State Department Struggles to Lure Diplomats to 'Critical' African Posts

(U.S. Embassy Bamako, Mali, Nov. 3, 2014)

(U.S. Embassy Bamako, Mali, Nov. 3, 2014)

The State Department is having "profound" difficulties filling dozens of diplomatic positions at "critical" posts in Africa, according to a government report.

Of 385 total positions in the Bureau of African Affairs, all of them considered "hardship" posts, as many as 143 may go unfilled -- a problem compounded by the State Department's partial hiring freeze, the State Department Inspector General said in a report [PDF] last week. During the internal 2017 summer bidding program, the bureau "attracted, at most, only one Foreign Service bidder on 37 percent of its positions."

It's not a new issue. The IG said that over the past 20 years it has repeatedly reported on the lack of interest by State officials to serve in the hardship posts, despite State's efforts to lure officers with pay bumps and other incentives.

As a result, the bureau has sought to cover the gaps any way it can, including by filling a quarter of its 2017 positions with "entry-level employees," the report said.

"These vacancies are of concern because... staffing and experience gaps place at risk diplomatic readiness, particularly for high-threat environments such as those in which [the Bureau of African Affairs] operates," the report said.

The IG report on the Bureau of African Affairs comes as America's relatively little-noticed footprint in Africa has come under scrutiny in the wake of two fatal incidents involving American military forces on the continent.

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