March 6th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Report warns of overwork at U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan

A State Department inspector general's report says the U.S. Embassy staff in Afghanistan suffers from morale problems, overwork and the constant demands of visiting VIPs, which the report calls "war tourism."

The inspector general warns that problems may increase as the embassy doubles in size in coming months.

"Morale at Embassy Kabul has been challenged by the stresses of an almost 100 percent personnel turnover, a massive civilian buildup at a frenetic pace, the redesign of development assistance programs, the continuing high volume of official visitors, and the need to support an extended presidential strategy review," the report says.

Because of the time difference between the United States and Afghanistan, it says, the ambassador and top aides often must work through the night on video conferences with Washington.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was part of the lengthy White House meetings President Barack Obama called to hammer out a new Afghanistan policy.

"From October 1 through November 12, 2009, Embassy Kabul participated in 10 late-night video conferences, some called at the last minute, between 9:00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. (local time), in addition to other video conferences scheduled during working hours," the report says.

"Three nights in a row during the month of November, the ambassador participated in video conferences between midnight and 2:00 a.m. ... The OIG (Office of the Inspector General) team witnessed one day when the ambassador had to cancel his next day's activities in order to get enough rest after being up virtually the entire night preparing for and participating in a video conference with Washington. On occasion he has to leave for previously scheduled travel a matter of hours after a 3:00 a.m. video conference terminates."

The report says the embassy is expected to increase from 531 employees in January 2009 to more than 1,300 by the end of 2010, with most of those people assigned to the facility in Kabul.

"Conditions on the embassy compound are already strained beyond capacity, and, despite the embassy's efforts, there will be serious challenges in residential and office space," the report says.

For hundreds of Americans working outside Kabul with provincial reconstruction teams or other field offices, there are what the report describes as "primitive conditions without basic housing and sanitation."

The report says what it calls "a steady stream of high-level visitors and congressional delegations" cause a flurry of extra activity at an already busy embassy, with some visitors making special requests and last-minute travel changes.

"Some describe the incredible volume of visitors from all branches of the federal and even state governments as 'war tourism,'" the report says. "As of October 1, 2009, the embassy had supported approximately 100 groups of visitors, totaling over 700 individuals, and accounting for over 30,000 bed nights. Approximately a dozen more congressional delegations were expected before the end of 2009."

The inspector general's report also takes a somber view of attaining U.S. goals.

"Even with the able leadership of Kabul's senior officers, the best of intentions, and the most dedicated efforts, Embassy Kabul faces serious challenges in meeting the administration's deadline for "success" in Afghanistan," the report says.

"The unprecedented pace and scope of the civilian buildup, the need for these new officers to arrive in Kabul before support infrastructure expansions have been completed, and the complexity of establishing arrangements to equip the new subject matter experts for success in the field will constrain the ability of these new officers in the short-term to promote stability, good governance, and rule of law in Afghanistan."

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. luke

    Check out a new energy drink

    May 16, 2010 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nancy

    Your educated Government employees working in Embassies don’t declare war. It’s the US Congress!!

    March 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Katie Flanigan Marine Wife

    Govt employees get plenty of perks and yes they are on combat zone tax free status. Just like all Military personnel. Quit dreaming! If they don’t like it they can QUIT and let some unemployed American citizen take their place. They won’t quit because they’ll lose the guaranteed Govt pension. Gee, it’s so unfortunate they can’t see their families or get they’re beauty sleep. They volunteered just like the troops did!!

    March 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brenda

    Marine wife, US Government employees DO NOT get federal tax free status. So these government-level salaries, paying US taxes, and not even having the ability to see your families or simple US-type social activities that make up a quality of life. Its not gravy!!!! I know that because I am an overseas USG employee!!! Contractors get the big money, and USG employees are doing a JOB to help AMERICA. Surely they aren't volunteering their time and effort, however stress levels do rise and lack of time/sleep/morale can very adversely affect how an entire office operates.

    March 8, 2010 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. John

    These government embassy are the one that makes the world go round, the ones that make decisions between countries, and the power of communication. Any SLIGHT error in communication can start a war between countries, it is alot of stress to be on point because millions of lives are on stake. I think comparing stress between military and work is two different things, its like apple and oranges. If your in the military, you are drained physically because of training and it can emotionally effect them too - but guess who made them go to war? Educated government folks did. Government employees, especially those who work in embassy's, are usually VETERANS. Folks, I hope you didn't forget.

    March 8, 2010 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. David Witcraft

    I haven't worked in 14 months. I lost my house and family to this economy the last 3 years. Where do I sign up for one of these jobs? My ex has life insurance on me, so I'm covered no matter how this comes out.

    March 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Katie Flanagan Marine Wife

    Just Me,
    Quit your whinning. These Govt. employees knew what they were getting into. Tax free income and a bounch of perks!
    If they were Solders or Marines at one time than this Embassy job would seem like "Gravy"

    March 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Marine Mom

    Sleep on the ground, in the sand and dirt–in the rain and cold for a few days–perhaps the "overworked" position will fade away. Being an unemployed human services worker here in the US– I would gladly take a position in Afghanistan, - if only to catch a glimpse of my son as he toils away on a foot patrol to cover the safety of another Afghan or US bigwig. Give me a break.

    March 7, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Just Me

    These Embassy employees are not soldiers. They are your 40 to 50 year old government employees, who many have already served on the battle field, but are also volunteering to help or promote their careers.

    You cannot compare a soldier with this staff. Their job is to manage a number of programs within their 10 to 12 hour work day without their families present. When you get a number of CODEL visit to your post, it makes doing your job much more difficult especially when everything must be dropped to plan for their visit a week in advance and then be prepared to assist them with each demand on their arrival.
    The point here is, CODELs should realize that their few days of fame, "I've been there" is costing the staff to not to do their jobs, thus allowing the soldiers on the ground to stay longer.

    March 7, 2010 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. William

    Although the embassy people may have a gripe, I don't feel that having 3 meetings in a row (no matter what the hour), is a case of being over worked. I'm sure, there are many American citizens currently unemployed (in part due to the costs of having 2 wars at one time), who would gladly take their place.

    In both Irawq and Afghanistan, America is building up their embassy personnel. I think it's rather odd to do this, since we claim to be leaving the country soon as possible?

    March 7, 2010 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. Matthew, OK

    I don't understand that people think that just because soldiers have the hardest job (debatable) that any other job should be considered easy. Just because around 200,000 people died by an earthquake in haiti doesn't make the fact that around 200 people died in chile of the same cause any better or easier for the people involved.

    March 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bill Monroe USMC

    Lose the EGO'S!!!
    Spend a day on patrol with the Marines.

    March 6, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daniel

    We must really feel sorry for these freeloaders with their $100K plus annual selaries and all the perks they get.In fact,Only the DOD and the foreign aid programs get more than they do.And to think that these freeloaders deserve "high" morale must be a joke.

    March 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. A. Smith, Oregon

    Today, according to official sources, approximately 700 bases of every size dot the Afghan countryside, and more are under construction or soon will be as part of a base-building boom that began last year.

    Existing in the shadows, rarely reported on and little talked about, this base-building program is nonetheless staggering in size and scope, and heavily dependent on supplies imported from abroad, which means that it is also extraordinarily expensive. It has added significantly to the already long secret list of Pentagon property overseas and raises questions about just how long, after the planned beginning of a draw down of American forces in 2011, the U.S. will still be garrisoning Afghanistan.

    It appears the American people are being lied to in regards to the scope of the US Military's involvement in Afghanistan as well as the enormous amounts of American taxpayer dollars being poured into Afghanistan. 700 Bases in Afghanistan alone, some as large or larger than regular city's here in America? Meanwhile Americans at home are languishing with very high unemployment, a very poor economy and a rapid decline in the value of the American dollar. An entire generation of America's future has now been loss thru the lack in public funding in our Public Schools, Federal Grants and Scholarships in Colleges. Public schools are being forced to make severe cuts in their hours and teaching staff. Colleges are being forced to make drastic tuition hikes making it difficult if not entirely impossible for many family's now to send their children to college.

    Here in Oregon, a full 10% of the entire Public School student body are homeless teens, sleeping on park benches and under freeway overpasses. The homeless teens are by law unable to find shelter in Adult facility's and invariably a size able number will eventually end up in America's vast prison system which hoses American taxpayers some 75,000 dollars per prisoner per year. It appears the Republican party and their Republican lawmakers feel it is better to flood America's prisons with America's teenagers than help finance their education which would cost far less and benefit society far more.

    March 6, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. A. Smith, Oregon

    Its time for American's that are suffering under the largest depression and long term recession since the Great Depression, to angrily ask why America needs huge brand new embassy's in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Is the only reason to hide President Karzi when the Taliban return to remove him? There is absolutely nothing in Afghanistan that could be justified by building these new huge foreign embassy's soaking the American taxpayers ten's of Billions of dollars.

    March 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  16. andrew lubin

    I've been there; returned early Nov and am returning in May where I'll be working down in Helmand.

    These folks in the article are working inside, with hot chow, a/c in the summer and heat in the winter. Why should they do less than you?

    March 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  17. josh

    Try being a soldier in Afghanistan.... You think you get overworked..... US soldiers Work Every Day here..... No time off... How do you think our morale is......

    March 6, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  18. andrew lubin

    But isn't this their job? This is a combat zone, and these folks are upset becuase extra powerpoints and a time zone difference makes them think they're overworkd? Put them in Marjah with the Marines and let them see what hard work is all about.

    March 6, 2010 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |