oversight

State Department: Targets for Hiring, Filling Vacancies Overseas Being Met, but Gaps Remain in Hard-to-Learn Languages

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-11-19.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                United States General Accounting Office

GAO             Report to Congressional Requesters




November 2003
                STATE DEPARTMENT
                Targets for Hiring,
                Filling Vacancies
                Overseas Being Met,
                but Gaps Remain in
                Hard-to-Learn
                Languages




GAO-04-139
                a
                                                November 2003


                                                STATE DEPARTMENT

                                                Targets for Hiring, Filling Vacancies
Highlights of GAO-04-139, a report to           Overseas Being Met, but Gaps Remain in
congressional requesters
                                                Hard-to-Learn Languages



During the 1990s, the State                     State used critical elements of workforce planning to identify the number of
Department lost more people than                junior officers it needs to hire within the next 5 to 10 years. State
it hired. The resultant shortfalls in           implemented key elements of workforce planning, including setting strategic
the number and skills of Foreign                direction and goals, identifying gaps in its workforce, and developing
Service officers have endangered                strategies to address these gaps. State’s analysis showed that it had a deficit
U.S. diplomatic readiness.
Furthermore, recent studies,
                                                of 386 positions, mainly at the mid level, and in 2001, State launched a $197
including several by GAO, have                  million plan to address the gaps. State has met its 2002 to 2003 hiring targets
questioned whether State’s                      for junior officers and is filling overseas positions with junior officers with
recruitment system identifies                   the general skills and competencies required to do their job well. However,
people with the appropriate skills              State officials said it will take up to 10 years to hire and promote junior
and whether State is assigning                  officers in sufficient numbers to significantly decrease the shortage of mid-
officers with specialized skills,               level officers.
such as the ability to speak a
difficult language, to positions                While State is able to fill overseas positions with junior officers who have the
where they can be utilized.                     necessary general skills, the department continues to face challenges filling
                                                the gaps in staff with proficiency in certain hard-to-learn languages, such as
GAO was asked to review State’s
processes for determining the
                                                Arabic and Chinese. State has implemented a plan to target applicants who
number and skills of junior officers            speak these difficult languages. However, this plan does not include numeric
the department needs and to                     goals, and State has collected limited data to assess the effectiveness of its
determine whether it is hiring and              efforts. Other challenges include new officers’ public diplomacy skills and
assigning officers with the general             training in this area, increased supervisory and on-the job requirements
skills to carry out foreign policy              when State assigns junior officers to positions above their experience level,
overseas. GAO was also asked to                 and the impact of rotational assignments on junior officers’ performance and
examine the challenges State still              managers’ time.
needs to address, especially
regarding officers’ foreign language
                                                New Hires with Ability in Certain Languages as a Percentage of New Foreign Service Officers
skills.



GAO is recommending that the
Secretary of State collect and
maintain data on the effectiveness
of the department’s efforts to
address continuing gaps in officers
with proficiency in certain hard-to-
learn languages. State generally
agreed with our findings and
observations, but did not
completely address our
recommendations.



www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-139.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Jess Ford at
(202) 512-4268 or fordj@gao.gov.
Contents



Letter                                                                                                      1
                             Results in Brief                                                               2
                             Background                                                                     4
                             State Uses Critical Elements of Workforce Planning and Is Hiring
                               and Assigning Officers Overseas with the Necessary General
                               Skills                                                                       6
                             Key Challenges Include Gaps in Certain Foreign Languages                      13
                             Conclusions                                                                   25
                             Recommendations for Executive Action                                          25
                             Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                            25


Appendixes
              Appendix I:    Scope and Methodology                                                         27
             Appendix II:    Comments from the Department of State                                         31
                             GAO Comments                                                                  39
             Appendix III:   GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                        41
                             GAO Contacts                                                                  41
                             Acknowledgments                                                               41


Tables                       Table 1: Number of Applicants Taking and Passing the Written and
                                      Oral Exams in Fiscal Years 2001, 2002, and 2003                       5
                             Table 2: Foreign Service Generalists’ Surplus/Deficits across
                                      Career Tracks as of March 2003                                        9
                             Table 3: State Department Hiring Targets and Actual Hiring for
                                      Foreign Service Generalists, Fiscal Years 2002-2004                  11


Figures                      Figure 1: Critical Elements of Workforce Planning                              7
                             Figure 2: Number of New Hires with Working Proficiency in a Hard
                                       Language and Number of New Hires with Less than
                                       Working Proficiency in a Hard Language                              17
                             Figure 3: New Hires with Hard Language Ability as a Percentage of
                                       New Foreign Service Generalists                                     18
                             Figure 4: Assignment Information for New Hires with Hard
                                       Language Ability in Fiscal Year 2001                                20




                             Page i                      GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Contents




Abbreviations

AFSERS       Automated Foreign Service Examination and Registry System
BEX          Board of Examiners
DRI          Diplomatic Readiness Initiative
FSI          Foreign Service Institute
GEMS         Global Employment Management System
MRV          machine-readable visa
STMS         Student Training Management System

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Page ii                           GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    November 19, 2003                                                                                   Leter




                                    The Honorable Christopher Shays
                                    Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security,
                                      Emerging Threats, and International Relations
                                    Committee on Government Reform
                                    House of Representatives

                                    The Honorable Vic Snyder
                                    House of Representatives

                                    In 2001 the Department of State launched a 3-year, $197.5 million initiative
                                    to recruit, hire, train, and deploy the right people to carry out U.S. foreign
                                    policy. Under the initiative, State plans to hire more than 600 new Foreign
                                    Service officers above attrition—the department’s largest expansion in
                                    years. The initiative was designed to address several problems, including
                                    shortfalls in the number and skills of Foreign Service officers at the mid
                                    level that the department said endanger U.S. diplomatic readiness.1 During
                                    the 1990s, State lost more people than it hired due to budget cuts.
                                    Furthermore, recent studies, including several conducted by GAO,2 have
                                    questioned whether the State Department’s recruitment system identifies
                                    people with the appropriate skills and whether the assignment process
                                    places officers with specialized skills, such as the ability to speak a difficult
                                    language, in positions where they can be utilized.

                                    To determine whether the State Department is hiring the right people and
                                    assigning them to jobs where they can fully use their skills, you asked us to
                                    review State’s system for recruiting and assigning new Foreign Service
                                    officers. In this report we (1) discuss State’s processes for determining the
                                    number and skills of junior officers it needs during the next 5 to 10 years
                                    and whether it is hiring and assigning officers with the general skills to




                                    1
                                     State defines diplomatic readiness as its “ability to get the right people in the right place at
                                    the right time with the right skills to carry out America’s foreign policy.”
                                    2
                                     U.S. General Accounting Office, Foreign Languages: Human Capital Approach Needed to
                                    Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls, GAO-02-375 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2002);
                                    and U.S. General Accounting Office, State Department: Staffing Shortfalls and Ineffective
                                    Assignment System Compromise Diplomatic Readiness at Hardship Posts, GAO-02-626
                                    (Washington, D.C.: June 18, 2002).




                                    Page 1                               GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                   meet the needs of overseas posts3 and (2) examine the challenges State still
                   needs to address, especially regarding officers’ foreign language skills.

                   To conduct our review, we examined planning documents and information
                   related to State’s processes for recruiting and assigning Foreign Service
                   officers. We met with officials from State’s Office of Career Development
                   and Assignments; the Office of Recruitment, Examination, and
                   Employment; the Foreign Service Institute; and the Diplomatic Readiness
                   Task Force. In addition, we met with officials in all of State’s regional
                   bureaus and in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. We also conducted
                   fieldwork in Mexico City and Moscow and interviewed selected officials
                   from five U.S. embassies in Africa; this work included interviews with
                   junior Foreign Service officers. We chose Mexico City and Moscow for our
                   fieldwork because of the large number of junior officers assigned to those
                   posts. We chose the embassies in Africa to obtain the opinions of Foreign
                   Service officers at small and hard-to-fill posts. For further information on
                   our scope and methodology, see appendix I.



Results in Brief   State used critical elements of workforce planning to identify the number
                   of junior officers it needs to hire within the next 5 to 10 years and is hiring
                   and assigning officers overseas with the general skills, such as oral and
                   written communication, to do the job. State implemented key elements of
                   workforce planning, including setting strategic direction and goals,
                   identifying gaps in its workforce, and developing strategies to address
                   these gaps. In determining the skills it needs, State’s 2001 analysis—which
                   focused on five career tracks4—showed that it needed 386 new positions,
                   mainly at the mid level. State determined it needed to hire and train about
                   623 new Foreign Service officers above attrition through fiscal year 2004 to
                   address the shortages and have sufficient staff for other purposes, such as
                   to allow employees to seamlessly rotate in and out of positions abroad and
                   to support necessary training in languages and other areas. In 2001, State
                   began implementing a plan to address these shortfalls and has met its 2002
                   to 2003 targets for hiring junior officers in all five of its career tracks.


                   3
                    This report covers Foreign Service generalists, who are officers hired for broad-based skills
                   to perform many types of jobs, rather than Foreign Service specialists hired for a specific
                   job.
                   4
                    The five career tracks are management, consular, economic, political, and public
                   diplomacy.




                   Page 2                              GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
However, based on its projected attrition and hiring, State anticipates that
it will take up to 10 years to hire and promote junior officers in sufficient
numbers to eliminate the shortage of mid-level officers in the various
career tracks. Nearly every official with whom GAO spoke said that State
was hiring and filling overseas positions with new Foreign Service junior
officers with the general skills and competencies5 required to do their jobs
well.

State continues to face challenges filling the gaps in staff with proficiency
in certain hard-to-learn languages,6 as well as challenges in several other
areas. State officials at headquarters and overseas have stated that the
department does not have enough Foreign Service officers with hard
language skills, which has adversely affected State operations. State is
currently seeking sufficient staff to support training in languages as
needed. In addition, it has implemented a plan to target applicants for
hiring who speak certain languages to increase the number of hard
language speakers. However, this plan does not include numeric goals, and
State has collected limited data to assess the effectiveness of its efforts.
Several overseas post officials and new officers at the U.S. embassy in
Moscow told us they were concerned that some junior officers lack
sufficient training in languages considered hard to learn, thus hindering
their ability to do their jobs effectively. State is now increasing the amount
of language training to junior officers studying hard-to-learn languages.
Other concerns regarding new Foreign Service officers included their lack
of public diplomacy experience and insufficient training in this area,
increased supervisory and on-the job requirements when State assigns
junior officers to positions above their experience level, and rotational
assignments that do not give participants enough time to learn their jobs
and thus burden managers. To address some of these concerns, State has
extended the length of public diplomacy training and is reviewing the
practice of rotational assignments.




5
 By general skills and competencies we mean the 13 job dimensions, such as written and
oral communication, information integration and analysis, initiative, and leadership that
State has identified as important for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs.
6
 The State Department pays incentives to encourage people to pursue the difficult languages
that are used in posts that tend to have hard-to-fill positions. All of the “incentive” languages
fall into one of two categories that State refers to as “hard and superhard” languages. Among
those incentive languages we looked at were Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean,
Russian, and Cantonese Chinese. This report refers to those languages as “hard” languages.




Page 3                               GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
             This report recommends that the Secretary of State collect and maintain
             data on the effectiveness of State’s efforts to address language gaps. State
             should use these data to, among other things, report on filling such gaps
             through its outreach efforts to recruit more junior officers with hard
             language skills and its pilot programs to increase their training in these
             languages. State should also explore additional opportunities to maximize
             assignment of junior officers with skills in these languages to overseas
             posts where they can use these languages. In commenting on a draft of this
             report, the State Department generally agreed with the report’s findings
             and observations and said that it is already addressing the first part of our
             recommendation. However, we do not believe that State is addressing this
             issue, because the data that State collects do not show the number of
             individuals it hires as a direct result of its outreach efforts. State did not
             completely address the second part of our recommendation, but stated that
             our approach, which focused on six specific languages, was too narrow. We
             disagree with State’s assessment. We focused on the six languages because
             of their strategic importance and findings from previous GAO reports that
             found that lack of staff with skills in some of these languages has hindered
             diplomatic readiness.



Background   The State Department advances U.S. national interests through diplomatic
             relations with 163 countries at 263 posts worldwide. About 5,900 Foreign
             Service generalists stationed overseas and at State headquarters perform
             much of this work. To become a Foreign Service officer, an individual must
             be an American citizen between 20 and 59 years old on the date of the
             written examination; pass a written and oral examination; be able to obtain
             security and medical clearances; and be available for worldwide
             assignment, including in Washington, D.C.

             State recruits and hires candidates by administering a written and oral
             exam to individuals interested in becoming Foreign Service officers. The
             general skills identified by the department and the exams, which test for
             those skills, were validated during a 1997 to 1998 job analysis conducted by
             State employees and outside contractors. According to State officials and
             consultants, the results of the analysis should be valid for 10 years. In
             addition, State has updated the exam to reflect changing needs. For
             example, it added a section on management skills to the Foreign Service
             written exam to identify more candidates with knowledge useful in this
             career track. Moreover, the Board of Examiners reviews the exam annually,
             as required by the Foreign Service Act.




             Page 4                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
The written exam tests for knowledge of 36 topics such as world historical
events, geography, basic economic principles and statistics, and basic
management principles. Applicants registering for the written exam can
self-declare foreign languages spoken and must select a career track or
cone. There are five from which to choose: management, consular,
economic, political, and public diplomacy. The oral exam assesses a
candidate for 13 general skills or competencies: written communication,
oral communication, information integration and analysis, planning and
organizing, judgment, resourcefulness, initiative and leadership, working
with others, experience and motivation, composure, objectivity and
integrity, cultural adaptability, and quantitative analysis. State does not test
for language proficiency as a requirement for employment. Table 1 shows
the number of applicants taking and passing the written and oral exams in
fiscal years 2001 through 2003.



Table 1: Number of Applicants Taking and Passing the Written and Oral Exams in
Fiscal Years 2001, 2002, and 2003

                                    Number of
                               applicants who    Number who        Number of       Number who
                                  took written passed written applicants who        passed oral
Year                                     exam          exam took oral exam               exam
2001                                   12,912           3,871             1,668              727
2002                                   31,442           9,258             6,295            1,547
2003                                   20,342           3,274              N.A.             N.A.
Source: Department of State.


After a candidate passes both the written and oral exams, he or she is
placed on a register of eligible hires and will remain there for up to 18
months or until being placed in an initial training, or A-100, class, according
to State officials. There are five separate registers, one for each career
track or cone, which rank candidates according to their scores on the oral
assessment. To increase the chances that candidates on the register who
have language skills are hired, a passing score on an optional telephonic
assessment of a candidate’s foreign language skills will add points to the
individual’s final score. Each register has a minimum cutoff point, which
dictates an immediate conditional offer of employment to those candidates
who receive that score on their oral exam. The cutoff points for receiving
an immediate conditional offer vary according to each register. Registers
with more candidates interested in serving in that career track have higher
cutoff points.



Page 5                                      GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                         Each A-100 class consists of between 45 and 90 junior Foreign Service
                         officers who will be assigned as entry-level Foreign Service personnel in
                         overseas or domestic posts. During training, junior officers are required to
                         bid on a list of available jobs from which State’s Entry Level Division will
                         assign them to an overseas post. The officers receive language and job-
                         specific training after they receive their assignments.



State Uses Critical      State used critical elements of workforce planning to identify Foreign
                         Service officer staffing and skill gaps within the next 5 to 10 years. The
Elements of Workforce    department determined that it needed to hire 623 new Foreign Service
Planning and Is Hiring   generalists above attrition hiring; to accomplish this, in 2001 it developed a
                         3-year hiring plan. The department has met its hiring targets for fiscal years
and Assigning Officers   2002 and 2003 and is ready to implement 2004 hiring pending congressional
Overseas with the        funding. However, officials we interviewed projected that it would take up
Necessary General        to 10 years to hire and promote enough junior officers to eliminate the
                         shortfalls at the mid level. Almost all officials we interviewed said State has
Skills                   hired and was in the process of filling overseas positions with very talented
                         and capable junior officers with the general skills and competencies
                         required to do their jobs well.



State Used Critical      State used critical elements of workforce planning, which include (1)
Elements of Workforce    setting strategic direction, (2) analyzing the workforce to determine if
                         staffing and skill gaps exist, (3) developing workforce strategies to fill the
Planning
                         gaps, and (4) evaluating the strategies and making needed revisions to
                         ensure that strategies work as intended. Involving various staff (from top to
                         bottom) is important across all the critical elements. (See fig. 1.)




                         Page 6                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                                    Figure 1: Critical Elements of Workforce Planning




State Has Set Strategic Direction   Before developing a workforce plan, an agency first needs to set strategic
                                    direction and program goals. State has done this by implementing a
                                    strategic plan, which contains 12 strategic goals and 44 performance goals.
                                    Overseas posts participate in the planning process by developing mission
                                    program plans that link their resource (including staffing) requests to the
                                    strategic goals. The overseas posts submit their plans to the regional
                                    bureaus in Washington, D.C. After review and prioritization, the regional
                                    bureaus incorporate elements from the mission plans into bureau
                                    performance plans, based on policy priorities and initiatives that are
                                    relevant to the strategic and performance goals. State has developed an
                                    overseas staffing model, which it uses to determine staffing requirements
                                    and allocate personnel resources worldwide. The model is linked to State’s
                                    strategic goals through the mission program planning process.




                                    Page 7                          GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
State Has Analyzed Its       In 2001, State analyzed its workforce to identify staffing and skill gaps in
Workforce to Identify Gaps   the Foreign Service. State’s overseas staffing model served as the basis for
                             the analysis, which is a key component of workforce planning. The staffing
                             model, which State updates biennially, measures Foreign Service staffing
                             needs overseas by the five career tracks or “cones.” The model places posts
                             into categories by size and the post’s primary function and determines how
                             many positions the post needs for each career track based on certain
                             workload factors. For example, the model determines the number of
                             administrative positions a post requires based on the number of Americans
                             at the post and such factors as the level of service provided to each U.S.
                             government agency at the post, the number of housing units, and the
                             number of visitors.

                             To identify its Foreign Service staffing needs, State compared the number
                             of officers it had in each career track with the total number of positions to
                             be filled, including new overseas positions required according to post
                             workload categories projected by the staffing model. State used these
                             analyses in determining total staffing needs. State’s analysis considered the
                             level of experience needed for the officers by grade level.7

                             In 2001, State determined that it needed 623 new Foreign Service
                             generalists to eliminate its mid-level Foreign Service staffing and skills
                             shortfall. This number includes the 386 overseas positions identified by the
                             overseas staffing model, as well as additional staff needed to manage
                             crises; permit employees to step out of assignment rotation to receive
                             training, including language training; allow employees to seamlessly rotate
                             in and out of positions abroad; allow State to meet domestic
                             responsibilities and fully staff the required details to other U.S. government
                             agencies and offices; and provide employees with training in languages,
                             leadership and management, and tradecraft, such as consular duties. This
                             deficit affected all grade levels, with the majority at the mid level,
                             according to State officials.

                             As of March 2003, State had a combined mid-level deficit of 353 officers in
                             all career tracks. The deficits also included domestic positions, such as
                             desk officers, that Foreign Service officers occupy when they are assigned


                             7
                              The Foreign Service career system has six levels. An officer may be hired at FS 06, FS 05, or
                             FS 04 depending on his or her level of work experience, and progress through FS 01. The
                             Senior Foreign Service includes Minister Counselor (MC) and Counselor (OC). There is also
                             the rank of Career Minister above the ranks listed in the Senior Foreign Service.




                             Page 8                              GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                                               to headquarters. The largest deficit for these positions is in the public
                                               diplomacy career track, due mainly to deficits inherited from the U.S.
                                               Information Agency, which was folded into the State Department in 1999.

                                               Table 2 shows the staffing deficits and surpluses for Foreign Service
                                               generalists by career track.



Table 2: Foreign Service Generalists’ Surplus/Deficits across Career Tracks as of March 2003

                                                                                                  Public         Total               Surplus/deficit
Grade Level            Management         Consular        Economic       Political            diplomacy surplus/deficit              by grade level
Senior Level           MC           -14             3               7           31                     -14                  13
                       OC            -7             3               7           33                     -12                  24
                       01           -10            34             25            75                    -112                  12                         49
Mid Level              02            0             27              -2           39                    -161                  -97
                       03           -41        -97                -63          -26                     -29                -256                    -353
Junior Level           04a          147      -395b                85            53                      70                  -40                        -40
Total                               75        -425                59          205                     -258                -344
Source: Department of State.
                                               a
                                               FS 05 and FS 06 are training positions that are not counted against the deficit.
                                               b
                                               This number is not a true deficit because junior officers in all career tracks perform consular work.


State Developed and Is                         In 2001, the Secretary of State launched the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative
Implementing Workforce                         (DRI), a $197.5 million plan to address the staffing and skills deficits to
Strategies to Fill the Gaps                    ensure diplomatic readiness. This initiative calls for hiring an additional
                                               1,158 employees over attrition, including 623 Foreign Service generalists,
                                               between fiscal years 2002 and 2004.8 This hiring is in addition to the 852
                                               staff needed to fill gaps created by attrition. State’s plans call for the agency
                                               to continue hiring at least 200 officers above attrition through fiscal year
                                               2005. To accomplish the increased hiring under the DRI, State is
                                               implementing an aggressive recruitment program that incorporates its
                                               traditional recruitment at campuses and job fairs with new methods, such
                                               as an interactive Web site. State’s recruitment program is focused on
                                               addressing shortages in specific career tracks. For example, State is
                                               targeting business schools and other appropriate professional associations
                                               to recruit applicants with management skills.


                                               8
                                                   The DRI does not include additional consular positions.




                                               Page 9                                  GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
State Has Some Mechanisms for   State officials described a few ways in which they evaluate and revise the
Evaluating Its Plan             agency’s planning process. For example, Human Resources personnel said
                                they frequently adjust the staffing model to ensure that its different
                                components, such as the promotion, retirement, and attrition sections,
                                accurately reflect the trends occurring in the Foreign Service. State also
                                monitors its intake plans. A recruitment committee meets biweekly to
                                review and adjust State’s recruitment and training plans. As a result of
                                these reviews, the committee may move hiring from one career track to
                                another or increase training resources to accommodate the workload. The
                                officials said State also conducts quarterly reviews of bureau staffing to
                                take into account changing priorities.

Employee Involvement in         Involving employees at all levels and stakeholders in the workforce
Workforce Planning Varies       planning process is important to encourage support for and understanding
                                of its outcomes. State’s workforce planning process involves managers at
                                all levels. For example, all 37 bureaus as well as all overseas posts provide
                                input. Managers at all levels help determine staffing needs in parts of the
                                organization for mission program plans and bureau performance plans that
                                are then factored into the overall plans. Managers at all levels assist in data
                                gathering as well as assessing and validating the overseas staffing model.
                                Senior management, including the Deputy Secretary and the
                                Undersecretary for Management, reviews all bureau performance plans at
                                formal annual hearings. Budget and human resources analysts also review
                                the bureau performance plans. Further, employees at varying levels serve
                                on committees, such as the recruitment committee, involved in workforce
                                planning. Other nonmanagement employees participate in State’s
                                workforce planning efforts, according to Bureau of Human Resources
                                officials. For example, they said officers at all levels participated in the
                                analysis done to validate Foreign Service skill needs, and junior and mid-
                                level officers at the overseas posts provide data that are used to develop
                                the mission program plans.



State Has Met Its Hiring        State has met its hiring targets for fiscal years 2002 and 2003. (See table 3.)
Targets but Gaps in Mid-
Level Officers Will Take up
to 10 Years to Fill




                                Page 10                       GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Table 3: State Department Hiring Targets and Actual Hiring for Foreign Service
Generalists, Fiscal Years 2002-2004

                                                     Total actual
                                                       hiring for        2004
Fiscal year                     2002        2003      both years     (planned)         Total
Diplomatic Readiness
Initiative                       205         209              414          209             623
Attrition and MRV-
funded hiring                    262         259              521          331             852
Total hiring target              467         468              935          540         1,475
Actual hiring                    467         468              935          N.A.            N.A.
Source: Department of State.


State has eliminated staffing deficits at the entry level in all five of its career
tracks, according to officials in State’s Office of Recruitment Examination
and Employment. They said there is a sufficient number of candidates on
the list of eligible hires to fill all junior officer positions coming vacant for
fiscal year 2004.

Since 2002 State has hired at over twice the level of attrition. It plans to hire
an additional 209 new Foreign Service generalists9 in fiscal year 2004 to
provide a training “float” and to ensure that additional officers are available
for crisis management. According to State, it must sustain the personnel
“float” to ensure that training can continue at the appropriate levels. Most
of these positions are new junior officers, who are hired at the entry level
for their career tracks. State’s plan is to eventually promote the junior
officers to the mid level in sufficient numbers to eliminate the current
deficit of 353 mid-level officers.

State anticipates that the mid-level gap will be eliminated within the next 9
to 10 years, based on its attrition and hiring and provided it receives all DRI
allocations through fiscal year 2004. Several officers said elimination of the
mid-level gap depended on State’s ability to promote the junior officers. For
example, they said that if State continues to hire large numbers of junior
officers, eventually there would be a surplus of officers eligible for
promotion. If all of these officers were not promoted quickly, they might
leave the Foreign Service. In addition, a few officials stated that elimination

9
 State generally does not hire Foreign Service generalists at the mid level because such
hiring has not been effective, according to State officials.




Page 11                             GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                             of the mid-level gap depended on State’s ability to continue hiring junior
                             officers at the current rate. They feared a “feast or famine” situation in
                             which increased hiring would be followed by years of no hiring. State
                             officials believe that, due to the current deficit at the mid level, it will be
                             able to provide adequate promotion opportunities to satisfy the career
                             expectations of recently hired junior officers as it eliminates the mid-level
                             deficit. They also believe that to avoid the feast or famine situation it will
                             be necessary to protect the personnel float so that additional officers
                             continue to be available in a crisis.



State Has Hired and          Almost all officials we interviewed said State identified and hired very
Assigned Foreign Service     talented and capable junior officers with the general skills and
                             competencies, such as written and oral communication, required to do
Officers with the General    their jobs well, noting that the examination process was identifying junior
Skills and Competencies to   officers with the needed skills. Junior officers said the oral exam
Do the Job                   effectively measured the necessary general skills that they use on their
                             jobs. Many said the group exercise administered during the oral
                             assessment was a potent tool for assessing a candidate’s ability to lead and
                             work with others. The current version of the oral assessment allows test-
                             takers to present relevant information about previous work experience and
                             skills that examiners would consider important. Junior officers we
                             interviewed who had taken the oral exam twice—first when it did not allow
                             candidates to present information about their background and skills and a
                             second time when it did—said the latter version of the exam was an
                             improvement in the oral assessment. Opinions about the effectiveness of
                             the written exam to measure the same aptitude were mixed. Junior officers
                             said the section of the written exam that focused on biographical, or
                             personal, data did not identify skills needed to perform effectively.
                             However, some junior officers said the written exam worked effectively as
                             a knowledge screen for candidates to ensure that those hired had the broad
                             intellectual skills needed for the job.

                             State is filling overseas positions with new officers who have the general
                             skills that State requires, according to headquarters and overseas officials
                             with whom we spoke. Officials said that overall, the assignment process
                             was accomplishing its goals and that State was assigning junior officers
                             with the appropriate skills and eliminating junior officer vacancies. Several
                             overseas U.S. officials in Mexico City and Moscow cited interpersonal skills
                             as particularly important and stated that the junior officers assigned to
                             their posts had those skills. For example, one official said the number of
                             junior officers entering the Foreign Service with excellent interpersonal



                             Page 12                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                                   skills had increased dramatically in the past 3 or 4 years. An official at a
                                   small hardship post in Africa stated that flexibility and the ability to handle
                                   a variety of tasks were critical skills and that State carefully selected the
                                   junior officers assigned to his post. Several officers in Mexico City and
                                   Moscow commented on State’s success at filling positions in general and
                                   noted that there were no vacant positions in their sections.

Junior Officers Are Pleased with   Junior officers generally spoke favorably about how State assigned them to
Assignment Process                 their posts. They said they were pleased with the process because it
                                   allowed them to choose their top 25 jobs from an available list, and several
                                   junior officers told us they were assigned to one of their top locations.
                                   Some junior officers stated that although State did not necessarily take
                                   their previous work experience into account when assigning them to a
                                   post, they sometimes had opportunities to use their experience once they
                                   arrived overseas. For example, several junior officers said their legal
                                   backgrounds helped them perform their consular duties. Another junior
                                   officer commented that his past Army leadership and experience with the
                                   press directly related to his public diplomacy position.

                                    The career development officers who assign junior officers to overseas
                                   posts stated that they are familiar with junior officers’ background and
                                   work experience and may consider them when they make assignments.
                                   However, they explained that the ultimate purpose of the assignment
                                   process to meet the needs of the Foreign Service and to prepare junior
                                   officers for tenure. To be tenured, the officers have to reach required levels
                                   of proficiency in foreign languages and demonstrate core competencies
                                   that indicate their ability to have a successful career in the Foreign Service.
                                   Thus, these criteria guide junior officers’ assignments.



Key Challenges Include             State still faces challenges in recruiting, hiring, assigning, and training
                                   officers who are proficient in hard-to-learn languages. State officials at
Gaps in Certain                    headquarters and overseas have stated that the department does not have
Foreign Languages                  enough Foreign Service officers with hard language skills. Three recent
                                   GAO reports also cited language skill gaps that adversely affected
                                   department operations.10 State has acknowledged that it needs more staff
                                   with skills in certain hard languages and, in addition to its efforts to ensure

                                   10
                                    See GAO-02-375, GAO-02-626, and U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Public Diplomacy:
                                   State Department Expands Efforts but Faces Significant Challenges, GAO-03-951
                                   (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 4, 2003).




                                   Page 13                          GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                          adequate training in foreign languages, has begun an effort to recruit
                          officers with hard language skills. However, State does not have data that
                          link its outreach efforts to the number of people hired with skills in hard
                          languages. In addition to the language issue, State officials and some junior
                          officers expressed other concerns, including the junior officers’ public
                          diplomacy skills, supervision, and on-the-job training requirements, as well
                          as issues related to rotational positions.



State Has Skill Gaps in   Overseas post officials and several new officers told us that some junior
Certain Hard Languages    officers who are assigned to hard language posts lack sufficient training in
                          these languages. For example, in 2002, junior officers in Moscow sent a
                          cable to State stating that they had not received sufficient language training
                          to do their jobs effectively, which was weakening the post’s diplomatic
                          readiness. The junior officers, as well as most senior officials at this post,
                          said that many of the junior officers have difficulty participating in high-
                          level political meetings—which significantly impedes the political section’s
                          work—and interviewing visa applicants because they lack language
                          proficiency. The latter is of particular concern as the department moves
                          toward heavier reliance on interviewing applicants as a basis for
                          determining whether they will receive a visa. While State classified the
                          junior officer positions as requiring level-2 proficiency in speaking, post
                          management and junior officers said they need a level-3 proficiency to
                          perform their jobs effectively.11

                          Our past work has also shown gaps in the numbers of officers with
                          proficiency in certain hard languages. In September 2003, we reported that
                          about 21 percent of the public diplomacy officers posted overseas in
                          language designated positions have not attained the level of language
                          speaking proficiency required for their positions, hampering their ability to
                          engage with foreign publics.12 In January 2002 we reported that State had
                          not filled all of its positions requiring foreign language skills, and we noted
                          that lack of staff with foreign language skills had weakened the fight
                          against international terrorism and resulted in less effective representation



                          11
                           While additional time and resources are needed to move an officer to the third level of
                          proficiency, U.S. government research has shown that a level-3 speaker is up to four times
                          as productive as a speaker at level 2. See GAO-02-375.
                          12
                               GAO-03-951.




                          Page 14                            GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                             of U.S. interest overseas.13 We cited similar shortages during our review of
                             staffing at certain hard-to-fill posts.14 We reported that some new junior
                             officers did not meet the minimum language proficiency requirements of
                             the positions to which they were assigned in several countries of strategic
                             importance to the United States, including China, Saudi Arabia, and
                             Ukraine.



State’s Effort to Address    State has acknowledged that it has gaps in the number of officers proficient
Critical Languages Lacks     in certain hard languages, but its workforce planning does not identify the
                             number of officers to hire with those skills.15 The department has further
Numerical Targets, Data on
                             acknowledged that languages are integral to its work and important to its
Effectiveness                mission. However, because its officers are required to do much more than
                             use a foreign language, State’s philosophy is to hire officers with a wide
                             range of skills it believes are predictors of success in the Foreign Service. It
                             does not hire for skills that it can train for, such as languages. For example,
                             State officials have told us that it is easier to train a person with good
                             diplomatic skills to speak a language than it is to teach a linguist to be a
                             good diplomat. Therefore, State officials do not believe the solution to the
                             language skill gap is recruiting aimed only at filling this gap. According to
                             State, increased staffing under the DRI will solve the problem.
                             Nevertheless, the department has implemented efforts to identify
                             candidates for the Foreign Service with hard language skills.

                             State has begun an effort to recruit more speakers of difficult languages.
                             Since the DRI in 2001, the department has extended its outreach efforts by
                             targeting professional associations, such as the American Council on the
                             Teaching of Foreign Languages and the Modern Language Association, and
                             specific universities and colleges that produce graduates with ability in
                             hard languages. While State does track the language skills of its new hires,
                             it has not established numerical targets for the number of individuals with
                             hard language ability it aims to hire. Nor could it provide current or
                             historical data showing the number of individuals it hired as a direct result
                             of targeted outreach efforts at these professional associations and schools.


                             13
                                  GAO-02-375.
                             14
                                  GAO-02-626.
                             15
                                State does identify foreign language training needs each year and uses the results to
                             determine language training capacity required as well as the size of the training float needed
                             to attain it.




                             Page 15                             GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
While State has not set targets, our analysis of data from State’s Foreign
Service Institute (FSI) on the number of junior officers who took a
language proficiency test after they were hired indicates that the number of
Foreign Service officers with ability in hard languages has increased since
2001, with State hiring 51 Foreign Service generalists with these skills16 in
fiscal year 2001, 74 in 2002, and 115 in 2003. While these figures include
new hires with a broad range of hard language skills, a subset of these hires
speaks hard languages at a more advanced skill level. New hires in this
subgroup have speaking skills ranging from a minimum level of 2, or what
State refers to as “limited working proficiency,” to a level of 5—equivalent
to skills a native speaker would possess.17 The number of these officers has
also increased from fiscal year 2001 to 2003. State hired 31, 43, and 78
Foreign Service generalists who spoke languages at a level of working
proficiency or higher from 2001 through 2003, respectively. (See fig. 2.)




16
 In our analysis of new hires with hard language ability, we included those officers who, at a
minimum, possessed rudimentary skills in speaking or reading difficult languages, those
who spoke or read at the level of a native speaker, and all those who fell somewhere in
between these two categories.
17
   We used level 2 and above because that is the target of the department’s re-invigorated
outreach efforts for officers with foreign language skills, according to a State official.




Page 16                             GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Figure 2: Number of New Hires with Working Proficiency in a Hard Language18 and
Number of New Hires with Less than Working Proficiency in a Hard Language




State could not provide data to demonstrate how many junior officers with
hard language skills were hired as a result of targeted recruitment. Thus it
is unclear whether the increase is the result of expanded outreach or a
steep increase in hiring of junior officers. According to our analysis, the
number of new Foreign Service generalists with hard language ability as a
percentage of the total population of new hires has fluctuated since 2001
when it was 22 percent, compared with 16 percent and 25 percent in 2002
and 2003, respectively. (See fig. 3.)




18
     Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Cantonese Chinese.




Page 17                              GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                                  Figure 3: New Hires with Hard Language Ability as a Percentage of New Foreign
                                  Service Generalists




Telephonic Assessment of          In addition to outreach efforts, State uses a telephonic assessment—the
Candidates with Language Skills   Board of Examiners (BEX) test—to provide candidates with foreign
                                  language skills a competitive advantage in the hiring process, according to
                                  State officials. Candidates who have passed the written and oral exams can
                                  take the telephone test in their language of choice. If they pass, they are
                                  assigned additional points to their oral assessment score. The purpose of
                                  this tool is to raise the candidates’ oral assessment scores sufficiently for
                                  them to receive an immediate offer of employment.

                                  However, our analysis of 102 individuals who passed the telephonic
                                  assessment in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Russian in fiscal year
                                  2003 shows that, as of October 2003, only 32 received and accepted offers
                                  from the Foreign Service and were placed in A-100 training. Twenty-seven
                                  individuals are awaiting security or medical clearances; 6 are no longer
                                  junior officer candidates because they failed their security or medical
                                  clearances, withdrew their applications, or their candidate eligibility




                                  Page 18                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                            expired; and 37 remain on the Foreign Service register. The 37 individuals
                            in the latter category scored well enough to pass the oral assessment;
                            however, the additional points they received from passing the BEX
                            assessment were not sufficient for them to receive a job offer.19 Moreover,
                            the State Department does not provide any additional points for BEX
                            testees with hard languages versus other languages. However, State
                            officials said the department is revising this system.



Junior Officers with Hard   Although State is trying to increase the number of officers with hard
Language Skills Are Not     language skills, it does not necessarily assign new hires to posts where they
                            can use those skills during their first two tours.20 We analyzed the
Always Placed to Use Them
                            assignment of 31 new officers with hard language ability21 to determine if
                            during their first two tours they were assigned to a post where they could
                            use their language skills. According to our analysis, 45 percent of new hires
                            with hard language ability were deployed to a post where they could use
                            their language skills during their first two tours. For the 55 percent of
                            junior officers who did not use their hard language skills during their first
                            two tours, 20 percent were assigned to a post where they could use other
                            foreign language skills they had acquired and 35 percent were assigned to
                            posts that required foreign language training. (See fig. 4.)




                            19
                              Placement on the list of eligible hires for the Foreign Service register does not mean that a
                            job offer will be made. Candidates may wait on the register until their eligibility expires or
                            they may be called to serve before it expires, depending on the Service’s needs.
                            20
                                 A tour generally lasts 2 years.
                            21
                             This analysis includes all those officers who, at a minimum, possessed at least rudimentary
                            skills in speaking or writing difficult languages, indicated by a score of 1 from FSI.




                            Page 19                                GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Figure 4: Assignment Information for New Hires with Hard Language Ability in Fiscal
Year 2001




Note: As of November 2003, State could provide first and second tour information for only 31 of the 51
officers with hard language ability hired in fiscal year 2001. State has not yet assigned the remaining
20 officers to their second tours.


It is even less likely that officers will be assigned to hard language posts
during their first tour. Our analysis of first tour officers with hard language
ability shows that 24 percent of these officers were immediately deployed
in fiscal year 2001 to posts where they could use those skills and 32 percent
in fiscal year 2002 and 28 percent in fiscal year 2003. The vast majority of
the new hires were immediately deployed to posts where other foreign
languages were spoken or to English-speaking posts.

The ability to speak a difficult language is one of many factors influencing a
junior officer’s assignment to an overseas post. As a practical matter, there
may not be openings at particular hard-language posts at the same time
junior officers are being assigned to their first and second tours. The
requirements for tenure, which include a variety of regions and jobs for
junior officers to prepare them for careers as Foreign Service generalists,
are also a major consideration. The emphasis on career development and
achieving tenure sometimes limits the department’s ability to train and
deploy a sufficient number of officers with the needed training in hard
languages to do their jobs, according to several headquarters officials. For
example, officials in one of State’s geographic bureaus stated that some
hard languages require a level-2 speaking proficiency, for which officers



Page 20                                 GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                           may get from 24 to 26 weeks of language training. However, if junior
                           officers spend a longer period of time in training, they could be at a
                           disadvantage for tenure at the first year of eligibility because they would
                           have a narrower range of on-the-job experiences on which tenure decisions
                           are based. Security requirements are also a consideration when assigning
                           junior officers overseas. According to State officials, junior officers with
                           hard language skills are sometimes precluded from serving at a post where
                           they can use their hard language skills for diplomatic security reasons,
                           such as having an immediate family member or close ties with individuals
                           in a country. In fiscal year 2003, 8 percent, or 38 of the 468 new Foreign
                           Service generalists State hired, were precluded from serving at hard
                           language posts for security reasons. However, because of Privacy Act
                           restrictions and some unavailable data, State could only provide partial
                           information about the foreign language skills of these new hires. As a
                           result, we are unable to determine how many of these preclusions were
                           also hard-language speakers.

                           Our analysis was limited to an officer’s first two tours. State officials noted
                           that when a new hire possesses strong language skills already, the
                           employee and department may consciously use the first two tours to
                           develop additional skills rather than existing ones. Skills brought into the
                           Foreign Service are likely to be used later in a career if not immediately,
                           according to the State officials.



Pilot Programs Under Way   State has been exploring options to provide additional training in hard
to Increase Training       languages for officers. State officials said their efforts to provide more
                           language training while officers are in Washington at the FSI are affected by
                           a tax regulation that limits the time officers can spend in temporary duty
                           status to one year before they have to pay federal taxes on their per diem.
                           To alleviate this situation, State is developing pilot programs to provide
                           some officers with additional training in hard languages by sending them to
                           training overseas. In one such pilot, an officer would spend a year studying
                           Arabic at the FSI field school in Tunis prior to being sent to an Arabic-
                           speaking post, according to an official of the Bureau of Near Eastern
                           Affairs. Under another pilot, junior officers assigned to Moscow are taking
                           an immersion course in Russia following their initial language training in
                           Washington.




                           Page 21                       GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Some Officials Say On-the-         In addition to the hard-language issues, some overseas officials expressed
Job Training in Public             concern about the lack of on-the-job training opportunities for junior public
                                   diplomacy officers, citing overseas training as the single most important
Diplomacy Is Insufficient          factor in building these officers’ skills and positioning them to succeed in
                                   public diplomacy. The FSI’s training did not include grant writing, program
                                   management, and basic supervisory skills, they said, and was not a viable
                                   substitute for overseas training. Moreover, about 58 percent of the officers
                                   responding to a GAO survey reported that the amount of time available for
                                   public diplomacy training was inadequate.22 Furthermore, State’s Inspector
                                   General reported that public affairs officers in Africa were often first-tour
                                   or entry-level officers with no prior public diplomacy experience and as
                                   such, their mistakes in dealing with the media have embarrassed the post.23
                                   First-tour officers have also displayed poor judgment by not seeking advice
                                   from experienced local staff, the IG said. FSI has revised its public
                                   diplomacy training to address some of these issues. As of September 2003,
                                   public diplomacy officers are receiving from 9 to 19 weeks of training
                                   (depending upon the duties of their assignment) before they are sent to a
                                   post. Previously they received 3 weeks of training. State officials said the
                                   success of this effort depends on State’s ability to hire sufficient staff for a
                                   training float that would allow officers time to take the training.



Placement in Positions             Several post officials said State’s practice of filling positions traditionally
Traditionally Held by Mid-         held by mid-level officers with junior officers and assigning inexperienced
                                   junior officers to small posts where they would have increased
Level Officers Yields Mixed
                                   responsibilities worked well. However, others expressed concern because
Results                            junior officers in these positions require increased supervision and on-the-
                                   job training.

Benefits Cited at Smaller Posts,   State has assigned a number of junior officers—new DRI hires—to
Hardship Posts                     positions formerly held by mid-level officers to fill unmet needs at that
                                   level. For fiscal years 2002 to 2003, 96 mid-level positions were downgraded
                                   to junior-level positions after consultations with posts, regional bureaus,
                                   and the Bureau of Human Resources. Career development officers
                                   explained that such positions have been restructured so that with more

                                   22
                                        GAO-03-951.
                                   23
                                    U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Office of Inspections, Report of
                                   Inspection: Bureau of African Affairs, Report No. ISP-I-02-52 (Washington, D.C.:
                                   September 2002).




                                   Page 22                            GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                                   supervision and revised portfolios, junior officers should be able to do the
                                   work. Smaller posts often have very few American staff, and junior officers
                                   are frequently responsible for work in more than one career track. For
                                   example, a junior officer with whom we spoke at a small post in Africa was
                                   responsible for the political and economic sections and served as backup
                                   for the consular section.

                                   According to some officials, junior officers assigned to some smaller posts
                                   have been very qualified and have helped alleviate the burden of staffing at
                                   hardship posts. Several officials with whom we spoke at three embassies
                                   reported positive experiences with junior officers in positions that required
                                   more responsibility. Moreover, junior officers serving at smaller hardship
                                   posts can gain a multitude of Foreign Service experiences not available to
                                   other officers.

Assignments Require More           Some post officials, however, noted that such assignments require more
Supervision, On-the-Job Training   supervision and on-the-job training. Supervision is a particular issue at
                                   smaller posts where there may be few or no mid-level officers. According
                                   to several overseas officials, this situation creates a burden for the senior-
                                   level officers who have to mentor and provide on-the-job training as well as
                                   serve as backup for other jobs at the mission and manage the mission. For
                                   example, an official at one small African post said a mid-level supervisor
                                   would normally be responsible for training a junior officer to write cables.
                                   Because there are no mid-level officers to provide the training, more senior
                                   officials must provide it, leaving them less time to manage the embassy.

                                   One overseas embassy official told us a junior officer was having difficulty
                                   serving in a mid-level position at a small constituent post where the officer
                                   had very little training and supervision. Officials explained that while the
                                   position had been designated as a junior officer position, it still required an
                                   individual with significant related experience. Unfortunately, the junior
                                   officer assigned to this position did not have the requisite work experience
                                   or knowledge. Another official said that placing junior officers in positions
                                   formerly held by mid-level officers was not achieving the same results as
                                   hiring people with directly related management experience. Furthermore,
                                   State’s Inspector General reported that assigning inexperienced junior
                                   officers to mid-level consular positions in African posts with high levels of
                                   visa fraud was a serious problem. A Bureau of Human Resources official
                                   stated that this problem should ease as positions are filled under the DRI.
                                   In the meantime, according to State officials, the bureau tries to fill
                                   vacancies in mid-level consular positions with at least a second-tour
                                   officer.



                                   Page 23                       GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Rotational Positions Have   State established “rotational” positions that allow some junior officers to
Value for Officers but Do   serve one year in one career track and another year in a different career
                            track—for example, consular and public diplomacy. Several officials in
Not Always Serve Posts’     Mexico City and Moscow said that the rotations were working well at their
Needs                       embassy and the length of the rotations was adequate for the junior officers
                            to learn their jobs. Some officials said rotational assignments could benefit
                            junior officers and the Foreign Service by increasing officers’ knowledge of
                            how an overseas post operates. One official noted that working in different
                            sections of the embassy becomes harder as an officer is promoted, so it is
                            extremely important to have this experience at the junior level.

                            Other officials, however, said that rotational assignments were not serving
                            the posts’ needs. For example, one official stated that a year is not enough
                            time for a person to learn the tasks of the job in the consular section and, as
                            a result, local national employees carry much of the responsibility in the
                            section. An overseas official stated that a 1-year consular rotation might
                            not allow the junior officer to get the same breadth of experience as junior
                            officers who spend 2 years in the consular section. In addition, State’s
                            Inspector General reported that many consular supervisors said junior
                            officers are not assigned to consular work long enough to acquire the skills
                            to adjudicate visas under new performance requirements to improve U.S.
                            border security.24

                            Rotational positions also increase managers’ training responsibilities. As
                            one post official described it, managers have to “start from scratch” each
                            time the position turns over. Some officials said the rotational program was
                            hindering productivity in the Foreign Service because junior officers rotate
                            soon after they master their current position. These issues led the
                            Inspector General to recommend discontinuing the practice of assigning
                            junior officers to 1-year rotational positions in consular sections. The
                            Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Human Resources have
                            decided to continue the rotational program, according to a Bureau of
                            Human Resources official. The official stated that the bureau continues to
                            believe the program is beneficial and said that there are safeguards in place
                            to address the Inspector General’s concerns. For example, the official
                            stated that the two bureaus have reviewed all of the consular positions and



                            24
                             U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Review of Nonimmigrant Visa
                            Issuance Policy and Procedures, Report No. ISP-I-03-26 (Washington, D.C.: December
                            2002).




                            Page 24                          GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                      have identified those that should not be filled as part of a rotation by first-
                      tour junior officers.



Conclusions           Critical gaps in the number and skills of Foreign Service staff endangered
                      State’s ability to carry out U.S. foreign policy. The department has
                      addressed the numeric shortfall through its Diplomatic Readiness
                      Initiative, which has been successful in expanding the candidate pool for
                      Foreign Service positions. State has been able to hire junior officers with
                      the general skills it requires and to fill overseas positions. However, State
                      continues to face gaps in personnel who are proficient in speaking
                      languages considered hard to learn. To address these gaps, State has
                      undertaken outreach efforts to attract speakers with proficiency in certain
                      hard languages, extended the time junior officers spend in training,
                      established pilot programs to develop a cadre of speakers of hard
                      languages, and assigned many junior officers with skills in hard languages
                      to countries where they can use those skills. However, it is not clear to
                      what extent these efforts will help eliminate the gaps, and State has little
                      data to demonstrate their success. Furthermore, State’s process of
                      assigning junior officers, with its emphasis on achieving tenure, may hinder
                      the department’s ability to take advantage of the hard language skills that
                      some of its officers have.



Recommendations for   This report recommends that the Secretary of State collect and maintain
                      data on the effectiveness of State’s efforts to address language gaps. State
Executive Action      should use these data to, among other things, report on filling such gaps
                      through its outreach efforts to recruit more junior officers with hard
                      language skills and its pilot programs to increase training in hard-to-learn
                      languages for junior officers. State should also explore additional
                      opportunities to maximize assignment of junior officers who have skills in
                      these languages to overseas posts where they can use these languages.



Agency Comments and   The State Department provided written comments on a draft of this report.
                      These comments and our response are reprinted in appendix II. State also
Our Evaluation        provided technical comments, which we have incorporated into the report
                      as appropriate.

                      The State Department generally agreed with the report’s findings and
                      observations, but did not completely address our recommendations. State



                      Page 25                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
commented that it is already addressing our recommendation that it
maintain data on its efforts to recruit speakers of hard-to-learn languages.
State said that the department collects and maintains extensive data to
monitor its recruitment efforts. However, State has not used the data to
determine whether its outreach efforts for increasing the number of hard-
language speakers are effective or have helped decrease the gap in certain
languages. State further said that it is confident that its overall hiring plan
will address the language gaps over the next several years, but the plan
does not provide specific milestones for achieving this goal. We believe
State needs to more specifically link its efforts to its hard language needs.
We have modified our recommendation to make this clearer.

State did not completely address the second part of our recommendation,
but stated that our approach, which focused on six specific languages, was
too narrow. We disagree with State’s assessment. We focused on the six
languages because of their strategic importance and findings from previous
GAO reports that lack of staff with skills in some of these languages has
hindered diplomatic readiness. In its comments, State also overstated a
number of our findings, observations, and conclusions.


We are sending copies of this report to appropriate congressional
committees. We are also sending copies of this report to the Secretary of
State. Copies will be made available to others upon request. In addition,
this report will be made available at no charge on the GAO Web site at
http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact me
on (202) 512-4128. Other GAO contacts and staff acknowledgments are
listed in appendix III.




Jess T. Ford
Director, International Affairs and Trade



Page 26                        GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology                                                                                AA
                                                                                                      ppp
                                                                                                        ep
                                                                                                         ned
                                                                                                           n
                                                                                                           x
                                                                                                           id
                                                                                                            e
                                                                                                            x
                                                                                                            Iis




             To report on State’s processes for determining the number and skills of
             junior officers it needs during the next 5 to 10 years, we examined
             workforce planning documents and data, including the overseas staffing
             model.1 We also interviewed officials from State’s Resource Planning and
             Compensation Division and Office of Resource Management and
             Organizational Analysis, Bureau of Human Resources. We reviewed and
             analyzed data from the Office of Resource Management and Organizational
             Analysis on projected promotions and hiring for fiscal years 2002 through
             2007 and the current deficit and surplus of Foreign Service generalists
             according to the five career tracks and grade levels. We also interviewed
             officials from all six of State’s regional bureaus, the Bureau of Consular
             Affairs, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), and the U.S. embassies in
             Mexico City and Moscow. We selected these embassies because they
             contained the largest number of junior officers. During our fieldwork, we
             conducted interviews with senior level, mid-level, and junior officers.

             To determine whether State is hiring and assigning officers with the general
             skills to meet the needs of overseas posts, we reviewed information related
             to State’s recruiting program, including Diplomatic Readiness recruitment
             goals and hiring data from 2001 through 2003 and projected hiring through
             2007. We interviewed officials from the Office of Recruitment,
             Examination, and Employment; the Office of Career Development; the
             Diplomatic Readiness Task Force; all six of State’s regional bureaus; and
             the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In addition, we interviewed one of the
             consultants who helped perform State’s 1997 job analysis—-a
             comprehensive revalidation of the skills tested by the Foreign Service
             written and oral exams. We also reviewed the raw data in the form of
             survey responses by Foreign Service generalists about the skills that are
             most critical to their work, but we did not evaluate the validity of State’s
             analysis. We interviewed officials, including junior officers, at the U.S.
             embassies in Mexico City and Moscow and supplemented our fieldwork
             with telephone interviews of Foreign Service officers at U.S. embassies in
             Angola, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. We
             selected the first four countries to obtain the perspective of officers at
             small or hard-to-fill posts. We selected South Africa at the recommendation
             of a Bureau of Human Resources official. We also conducted in-person
             interviews with junior officers at headquarters.




             1
             We did not assess the validity of the staffing model.




             Page 27                             GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




To examine the challenges State still needs to address, especially regarding
officers with hard-to-learn language skills, we solicited data from three
different State Department databases. We interviewed State officials who
were authorities on each of the three databases and determined that the
data obtained were reliable in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

• To determine the number of officers with hard language ability hired in
  2001, 2002, and 2003, we developed the “New Hires Database.” To create
  this database we used information drawn from FSI’s Student Training
  Management System (STMS) database and the Bureau of Human
  Resources’ Global Employment Management System (GEMS) database.
  The New Hires Database contains information on the number of junior
  officers with hard language ability hired in 2001, 2002, and 2003. It
  includes their levels of proficiency—as rated by the FSI’s School of
  Language Studies—in those hard languages, additional foreign
  languages spoken and their corresponding FSI rating of proficiency, A-
  100 class information, and first—and in some cases second—tour
  assignment information. In our analysis of new hires with hard language
  ability, we included those officers who, at a minimum, possessed at least
  rudimentary skills in speaking or reading difficult languages, indicated
  by a score of 1 from FSI on these two dimensions (the FSI scale ranges
  from a score of 0 to a score of 5, with 5 indicating proficiency at the level
  of a native speaker). To determine the number of new hires with
  working proficiency, we considered only those officers with a level 2 or
  higher proficiency in both speaking and reading and writing. To
  determine the percentage of new hires with hard language ability in the
  population of new hires in fiscal years 2001 through 2003, we took the
  number of officers with hard language ability from the New Hires
  Database in fiscal years 2001 through 2003 and divided that number by
  the total number of Foreign Service generalists hired during those years.

• To report the status of candidacy for individuals who had taken and
  passed the Board of Examiners Telephonic Assessment (BEX) test in
  fiscal year 2003, we developed the BEX Database. Categories in the
  table include: number assigned to A-100, pending clearance; name on
  foreign service register; no longer a junior officer candidate; and total
  number of BEX Passers. To create this database we used information
  from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) School of Language Study’s
  Student Training Management System (STMS) database and the Bureau
  of Human Resources’ Global Employment Management System (GEMS)
  and Automated Foreign Service Examination and Registry System



Page 28                       GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




   (AFSERS) database. The BEX Database contains individuals who
   passed the Foreign Service’s telephonic assessment in hard-to-learn
   languages and, where applicable, their A-100 assignment information,
   and proficiency scores according to FSI in hard languages as well as
   additional languages they bring to the service. Names of individuals in
   the BEX Database for whom there was no A-100 information were
   resubmitted to the State Department to obtain their alternate outcomes.
   These individuals and their alternate outcomes were subsequently
   recorded on a separate spreadsheet. The alternate outcomes of these
   individuals were primarily derived from the AFSERS database and the
   following categories: expiration of eligibility dates, withdrawals,
   terminations, status on the Foreign Service Register, status of medical
   and security clearances, and employment start dates.

To examine assignment location for new hires with hard language ability in
fiscal year 2001, we used the New Hires Database to create three distinct
categories of junior officers for whom we had information on two tours: (1)
posted where hard language skills could be used, (2) posted where other
foreign language skills were used, and (3) posted where other foreign
language skills had to be acquired. To calculate the percentage of junior
officers in each of the three categories, we divided the category total by the
number of new hires with hard language ability for whom information was
available about two tours. The total number for each category was defined
as the number of those officers being sent to hard language posts who had
at least basic speaking and writing skills in that language for the first
category. For the second category, we used the number of officers with
hard language skills assigned to a post where they could use other foreign
language skills they brought to the service, and for the third category we
used the number of officers assigned to posts during both their first and
second tours where they did not have the relevant foreign language skills.

• We also used the New Hires Database to determine the number of junior
  officers with hard language ability assigned to hard language posts
  during their first tour for fiscal years 2001 through 2003. For each fiscal
  year, we divided the number of officers hired in that fiscal year and
  assigned to hard language posts during their first tour by the total
  number of officers hired in that fiscal year.

In addition, we met with officials from all six of State’s regional bureaus
and the Bureau of Consular Affairs; officials and junior officers at the U.S.
embassies in Moscow and Mexico City, as well as junior officers at
headquarters; and officials from the Office of Recruitment, Examination,



Page 29                       GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




and Employment, the Office of Career Development, and the Diplomatic
Readiness Task Force. We reviewed State Department recruitment data
from the Diplomatic Readiness Task Force on efforts to recruit Foreign
Service officers with hard language skills from the following targeted
language schools: Brigham Young University, Columbia University-–
Columbia College, Cornell University, Harvard University, Indiana
University--Bloomington, Middlebury College, Ohio State University,
University of California Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of
Michigan-–Ann Arbor, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin-–
Madison, and Yale University. These data showed the number of individuals
from each of these universities who had passed the Foreign Service written
exam, but did not indicate whether these individuals possessed any hard
language skills or if they were in fact even hired by the State Department.

We conducted our work from December 2002 through August 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 30                      GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix II

Comments from the Department of State                                                  Appendx
                                                                                             Ii




Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in
the report text appear
at the end of this
appendix.




                         Page 31   GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 1.




See comment 2.




                 Page 32                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 3.




See comment 4.




                 Page 33                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 5.




                 Page 34                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 6.




                 Page 35                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 7.




                 Page 36                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 8.




                 Page 37                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
                 Appendix II
                 Comments from the Department of State




See comment 9.




                 Page 38                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
               Appendix II
               Comments from the Department of State




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Department of State’s letter
               dated November 11, 2003.



GAO Comments   1. State overstated our conclusions. The department wrote that “GAO
                  found that [State’s] process is conducted using a skills assessment that
                  is valid, a robust workforce planning process that determines hiring
                  needs, a dynamic recruiting program that targets needed skills, [and] an
                  examination process that accurately evaluates competency in those
                  skills...” While we described State’s workforce planning and staffing
                  processes, we did not validate its staffing model or its skills
                  assessment. Furthermore, we did not describe the workforce planning
                  process as “robust” and the recruiting program as “dynamic.” We
                  reported that State used elements of workforce planning to determine
                  its Foreign Service staffing needs, junior officers stated that the exam
                  tested for the skills they used on the job, and State officials believed the
                  department was hiring and assigning junior officers overseas with the
                  skills they needed to do the job.

               2. While we reported on State’s processes for recruiting, hiring, and
                  assigning new staff, we did not conclude that these processes are the
                  best way to meet mission requirements. There may be other ways to
                  accomplish State’s mission, but an evaluation of alternatives was
                  beyond the scope of this report.

               3. We did not conclude that the department is successfully meeting its
                  staffing needs through the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative. We
                  concluded that State had met its hiring targets for Foreign Service
                  generalists in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. Also, State officials told us
                  that it would take 9 to 10 years to eliminate its mid-level staffing gap.
                  We did not assess whether this gap could be closed more quickly.

               4. State mischaracterized what we wrote and thus did not address the
                  second part of our recommendation. State further commented that our
                  approach, which focused on six specific languages, was too narrow and
                  implied that we believe increasing the number of speakers of selected
                  languages will address diplomatic readiness needs. We focused on the
                  six languages because of their strategic importance and findings from
                  previous GAO reports that lack of staff proficient in these languages
                  hinders diplomatic readiness. Moreover, senior officials at the U.S.
                  embassy in Russia told us that some junior officers lacked sufficient
                  Russian skills to effectively do their jobs.



               Page 39                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix II
Comments from the Department of State




5. We are not suggesting that State supplant training as its main avenue
   for achieving its language goals as State’s comments infer. However, we
   believe that State should explore as many avenues as possible to
   eliminate its gaps in officers with proficiency in hard-to-learn
   languages.

6. The intent of our analysis of the assignment of junior officers with
   preexisting hard language skills was to show the extent to which those
   officers were assigned to posts where they could use those skills. We
   had no basis to conclude that the results were positive as State
   commented. State also commented that we did not review officers’
   assignments beyond their first two tours. We did not go beyond the first
   two tours because the scope of our review was the recruitment and
   assignment of junior officers. However, we have incorporated the
   department’s statements that many skills officers bring to the Foreign
   Service will be used throughout their careers, not just in the first two
   tours.

7. State wrote that the department is making considerable progress in
   recruiting for language skills, along with all required skills. However, as
   we have previously noted, State has not set numerical targets for the
   number of individuals with hard language ability it aims to hire.
   Moreover, the department does not maintain data to demonstrate how
   many junior officers with hard language skills were hired as a direct
   result of its outreach efforts.

8. State commented that we understated the contribution that rotational
   assignments make toward accomplishing mission goals. We disagree.
   The report provides several examples of the benefits of the rotations.
   However, a number of officials raised the issue of increased
   supervisory requirements as a concern.

9. State commented that it is already addressing the first part of our
   recommendation that it maintain data on its efforts to recruit speakers
   of hard-to-learn languages. As we noted in the report, State has not
   used the data to determine whether its outreach efforts for increasing
   the number of hard-language speakers are effective or have helped
   decrease the gap in certain languages.




Page 40                         GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
Appendix III

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                                            Appendx
                                                                                                        iI




GAO Contacts      Cheryl Goodman, (202) 512-6571
                  La Verne Tharpes, (202) 512-5961



Acknowledgments   In addition to the persons named above, Kaya Taylor, Julia Roberts, Martin
                  de Alteriis, Monica Wolford, and Janey Cohen made key contributions to
                  this report.




(320167)          Page 41                     GAO-04-139 Foreign Service Recruiting and Assignments
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