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State Op-Ed: Transforming the Department of State

Transforming the Department of State

Grant Green, Under Secretary for Management
Washington Times
July 6, 2003

There is much talk of transforming these days. Some in government are hard at it and with much fanfare. At the State Department, we are at it too -- quietly and effectively.

For example, to overcome years of hiring below attrition, Secretary of State Colin Powell launched his Diplomatic Readiness Initiative in 2001 with the specific goal of adding more than 1,000 employees over three years.

Right now Congress has been very supportive and we're two-thirds of the way there. More to the point, we're strengthening the department with these new people -- getting the right person in the right place at the right time with the right skills.

Moreover, we have greatly expanded training opportunities. And our staffing and hiring initiatives mean more employees have the time to benefit from them. We are training more employees in foreign language and area studies, providing crisis-management training to prepare employees to manage terrorist incidents and other crises, and building new leaders through leadership and management training -- now mandatory at all levels for the first time in State's history.

This is not the work force of the past; rather it's the work force of the future. We have also made unprecedented progress in improving the security of our nation's overseas facilities. Responses to challenges such as the bombings of two American Embassies in East Africa five years ago, we are building new facilities to withstand such threats. We've completed eight new embassies or consulates since January 2001, have 19 major projects under construction, and plan 25 more over the next two fiscal years. These are the highest numbers ever -- historic accomplishments.

But that's not all. We've also implemented rigorous management reforms to save the American taxpayer millions of dollars on these projects. That is one reason Congress has been so helpful.

Mr. Powell also made it a top management priority to create a "State-of-the-art State Department" by getting modern technology to our people so they can do the best jogpossible. In May, we achieved a key goal by completing -- ahead of schedule and under budget -- the global installation to 43,500 employees of a secure unclassified computer network linked to the Internet.

By the end of this year the department will complete a similar classified network with global reach and connected to other U.S. Government agencies. Now all of our people can communicate at light speed.

We've also introduced a new rigor and energy in our strategic planning process, with Deputy Secretary Rich Armitage conducting annual reviews of every State and USAID bureau and program. State and USAID have just completed our first joint strategic plan, and are collaborating on areas like financial services and information technology investments. In short, we are closely matching dollars with strategic priorities, both in foreign policy and in management of the department.

In visa issuance and other consular services, the horros of September 11, 2001 sparked a fundamental re-evaluation of everything State does. In issuing visas we've built more effective links with federal law enforcement agencies and with the new Department of Homeland Security. Heightened border security had led to necessary but expensive changes such as the expanded use of biometrics in visas, improved and technologically enhanced lookout systems, and machine-readable visas and passports.

There is more than one way to transform an organization. Secretary Powell chose the quiet, careful method I have described for very good reasons, the most important of which is his mantra: taking care of people. Every human being has an intrinsic worth. The secret of good leadership is to extract that worth and put it to real purpose. That is what Mr. Powell is doing at State. Morale is sky-high.

I have no idea what prompts those such as former Rep. Newt Gingrich to go after the people at State; maybe the president and secretary of state proved too difficult as targets. I know our people well, both foreign and civil service. But I don't recognize the people portrayed in Mr. Gingrich's attacks on State. In fact, his remarks are an insult to the thousands of brave Americans serving their country in very dangerous places, and to the memory to the hundreds of our diplomats who have given their lives in the service of America -- and those who, God forbid, will give them in the future. They're some of the finest people I've ever known.


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