by Joan Wadelton, Guest Contributor
The Department of State's administrative misdeeds have become increasingly serious, much more commonplace and disturbingly costly. The list of failures across the spectrum of management functions (by which I mean the operational side of the agency – such as security, personnel, procurement and embassy construction and maintenance) is growing and this trend shows no sign of abating.
Indeed, State's own Office of Inspector General recently published reports that spotlight problems that have mired State's operations. Among these are the absence of documents accounting for the expenditure of six billion dollars of contracts in Iraq, irregularities associated with a billion dollar medical services contract in Iraq, and significant internal controls deficiencies in financial reporting, property and equipment management, budgetary accounting and information technology.
These scandals and irregularities are embarrassing, unnecessary and damage the prestige and reputation of the United States at home and abroad. They also undermine the implementation of US foreign policy and waste American taxpayer money. Repairing the damage will require both replacement of the current cadre of senior career officials and extensive reform of the institution.
There are multiple causes for this troubling state of affairs. WhirledView author Patricia Kushlis has written extensively on the corruption and incompetence that plague State's personnel system. She has also described in depth the longstanding absence of both internal and external oversight. However, there is another problem that must be addressed: the antiquated, bloated and irrational structure of management operations at State. In this article I map out a new management structure that would address these and other problems.
TODAY'S STRUCTURE: AN OVERLY LARGE AND INCOHERENT GROUPING OF FUNCTIONS UNDER ONE UNDER SECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT
The State Department's administrative responsibilities are neither structured to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, nor to promote fiscal responsibility. The current organizational chart groups the institution's numerous and diverse management functions into a single bureaucratic unit (“the M family”), under a sole senior official (the Under Secretary for Management).
See State's organization chart here:
The current make-up of the M family neither reflects the creation of new Bureaus in State in recent years, nor the importance of security and information technology in today's world. Functions of a more recent vintage -- such as information technology – are located organizationally with longstanding and unrelated offices such as medical services. More oddly, Consular Affairs – a non-management Bureau and once an independent entity – is included in the M family.
Grouping together such an enormous collection of unrelated, high-budget and critical functions ensures that no single person in the role of Under Secretary will have the expertise or time to administer everything competently. Moreover, placement of decision-making in the hands of a single individual impedes healthy competition for resources among senior management staff, who should be obliged to defend their requests for funding and programs against the requests of other Bureaus and offices.
Most seriously, the grouping of so many functions under one decision-maker leaves the door open to cronyism and corruption; closing off competing voices can too easily discourage or silence legitimate dissent. This is a particular concern when duties involving the negotiation and implementation of contracts are not segregated from the funding of those same contracts.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MODERNIZATION OF STATE'S MANAGEMENT PORTFOLIO
(For proposed new organization chart see end of this article).
1) Replace the existing Under Secretary for Management with four new Under Secretaries who each oversee offices and bureaus grouped together by function
Because the M portfolio is too large and too diverse to be managed as one entity by one person, it should be broken up and reconfigured into more logical sub-elements. The existing Under Secretary for Management title and portfolio would be eliminated and four new Under Secretaries created – each overseeing a portfolio of related functions in which he/she would have expertise.* These four Under Secretaries would report to the Deputy Secretary for Management.
Such a management construct would encourage open and candid debate among the various Under Secretaries for finite resources, as each would need to justify his/her programmatic and funding requests to the Deputy Secretary.
Separating the current M portfolio into four distinct units would serve as an anti-corruption mechanism by introducing four tracks of accountability – one for each Under Secretary. Dividing up areas of management responsibilities would enable a more effective and precise identification of responsibility in the event of irregularities.
2) Move the Consular Affairs Bureau out of the management realm
Both overseas and in Washington, consular work – visa issuance, assistance to American citizens and the processing of immigrants – is a critical element of US foreign and national security policy. However, consular work is not a management function and consequently the Bureau of Consular Affairs has no place in the management world. It should be relocated and placed under the existing Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, which oversees related issues.