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GAO: Foreign Service suffering from midlevel staffing shortages

The State Department has gaps in its embassy staffs all over the world, despite several years of hiring increases, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). State "faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008," the GAO found ...

By , a former staff writer at Foreign Policy.

The State Department has gaps in its embassy staffs all over the world, despite several years of hiring increases, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

State "faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008," the GAO found in a report to be released Monday, obtained in advance by The Cable.

The State Department increased its hiring of foreign service officers (FSOs) by 17 percent in fiscal 2009 and 2010, but those new FSOs as yet don’t have the experience to fill the midlevel openings in diplomatic posts throughout the world. Currently, about 28 percent of midlevel overseas positions are either vacant or filled by under-qualified officers, the GAO found. That percentage is the same as it was in 2008.

The State Department says the staffing shortages are due to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s plan to increase the overall size of the foreign service ranks by 25 percent, an effort called Diplomacy 3.0, but the GAO says even that plan is not set to meet targets due to the budget realities.

The GAO wants State to update its five-year plan to come up with a way to fill the midlevel FSO staffing shortfalls and State said it agreed with that recommendation.

"State acknowledges the need to close midlevel Foreign Service gaps, but it has not developed a strategy to help ensure that the department is taking full advantage of available human capital flexibilities and evaluating the success of its efforts to address these gaps," the report stated.

The largest staffing gaps are in hardship posts and for consular and office management specialist positions, the GAO found.

The report was requested by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management.

"The State Department continues to struggle with staffing, experience, and foreign language gaps, which undermine our diplomatic readiness. State must continue to develop effective workforce strategies and address staffing gaps to effectively respond to quickly evolving diplomatic challenges," Akaka said in a statement. "I commend State for their ongoing efforts to address these staffing shortages. I urge the Department to implement GAO’s recommendation."

Josh Rogin is a former staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshrogin

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