Richard Boucheris the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs. Also see comments by State Department SpokesmanSean McCormackand U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere AffairsThomas Shannon.
Reading the Washington Post this morning, we all encountered the results of a poll done by the American Foreign Service Association (results at http://afsa.org/Jan08survey.pdf). It says that our diplomats are dissatisfied, particularly with their pay and assignments process, and don't think that our senior management has done enough to fix these problems.
Looking at this from the inside, many of us might disagree but obviously not everyone does. Surveys like this invite comment from people who are dissatisfied and, of course, they blame long standing problems on current management. When I joined the Foreign Service, 30 years ago, there was a financial benefit to being overseas. About fifteen years ago, the equation shifted. Locality pay and changes in benefits mean that it's now a financial hardship to go abroad, not to mention the isolation, disease and danger of being far from home. Current management, including Secretary Rice herself, have fought hard in the budget process to provide us the people, the program funding and the benefits we need to do our jobs well and take care of our families but the terms of service are still worse for most than when we started. This didn't just happen.
Finally, again from the inside, I'd say that like many organizations we thrive on complaining. Some of my best tours have included sitting around in Africa or Shanghai complaining about low pay compared to bankers and under funded operations. But, in the end, we all know we're doing important work for our country –that comes out in the survey too. Fifty-nine percent said they'd go to Iraq out of a sense of duty and of patriotism. That's been true for my entire career: we go to hard places and do tough jobs because it is meaningful to us personally and to our country. That's why we have such low attrition rates (4%) and an up-or-out promotion system, despite the complaining that's part of our culture.