July 31, 2017, Da Lat, Vietnam
This post illustrates why so many have lost confidence in government, using the example of a happenstance disclosure of what I found to be disturbing information, with no justification available from the government.
Only as a result of the escalating feud between Congress and Russia, caused by Russian hacking and interference in our election, have we learned the size of the US Embassy and Consulate staff in Russia. Apparently the number is 1,119. Putin now retaliates against additional sanctions by requiring a 744 reduction to a new level of 455.
I’m shocked to see how many people we keep in just one country, just for the Embassy and Consulate. I can’t imagine how/why it is necessary for us to have this huge contingent of employees there. I’m sure there are also other government agencies represented there. And, that doesn’t count the many employees of the State Department in the US who are devoted entirely to Russian relations.
A search on the internet provides little in the way of justification, nothing in the way of expense. I only find we have four offices there, and there are departments involved with business, education and culture, visas and US citizen services. I am pondering the annual cost of maintaining our properties there, plus the employment costs of 1,210 staff, the cost of expatriate salaries, health care, housing and support, after recognizing that a number of employees are local hires. I would venture a guess that the cost of the US Embassy and Consulates in Russia exceeds $100 million annually. I wouldn’t be surprised it it is more, and I wouldn’t be satisfied if it is half that, still a huge annual expense.
To me, this revelation is the kind of thing that causes so many Americans to lose total faith in government to use our tax money effectively and efficiently. It causes me to wonder how many other Embassies and Consulates in how many other countries may be overstaffed and/or inefficiently spending our tax dollars.
Maybe we really need all these services in Russia and all these employees and this huge expense. But I’d like to see the justification. How many Americans would be comfortable that we really need more than 1,000 people and attendant expense to provide these services in just one nation? What if the NY Times or CNN brought this to the attention of the voters? President Trump could have provided such justification for his proposed cuts in the State Department, which were far less than that required now by Putin, as it relates to Russia only. If that was available, maybe I wouldn’t have such heartburn over seeing these numbers, almost by accident.
I recommend an annual analysis of every government program which can be isolated to a given purpose or country (e.g., State Department, Russia), if the annual expenditure exceeds a certain level. This should include costs along with performance and efficiency analysis. Since so many programs are large, we could start with a hurdle of $100 million, and then lower it gradually in future years. I would recommend the information be provided to the public by the CBO, and renewal of such expenditures be required of Congress annually. I can’t imagine a business which wouldn’t conduct such an examination and justification annually.
I have been a consistent advocate for fixing government, not starving it. I believe our country needs strong institutions to assure our survival and advancement. I will continue to argue for that. But contrary to the depiction many Conservatives want to paint of us Liberals, I do not condone inefficiency and waste.
We need a better managed government, well managed and transparent to citizens–better than under Barack Obama, and definitely better than so far under Donald Trump.
Postscript Aug 12: Now President Trump praises Putin for reducing Embassy staff in Russia! If this kind of reduction properly right sizes the staff, why didn’t Trump do it?