To Rethink the State Department, Look to Business

To Rethink the State Department, Look to Business

Demands on the State Department may be growing but, if last week’s congressional hearings are any indication, the State Department’s coffers will not be. Even longtime champions of robust international affairs funding like Sen. Patrick Leahy have warned the secretary of state that the $54.7 billion diplomatic and development budget requested by the Obama administration -- a modest increase over last year -- is unlikely to win full funding. Though increased funding for foreign affairs may well make sense, its chances are remote at best.

Merely doing more with less may seem like the best approach under conditions of fiscal austerity. It is not. Instead, as Congress looks to save dollars, the State Department should seize the opportunity to rethink how it operates, getting nimbler and more effective in addition to getting leaner. Rather than just stretch an already strained and aging bureaucracy that much further, it should seek ways to execute its strategies differently.

Yet, if the president’s budget submission is any indication, the State Department is not planning to rise to this challenge. Though the submission includes a pledge for the State Department to improve the “efficiency of foreign affairs operations” by reducing administrative costs and enhancing overall efficiency, the proposed measures are a meal of small potatoes: reducing travel and printing supplies, increasing the use of phone and digital conferencing, and publishing reports online rather than printing them. Though such steps may save a few pennies or even nickels, they promise more of the same -- not the kind of visionary reform spelled out in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s own Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).

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