Foreign Service Association calls for program, not people, cuts

Wednesday - 10/5/2011, 4:44pm EDT

Susan Johnson, president, American Foreign Service Association

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

An organization representing Foreign Service members says cuts to the State Department's international affairs should come in programs and not people.

Cuts to programs can be overcome as the economy improves. However, cuts to the workforce take "a long time to rebuild your readiness," said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, in an interview with Your Turn with Mike Causey.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the Diplomacy 3.0 hiring strategy in 2010 with the goal of increasing Foreign Service personnel by 25 percent by the year 2013. The strategy also called for hiring 13 percent more Civil Service position over the same period.

According to State.gov:

Overseas, we need more and better-trained Foreign Service personnel to work in critical fields like post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction and to address the many challenges posed by failed and failing states. Domestically, the Department needs more personnel as well, especially in those areas that directly support overseas posts and operations. Without more personnel, the Department cannot build a "training float," i.e., sufficient personnel to both train and staff positions.

Johnson said the Foreign Service ranks currently number at 13,000 employees. In the past five fives, the number of unoccupied tours is up to 1,300, an increase of five-fold over the last five years, she said.

Despite budget cuts, these employees should be able to "respond to the crises and opportunities that will continue to come our way," Johnson said.

But the current political environment — of brinksmanship and one stopgap funding measure after another — is costing more money because agencies cannot plan ahead, she said.

"Sadly, there does seems to be heightened partisanship and a decrease in civility and rational discussion," Johnson said.

The interview was part of Your Turn with Mike Causey. Mike also talked to Steve Losey and Sean Reilly of the Federal Times about the Postal Service's proposed health plan and the status of the budget on Capitol Hill. Click here to hear more from the show.