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Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act of 2008


Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 6 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I want to first thank our colleague and friend from California, a valuable member of the Appropriations Committee, an individual who has always had a long-term interest in the issue of capacity building in our international relations effort, Congressman Sam Farr, who introduced this vitally important legislation and who has an unwavering commitment to restoring the strength and expertise of U.S. civilian agencies.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been engaged in a stabilization or reconstruction operation once every 18 to 24 months. During the same period, the backbone of America's diplomatic and development might, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, has been substantially weakened by staff cuts, hiring freezes and consolidation.

Despite new hires, there are only 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers in the State Department. According to Secretary of Defense Gates, this is less than the personnel of one carrier battle group, and allegedly less than the number of active military band members.

Likewise, at a time when the United States is engaged in two massive stabilization and reconstruction efforts and countless other emergencies, USAID, America's premier development agency, barely has 1,000 Foreign Service officers. Compare that number to the height of the Cold War, when it had more than 4,500 Foreign Service officers with expertise in engineering, agricultural development, rule of law, and civil administration. In essence, we have created a situation where those who are best suited for complex stabilization missions simply aren't there.

Mr. Speaker, this personnel imbalance is unacceptable and dangerously shortsighted. Stabilization operations require expertise in smart skills, such as job creation, rule of law programs, fortification of police forces, and good governance training, which lies within America's civilian agencies. Amazingly, at a time we need to call on this expertise the most, the U.S. Government capacity for these skills is at its weakest.

We need look no further than Iraq to see the dangers of overburdening our military with stabilization and reconstruction activities for which they were not trained, nor for which they are best suited. As Secretary Gates aptly observed, ``Brave men and women in uniform have stepped up to the task, with field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils, usually in a language they don't speak. But it is no replacement for the real thing, civilian involvement and expertise.''

The U.S. needs experienced police officers to train local Iraqi counterparts. We need USAID personnel to assist with municipal administration, sewage treatment, banking, electricity, and thousands of other tasks. This bill aims to successfully address upcoming threats and prosecute the long-term fight against terror by fortifying the U.S. Government's civilian capacity to deal with instability, particularly in areas where terrorists thrive.

The Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act of 2008 authorizes the establishment of a Readiness Response Corps to plug the gap regarding civilian capacity. The corps will include active and standby components composed of Federal employees, and a reserve component made up of civilian experts from State and local governments and nongovernmental organizations.

To effectively establish the corps, the bill includes several innovative personnel provisions which ensure that the State Department and other Federal employees will not be prejudiced by joining the corps and that the Secretary of State will have unambiguous authority to hire personnel appropriate for the corps, including experts from Federal, State and local agencies. The bill also authorizes the President to use up to $100 million in any given fiscal year for the purposes of furnishing assistance to stabilize and reconstruct a country or region at risk.

Finally, the bill codifies the establishment of an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization within the Department of State.

Mr. Speaker, we expect this bill to accomplish two key goals. In the short term, the bill will ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing the State Department to deploy civilians in crisis situations previously staffed by the military. In the long term, the bill will enable the U.S. Government to project ``smart power'' in situations that cry for such civilian expertise.

For these reasons, I thank my colleague, Mr. Farr, for introducing this legislation, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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