The Obameter

Increase the size of the foreign service

Barack Obama and Joe Biden "will increase the size of the Foreign Service, fully fund the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and create a new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution with senior Ambassadors to support high-level negotiations and provide the expertise and capacity to seize opportunities or address crises as they arise. An Obama administration will also build a ready reserve corps of private civilians that can participate in post-conflict, humanitarian and stabilization efforts around the globe."


Hiring has increased, but not fast enough to keep up with demand

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "increase the size of the Foreign Service,” the State Department's specially trained corps of career diplomats.

The department has undertaken a program called "Diplomacy 3.0” that is designed to increase the size of the Foreign Service by 25 percent through 2014.  

In a statement to PolitiFact, the State Department said that Diplomacy 3.0 has enabled the department to hire more than 2,200 Foreign Service employees above attrition between 2009 and 2012 -- double the typical rate. All told, the department said, the the Foreign Service has grown by 21 percent under Obama.

However, there's an asterisk.

According to a Government Accountability Office report earlier this year, the State Department increased the size of the Foreign Service by 17 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, yet "persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions” remain, particularly in mid-level positions. The Government Accountability Office, called GAO, found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were either vacant or filled by candidates who were serving in positions above their experience grade.

How to explain this paradox? Two factors.

First, the demand for Foreign Service positions has increased. The State Department has "increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging priorities,” GAO wrote. "State officials noted the department takes special measures to fill high-priority positions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.”

Second, it takes seasoning before Foreign Service officers can fill the mid-level posts most in demand. So even the number of new career officers has increased in recent years, the newcomers are still climbing the lower rungs of the career ladder.

"These new hires will not have the experience to reach mid-levels until fiscal years 2014 and 2015,” GAO wrote.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who asked GAO to compile the report, said in a statement upon its release that "the State Department continues to struggle with staffing, experience, and foreign language gaps, which undermine our diplomatic readiness. State must continue to develop effective workforce strategies and address staffing gaps to effectively respond to quickly evolving diplomatic challenges."

So, the Obama administration has stuck to its promise to "increase the size of the Foreign Service,” but not enough to keep up with rising demand for career diplomats. On balance, we rate this promise a Compromise.


Government Accountability Office, "Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring," June 2012

Foreign Policy, "GAO: Foreign Service suffering from midlevel staffing shortages," July 16, 2012

Obama's budget plan includes money for bigger foreign service

The outline for President Obama's 2010 budget, released Feb. 26, stays true to his goal regarding an expanded Foreign Service.

According to an accompanying report from the Office of Management and Budget, "To face the threats of the 21st century, we need to use all the instruments of our power, including diplomacy, to ensure the safety and security of the United States. The 2010 Budget includes funding for the first year of a multiyear effort to significantly increase the size of the Foreign Service at both the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). An increased cadre of State and USAID Foreign Service officers will help advance our critical foreign policy goals and deliver on our expanding U.S. foreign assistance commitments."

Since Obama included funding for an expanded foreign service in his proposed budget — and spelled it out as part of multiyear effort — we think that qualifies as In the Works.


Office of Management and Budget, Obama's Proposed 2010 Budget , Feb. 26, 2009