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Idea of the Day: Those Working for Diplomacy Abroad Deserve Respect and Resources

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The deaths last week of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and State Department Security Officers Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods should remind all of us of the extreme risks and daily discomforts that are taken by a great many of the thousands of men and women who staff the more than 260 embassies, consulates, and missions we maintain in 180 separate countries. We should also recognize that our national security is as dependent on men like Christopher Stevens and the work they do in weaving together alliances and bringing stability to strife-torn regions of the world as by our investments in military hardware or our deployment of military personnel. It is a tough, often dirty business—it deserves our respect and appreciation.

It also deserves resources. In each of the last two years, Congress has cut President Obama’s request for U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. Agency for International Development staffing levels despite repeated analysis by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, indicating that our embassies are critically understaffed.

But even more inexcusable are the repeated and deep cuts made to embassy security and construction. Thousands of our diplomatic personnel are serving overseas in facilities that do not come close to meeting the minimal requirements for security established by the so-called Inman commission’s report on overseas diplomatic security to President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state more than two decades ago.

Nor is it likely to change anytime soon. In the 2011 continuing resolution, Congress, at the insistence of the House of Representatives, slashed the president’s request for embassy security and construction and forced another cut in fiscal year 2012. Altogether Congress has eliminated $296 million from embassy security and construction in the last two years with additional cuts in other State Department security accounts.

Sequestration required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 will take more than $100 billion more out of the program in 2013 if the current Congress does not overcome the impasse over budget cuts and tax revenues by yearend. Those cuts are largely the result of the draconian and unrealistically low budget caps placed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on all discretionary spending, falling particularly hard on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee with responsibility for embassy security.

This is not the kind of treatment our dedicated government servants and men and women in uniform protecting them deserve.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

For more from the same column, click here