Thursday, March 11, 2010

Embassy Overload

According to a recent Washington Post report, the Kabul embassy is straining at the seams, and new employees keep wedging themselves in like so many frat boys in a phone booth, taxing the embassy's ability to accommodate them and run effectively.

The ongoing demand for more personnel has meant that hiring orders are sometimes approved without designated jobs. In one case the inspectors cited, an agency had requested authorization "to create up to ten full-time positions in Afghanistan but had not yet decided what those positions would do when the employees actually arrived in country."

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that pulling ten embassy newbies into a war zone before you've got work for them to do is a poor use of resources. And how exactly do you fill a job position before it's been defined? Just hire somebody who looks reasonably competent and hope they're adept at writing memos and/or detonating mines, whichever need you decide you need met?

The situation's not much better in Iraq:

In Baghdad, the new embassy compound still crowds 1,100 people into 700 one-bedroom apartments. Christopher R. Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said during a recent visit to Washington that those accommodations are better than the boxlike trailers where most civilian embassy personnel were previously housed.

"But in the long run," Hill said, "we're not going to be able to attract people when they're two to a one-bedroom apartment. . . . It's like college. And, you know, I didn't have that great a time in college."

On behalf of all Americans who didn't have that great a time in college, I hear you, Chris. One of the great joys of graduation is knowing your days of coming home to find a sock on your doorknob are over. It's bad enough you're asking these people to serve in a land with camel spiders; the least you can do is provide personal bedrooms.

The article doesn't spell out exactly where these problems stem from, although I suspect the technical term for it is "putting the cart before the horse." I'm all for expanding personnel where it's most needed, and doing it quickly, but a little logistical planning goes a long way. Our embassies do essential work. Let's give them the structural support they need to get that work done.

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