 of 543 appointed positions have been filled by the Obama administration after nearly a year. Though some of the hold-up has been from petty pork-barrel politics in the Senate, much more has resulted from the White House’s incredibly tough preemptive vetting of its own appointees.

This vetting, which has already stopped Paul Farmer from heading USAID, has been defended by the White House, which argues it is ahead of the historical precedent. Why isn’t that reassuring? 

Even less reassuring is David Herbert’s report in the National Journal that the State Department struggling to get security clearances for its interns in time for the periods they were supposed to be working.

One would-be intern, a graduate student at Tufts, came to Washington in May for a summer gig working on development issues. But he never got his security clearance and never started his internship. He’s driving home to New York today after spending a frustrating summer spent calling his congressmen for help and wondering what happened.

“With the clearance process, as an applicant, you don’t know anything,” he said.

Not only are some going home without ever starting, the State Department actually takes this into account when choosing its number of interns. Don’t we need to attract more talent into civil service, not scare it off with bureaucracy?

Even worse, the prospective interns most likely to run into delays are those who have spent time living or studying overseas, according to Daniel Hirsch, co-founder of Concerned Foreign Service Officers:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which handles clearances, farms out most investigations to contractors, who are more efficient at processing applications than the bureau’s agents, he said. But when an applicant has lived or traveled extensively overseas (as Buniewicz and others interviewed have), Diplomatic Security (DS) takes over. “Most DS agents consider [personnel security background investigations] to be beneath them, and security clearance investigations are a very low priority item for most overseas DS agents, so they probably sit on the back burner for a while,” Hirsch said. 

So it is harder to get an early jump on a career at the State Department if you already have international experience. No wonder Paul Farmer gave up on the bureaucratic route.

As a side note, why do interns require such significant security checks? The old joke about interns running everything notwithstanding, are they really handling that much classified material? Any State interns out there, let us know. 

Alex Wong/Getty Images

<p> Michael Wilkerson, a journalist and former Fulbright researcher in Uganda, is a graduate student in politics at Oxford University, where he is a Marshall Scholar. </p>

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.