National Press Club

Ex-ambassador urges broad review of State Dept. in wake of Benghazi attack

March 5, 2013 | By Lorna Aldrich |

Retired Ambassador Prudence Bushnell at March 5 Newsmaker

Retired Ambassador Prudence Bushnell at March 5 Newsmaker

Retired Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, in the wake of last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, advocated extensive review of the State Department's mission and operation at a March 5 National Press Club Newsmaker.

Bushnell was chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Kenya when it was bombed by Al Qaeda in 1998, wounding her and killing both Americans and Kenyans.

She urged adoption of the recommendations of the accountability board that reviewed the Benghazi bombing, which killed the U.S. ambassador, as a "turning point."

"How about conducting a review of the mission of the State Department, the culture of its management and its leadership with the aim toward action?" she asked.

"Why should there be a power gap because too many agencies have overlapping functions in national security?"

In the State Department, "Leadership and the management culture need to change and, by the way, so does Congressional funding," she said.

The review should begin in the department but move beyond it to other agencies, the national security community and bipartisan Congressional committees because they are stakeholders, she said.

Bushnell noted that the last major piece of legislation covering the State Department was the Foreign Service Act of 1980. She called for passage of a new act.

Urging that the department's aging systems need to be revised, she said: "I look pretty good, but I'm old. The same applies to the department's systems."

She underlined the difference between the State Department's functions in the field and in Washington.

Foreign service officers understand both risk and the importance of "presence, face-to- face engagement, and that is why they accept risk," she said.

Leadership occurs in the field, management in Washington, she said.

"Managers do what is right; leaders do the right thing," she added.

Referring to her frustrations in Kenya, she said her colleagues in Washington were doing what was right in their context: staying within budget by giving security waivers to embassies that were not living up to standards.

The State Department has been resource-driven rather than mission-driven, she said.