Question: is it time to rebuild the State Department from scratch?

Is the State Department so full of problems today that it requires rebuilding from scratch if there is to be effective civilian leadership of America’s foreign affairs? From the recent report on the dysfunction within the Africa Bureau (which ignored the failure of intra-agency integration), the militarization of foreign aid and situation with USAID, to the continuing problem of the militarization of public diplomacy and strategic communication underlying the question of who represents America to the world, are we seeing more of the iceberg?

If change is necessary, are the Secretary of State’s authorities and leadership enough to push the necessary changes without creating a paralyzing backlash from within? Must change come from Congress in a modern (and more sweeping) version of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (which would beg the question of who would be the modern Goldwater)?

What are your thoughts?

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6 Replies to “Question: is it time to rebuild the State Department from scratch?”

  1. State has been “broken” for a long time. See my 2003 article in the NSSJ:”Unfinished Business:
    Foreign Affairs Consolidation was
    only the Beginning
    William P. Kiehl
    © National Security Studies Quarterly Volume VII, Issue 1 (Winter 2001).
    O N 1 OCTOBER 1999, THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE ABSORBED THE
    formerly independent United States Information Agency (USIA),
    concluding a consolidation of the foreign affairs agencies agreed upon
    by both the Clinton administration and Congress. The consolidation also
    brought the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) into the De-
    partment of State and brought the Agency for International Development
    (AID) under closer State Department control.1 Unfortunately for the Depart-
    ment of State and for the foreign policy interests of the United States, the
    consolidation missed a unique opportunity to reform the “host” agency itself.
    There is no one close to the foreign policy process who can fail to recog-
    nize the Department of State is a troubled cabinet agency. Indeed the depart-
    ment that often talks about “failed “ or “failing” states is a failed—or at least
    failing—cabinet department. Starved for resources for a generation and an-
    nually expected to “do more with less,” the department’s failings are all too
    evident. Problems include an antiquated and over-centralized financial ac-
    counting system; three incompatible e-mail systems and serious weaknesses
    across the cyberspace spectrum; little serious training or emphasis on man-
    agement and planning; very serious morale, retention, and recruitment prob-
    lems; appalling security lapses; decreased relevance in the interagency pro-
    cess, especially in economic and political-military matters; a culture fixated
    on process rather than product; and a reputation for both arrogance and du-
    plicity on Capitol Hill which belies the reality that the Department of State …”
    Perhaps I will post the whole thing (13 pages) on my website or blog if there is interest. But, of course, this was written 8 years ago so some update will be necessary. Nevertheless, many of the basic problems described herein remain.

  2. Bill – I think you should republish the whole piece. Has anything much changed since 2001? Not that I’ve seen.

  3. Bill, whatever year it was, please repost it. I will read avidly.And, just going on your short post…spot on.

  4. Absolutely it’s time to overhaul the Byzantine organization that is the State Dept! While Congress is at it, it should fund the State Dept so it can carry out its mission!

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