We expect our armed forces to develop the capabilities and infrastructure for probable future conflicts. Our expectations for the State Department should be the same. The State Department’s inability to fill positions with employees who meet the language requirements of their jobs indicates that this is not being done to a sufficient degree. The administration should commit to work with Secretary Hillary Clinton and her team to identify areas where future needs are likely to exceed normal rates—such as Arab, Farsi, Chinese and Korean linguists—and provide incentives for experienced and new employees to build their skills in these areas—even if they are not currently assigned to those regions of the world.
Today, 39 percent of Foreign Service officers assigned to language-designated positions did not meet both the foreign language speaking and reading proficiency requirements for their positions. Our Foreign Service cannot maintain a credible capability to represent U.S. interests and safeguard U.S. national security if we are unable to prepare our diplomats to function effectively in critical regions such as the Middle East. Building a reserve capacity of language skills and regional and cultural understanding will allow us to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges we face around the world.
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