Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 18, 2008

The State of the State Department

Two years ago, I wrote that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns was probably the Bush administration's "best hope" for implementing a diplomatic initiative in the Middle East. Now we have news that Mr. Burns, 51, will retire from the service in March. Whatever chance Bush's recent push for peace in the Middle East had is now significantly diminished.

Mr. Burns is hardly at retirement age and he is not leaving to, "spend more time with his family." The Washington Post speculates the "personal reason" behind his departure is that, "he will soon have three daughters in college." Translation: he needs more money than he can get at the State Department. (And probably also he does not feel Bush's plan is likely to succeed, or else he might stay on. It is the holy grail of Middle East diplomats, after all.)

That the State Department is unable to keep a diplomat of Mr. Burns' quality, and that one diplomat's departure should be headline news, is sad commentary on the state of the State Department.


USWest said...

You know, more and more of this kind of nitty gritty stuff is seeping out of various agencies. I just picked up a NYT article yesterday that Dick Cheney's Secret Service agents are being sued by a man whom they arrested in Denver. Apparently the guy walked up to Cheney and said, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible." 10 minutes later, he was arrested for assault and held for 3 hours. Now they lawyers are talking about deposing Cheney because the accounts from the agents are so varied that he may be the only one who can settle the matter.

Little stuff like this, like the Burns resignation,etc.It's carelessness in the last days, and a sign of the frustration level of many people inside government. It is also not surprising.

The civil service is facing a large number of retiring Boomers, competition from private sector companies and contractors for talent, and a growing need for more people. My agency is hiring like nuts, but they need very specialized people. But we can't get them because we are forced to use a specific computerized system and we have to pick from veterans lists first. So you can't just go hired the best qualified people- no more "how you know" hiring. So the barriers to entry are much higher. That makes each resignation a much bigger deal, especially at these higher levels.

For a little satire on the subject, see this site

Raised By Republicans said...

Oh my God! Not the Dishwasher! Who's going to think of the Children!?

But seriously, the demoralization of the civil service during this administration is truely astounding. A friend of mine has a sister working in the Defense Intelligence Agency. He told me that she told him that most of her colleagues are fed up with Bush and Cheney et al. It's no surprise to me at all to hear about accomplished career civil servants giving up on public service. It's a pitty. I hope the next president is capable of inspiring people enough to fill those voids!

Raised By Republicans said...

And of course the worst job satisfaction in the Federal Government is in the department which has the Bush stamp most prominently on it...The Department of Homeland Security (or as I like to call it - Geheim Heimat Sicherheitsdienst, it just sounds more appropriately ominous in the "original" German)

The Law Talking Guy said...

Or Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Besopasnosti... Actually, I take it back. The German is better.

Wow, can someone post a link to that Denver/NYTimes article?

USWest said...

Sure thing, LTG. Here is the NYT article on the latest Cheney affair.

I am a civil servant. I worked in the private sector after graduate school. I ended up in government service by accident after being downsized from a private firm. I have been in government service for 5 years. And it appeals to my personality and values. I realize now how ill-at-ease I was with the corporate idea of that profit was the main motivator and you answered to the market. In government, service is the motivator for many, many people. At this point,I cannot see myself going back to the private sector (never thought I'd say that), although I think that everyone in government service should spend some time in the private sector. It is good for building skills, understanding how the rest of the world works, and for appreciating your government work.

Now, at the risk of sounding like an army recruiter: I have been given opportunities in government service to build my skills and use my talents in ways that the private sector never really valued. I can move around to all sorts of jobs within my agency to add to my skills, even if my pay doesn't budge. In short, for all the bullshit, I like my job. But I work in a very specialized, fairly non-political part of government, far from the Beltway. However, the Beltway farts and we get the air pollution within nanoseconds. The U.S. is a big, fairly decentralized place. But the bureaucratic reach of the federal government is powerful and immediate- something that still surprises me. I digress.

40% of our staff has been with us for less than 5 years and we are set to hire 800 more. I will end up in upper management of these people. And I don't look forward to it because many won't be the best and brightest. We need young, bright people.

I agree with RBR. We need a leader to get people excited about doing something good for their country. And, in this instance, I believe Obama seems to be the guy who could do that.