The Foreign Service Journal - March 2016
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MARCH 2016



, we were heart-

ened to see it covered in the FSJ ’s January- February issue (Talking Points). Along

with the


editorial staff, we believe the

well-being of the frontline civilian com-

munity merits serious consideration.

However, to fully appreciate the

report’s findings, it is essential to under-

stand the wider context. It would be

inaccurate to find fault in any one orga-

nization’s handling of operational and

deployment stress.

In a 2010 report, “Army Health Promo- tion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention,”

the former vice chief of staff of the Army,

General Peter Chiarelli, went on record

stating: “No one could have foreseen

the impact of nine years of war on our

leaders and soldiers. As

a result of the protracted

and intense operational

tempo, the Army has

lost its former situational

awareness. …We now

must face the unintended

consequences of leading

an expeditionary Army that

included involuntary enlist-

ment extensions, acceler-

ated promotions, extended deployment

rotations. … ”

USAID’s workforce faces strikingly

similar circumstances: an unprecedented

expeditionary focus, intense operational

tempo, accelerated promotions and mul-

tiple assignments in demanding environ-

ments. But our study shows that USAID

faces another pincer arm—the post-9/11

difficulties that all relief and development

partner organizations are suffering.

Anyone seeking to comprehend this

dual layer of strain for USAID should

consider the following conditions (often

beyond the agency’s control):

1) After the 9/11 attacks, USAID has

been tasked in unprecedented ways to

respond programmatically to a new set

of security-related foreign policy priori-

ties, amplifying objectives such as crisis

response and stabilization. Precipitous

shifts in budgetary imperatives and

strategic focus have necessitated surges in

staffing to meet urgent and often unantici-

pated needs, creating significant internal


2) Numerous mandatory regulations

governing USAID operations are based

on the stable-state programming assump-

tions in which traditional development

interventions thrive. While USAID staff

have shown grit in meeting the challenges

of the “new normal” programming in un-

stable operating environments (e.g., Iraq,

Afghanistan, Yemen), this has taken

a human toll.

3) Other agencies and Congress

impose constraints on USAID that

often inhibit effective manage-

ment or achievement of its objec-

tives. Budgetary and other critical

decisions are often made over

which USAID has no influence or

control. Along with the massive

amounts of foreign assistance

funding for crises and stabiliza-

tion operations come increased oversight

and political scrutiny. Yet staff comple-

ments are not necessarily increased to

meet these operational demands; instead,

personnel are asked to “step up.”

The crisis among frontline civilians

is real, and it has critical implications.

As detailed in our report, it is part of

a larger problem for all organizations

operating in this delicate space. Solu-

tions require sensitive and nuanced

policies on USAID’s part and thought-

ful collaboration its from partners. The

agency has begun work on its share of

that task, but the road ahead will require

a commitment at senior levels across

government to support all those who