- WASHINGTON - U.S. embassies
"perilously close to the point of system failure"
antiquated buildings and grossly inefficient computer networks,
independent commission said on Friday.
- Few U.S. diplomats can send
e-mail messages to each other,
even within the same embassy, but
continue to depend on the slow and hierarchical
culture" of traditional diplomacy, the Overseas Presence
Panel said in a report.
- In some embassies, such as those in Kiev, Ukraine, and
Luanda, Angola, embassy staff operate out of trailers or freight
because spending on buildings has not kept pace with
changing demands and
staffing levels, it said.
- The solution is to spend at
least $200 million on information
technology, rethink the size and
shape of embassies, perform some administrative
functions regionally or
in Washington and set up a new corporation to manage
property abroad, it added.
- "The status quo is not acceptable," U.S.
of State Madeleine Albright said of the report. "We need
to support our people, operations and programs. These
are investments that
will pay large dividends rapidly."
- The commission also
backed an earlier recommendation
that the United States spend about
$1.3 billion a year for the next 10
years to protect embassies from
- Albright set up the panel in April, partly in response
1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es
- Its report offered some comfort to Albright in her battle
against budget cuts proposed by a Republican-dominated Congress that she
and President Bill Clinton call isolationist.
- But it also said staff cuts
could lead to significant
savings, and Kaden told a news conference the
panel thought there were
too many people serving overseas.
- "We should have
a leaner, more agile, better functioning,
better trained force
representing the 30 agencies who do work overseas,"
- State Department officials quickly disputed the existence
overstaffing overall, even if it exists in some posts.
- "I believe it's true in
some areas. I believe, however,
that our resources in the department
have been stretched enough for us
to look at reallocating resources at
the moment as an important priority
and we need to get the mix and the
balance right," said Under Secretary
of State Thomas
- The commission agreed with Albright that economic globalization
and the spread of political pluralism make it more important for the
States to have representatives on the ground and that diplomats
are a "first
line of defense."
- "High technology cannot
replace face-to-face diplomacy...
Closing U.S. embassies ... could have
serious consequences for the effectiveness
of our foreign policy and
for the security and prosperity of the American
panel chairman Lewis Kaden, a New York corporate
lawyer, said that the
cost savings through "right-sizing" embassies
compensate for much of the extra spending on buildings and on a new
- Because more than 10 U.S. government agencies have
stationed abroad, only the president can order a rational
review of how
big embassies should be, he added.
- The United States has more than
14,000 U.S. citizens
stationed overseas in 252 diplomatic posts in 160
countries. The State
Department employs about 38 percent of them,
followed by the Pentagon at
37 percent, and the Agency for
International Development and the Justice
Department at six percent
panel, which included representatives of the private
nongovernmental organizations, visited 23 diplomatic posts on
- "(They found that) the overseas facilities of the
wealthiest nation in history are often overcrowded, deteriorating, even
shabby," the report said.
- The embassies have failed to adopt private-sector
that increase productivity, and there is no mechanism for
all the agencies, it added.
- "Many panel members were
shocked by these incongruities;
all find them unacceptable... The Panel
fears that our overseas presence
is perilously close to the point of
system failure. It needs immediate
reform," it added.
- Kaden said he thought
the Clinton administration could
win congressional approval for the
investments if it showed it was serious
about reforms that could save
Admiral William Crowe, the panel member who reviewed
after the African bombings, said he was not optimistic
prospects for adequate funding, either of embassy security or