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State Department and Global Affairs

Commenting on the posting by Tim Brown, with comments by me, on the growth of the State Department, Paul Simon mistakenly thought we were criticizing that department. Far from it. Both of us recognize the work that it is doing. Paul, who has an intimate knowledge of the department, explains:

"The State Department is being reorganized because the Senate held its budget hostage year after year until it reluctantly agreed to absorb The US Information Agency, The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and US AID; I think you will find that the overall bureaucracy is smaller than it was when these agencies were separate entities.

Instead of leveling criticisms at a small and vastly underfunded entity, you might try asking: why the State Department is tasked to run the nation's foreign affairs on an operating budget which is less than ONE percent of the federal budget and less than 2% of the Pentagon budget. The entire annual budget for all Foreign Affairs includes foreign aid, UN dues, and huge amounts of other funds that do NOT go to the Department of State. Nonetheless, this entire sum is only around twenty billion, less than 1/10 the cost of the new fighter plane program (JSF) announced yesterday, assuming the latter is the first major procurement program in military history not to have cost overruns.

There are less than 5000 US Foreign Service Officers worldwide--this includes those at 226 missions abroad, the State department HQ., liaisons to academic institutions, the NSC, DoD, NATO, etc etc. There are MORE PEOPLE IN MILITARY MUSICAL GROUPS! Yet, the vice-consuls who do visa work are America's first line of defense and there are less than a thousand. Do you have any idea how many people apply for US visas every year? Millions and millions and millions. How much time do you think these harried officers have to evaluate each case? How much do you think they are paid? Starting salaries are less than those for bus drivers and garbage men. The other diplomats have to do all the political and economic reporting to Washington. By law, they have to produce the Human Rights Report, Religious Freedom Report, and a host of other annual reports. They are expected to spot emerging leaders, advocate US policy, build coalitions, advance US commercial interests, negotiate treaties, and provide a platform for the dozens of other US government agencies that work overseas. (Did you know that the coast guard, military cemetery commission, migratory fish and wildfowl officials, etc. have people stationed abroad, in addition to the IC, IRS, INS, FBI, Commerce, Customs, Energy, Agriculture, etc. etc.)

Ambassadors are in charge of some of the most sensitive negotiations and put America's face to the world. Over 1/3 are political appointees; some of these gentlemen and ladies have interesting and valuable experience BUT how would you feel if 1/3 of the top military brass were political appointees, regardless of whether they'd worked at a think tank or a defense contractor before? Have you ever seen the condition of most US embassies and housing abroad? Do you know what kind of conditions diplomats live in in Sierra Leone, Monrovia, Bujambura, N'djamena, etc?

The State Department's Undersecretaries and Deputy Secretary of State must conduct foreign relations with about 190 nations and dozens of international entities ranging from the UN to the IMF to OSCE, etc. Just what low rank do you think is appropriate for them? Just how much do you think we should snub other nations by teleconferencing, sending low-level flunkies, etc? The US has been trying to do foreign policy on the cheap for decades. The poor State department has no domestic constituency. Most taxpayers would far rather see a congressional spending amendment for a "transportation interpretive center" in their district than see the money spent on an effective foreign policy apparatus.

Yes, the Undersecretary for Global Affairs is a comparatively new position, created in response to the recognition that more and more issues transcend national boundaries and must be handled multilaterally. No, it's NOT where State's counterterrorism office is. At least you were right about that. Yes. The State department has more subgroups than when you last looked in (how long ago?). You might also notice that there are now hundreds [?? RH] of new nations, quite a few completely new cabinet level positions in Washington (remember when there was no DoD, no Energy Dept., no Housing Dept?). Times change and the world is a lot more complex and the population a lot greater than when we were young, even if we were young just ten years ago. Lets not pick on the State Department for trying to keep up!"

My comment: That certainly puts things in perspective. A similar defense could be made for the United Nations, likewise criticized unfairly for receiving too much money. I agree with almost everything that Mark says. The plum diplomatic jobs go to political appointees like the charming Mrs. Averell Harriman. ambassador to Paris, who knew about the painter Claude-Oscar Monet but had never heard of Jean Monnet the economist and was bewildered in a discussion about European currency problems. Likewise in London Winston Churchill said he was impressed by the dispatches of Isaiah Berlin from Washington. Irving Berlin was promptly flown to London to discuss American foreign policy with Churchill. Meanwhile the tough jobs are left to career diplomats. I remember staying with a secretary at the embassy in that hell-hole Kinshasa, capital of Zaire. We met for breakfast on Sunday. It was a grim affair. All silently realized that they were stuck there for one or more years: I was just a bird of passage.

I likewise agree with Mark about the disparity with the Pentagon. The awarding of the fighter plane program to which Mark refers was announced in the offices of the winning contractor and was received with roars of joy. It was the military-industrial complex at work. On one point I do not entirely agree with Mark, namely on the value of teleconferencing. Departments are often almost paralyzed because so many of the staff are away at conferences. Moreover, it was the leaders of the major countries who proposed it as a way of avoiding vicious disruptions of their meetings by protesters. Whereas now some countries might feel affronted by a teleconference, it is probable that in the future it will become a normal way of doing international business.

Ronald Hilton - 10/28/01