Most bid­ders for jobs in Iraq are un­qual­i­fied

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ni­cholas Kralev

Nearly two-thirds of the 276 For­eign Ser­vice mem­bers who vol­un­teered to serve in Iraq next year were found un­qual­i­fied for the jobs, ag­gra­vat­ing a short­age that has left the State De­part­ment scram­bling to fully staff its em­bassy and other op­er­a­tions in the coun­try.

The de­part­ment is now of­fer­ing im­proved ben­e­fits and ca­reer-en­hanc­ing in­duce­ments in a bid to fill 49 va­can­cies in Iraq. All as­sign­ments to other for­eign mis­sions have been put on hold un­til open­ings in Iraq, Afghanistan and other high-pri­or­ity posts are filled.

“Sta­bil­ity in Iraq is our na­tion’s high­est pri­or­ity. We have an on­go­ing need for the tal­ents of our very best of­fi­cers and staff,” the State De­part­ment lead­er­ship said in a cable to all U.S. em­bassies and con­sulates around the world ear­lier this month ti­tled, “2007 Open Call for Bid­ders on Iraq.”

An ac­com­pa­ny­ing Dec. 6 cable said the in­cen­tives pack­age for those serv­ing in Iraq “has been re­viewed and re­vised [. . . ] to in­cor­po­rate re­cently ap­proved ben­e­fits and to re­flect re­cently passed leg­is­la­tion.”

The changes in­clude pre­ferred con­sid­er­a­tion for fu­ture as­sign­ments, more gen­er­ous home leave and “en­hanced pro­mo­tion con­sid­er­a­tion” for those who have served in Iraq.

The cable said 276 For­eign Ser­vice mem­bers ap­plied for 160 po­si­tions in Iraq be­gin­ning next sum­mer, but only 82 were ap­proved. An­other 15 po­si­tions will go to en­try-level em­ploy­ees, and 14 of those now in Iraq have de­cided to ex­tend their tours.

Some diplo­mats were per­plexed by the de­part­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­ject so many of its own, while so-called ca­reer-de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cers are now scram­bling to find “clients” to vol­un­teer for the jobs.

Oth­ers said many of those who ap­plied never heard back from hu­man re­sources. “Too many peo­ple have told me that they have bid on Iraq in good faith and fol­lowed up as ap­pro­pri­ate, and sim­ply got­ten the cold shoul­der,” a mid-level For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer said.

A Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (GAO) re­port ear­lier this year found that the staff short­ages were leav­ing the de­part­ment un­able to fully carry out its sta­bi­liza­tion and re­con­struc­tion tasks in those coun­tries.

A State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said in Septem­ber that the de­part­ment will re­sort to “di­rected as­sign­ments” if nec­es­sary to find per­son­nel for hard­ship posts, prin­ci­pally in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of­fi­cials from the State De­part­ment’s bu­reaus of Near East af­fairs (NEA) and hu­man re­sources said that, while they ap­pre­ci­ate all bids on Iraq, some ap­pli­cants “did not have the skills re­quired for those po­si­tions or rel­e­vant pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“We­had­manyvol­un­teers,andwe don’tal­waysgob­ack­tosay‘no,’”one of­fi­cial said. “Bid­ders who sim­ply put Iraq on their bid list but do not con­tact any­one in Iraq or NEA are not con­sid­ered se­ri­ous bid­ders, un­less their back­ground makes them stand out.”

Some vol­un­teers had “par­tial skills” and were ap­proved pend­ing ad­di­tional train­ing, the of­fi­cial said. An­other of­fi­cial said that some pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in the Mid­dle East or in post­war re­con­struc­tion is es­sen­tial for ser­vice in Iraq.

Lan­guage and cul­tural train­ing also are con­sid­ered as­sets, though only about 30 of­fi­cers cur­rently posted there speak Ara­bic.

But even that is no guar­an­tee of suc­cess. One Ara­bic-speak­ing ju­nior of­fi­cer with ex­pe­ri­ence in the Mid­dle East said he vol­un­teered to go to Iraq when he first joined the For­eign Ser­vice last year, but he was re­jected.

He re­cently bid again but was told that he first had to do a con­sular tour, which is manda­tory for all of­fi­cers be­fore they get tenured. Now he is con­sid­er­ing leav­ing the ser­vice.

Re­cruit­ment for Iraq has be­come such a sen­si­tive sub­ject at the State De­part­ment that none of those in­ter­viewed agreed to speak on the record.

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