Talking The Talk At State

President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, have swept into office and in less than a month managed to raise expectations among those who work on foreign policy issues.

When Mr. Bush came to the State Department this week as part of a series of stops highlighting what the White House called National Security Week, he referred to one of the reasons usually cited for cutting the department's appropriations requests on Capitol Hill.

"It is often said you have no constituency. Between me and Secretary Powell you do have a constituency," the president told about a thousand federal workers in the lobby of the State Department. For this crowd it was a natural applause line.

The event followed three stops earlier in the week before military audiences. In his introduction to the president, Secretary Powell kept up with the week's theme and his own military background, saying Mr. Bush was "with the troops of the State Department." These are people, Powell said, "who are in the front lines" working on America's behalf.

The appearance by the president follows several internal moves by Powell which put the emphasis on having faith in the rank and file. "Thank you for what you do on behalf of America..." said Mr. Bush, adding "we are grateful."

There are almost two million civilian federal workers and, frankly, the president doesn't drop in every day to give a pep talk and say thanks for doing a good job, not even when his office is a two-minute motorcade ride away. That's why one employee with about a dozen years of service said to a reporter, "There's a palpable sense in the building that things will get better."

"They are saying all the right things," said a senior foreign service officer who has seen administrations come and go."The question is, will OMB and Congress go along."

Clearly, President Bush and Secretary Powell are "talking the talk," as the saying goes. Whether they're willing to fight with Congress to spend more money on foreign operations is the question everyone at State is now asking. Will they "walk the walk?"

With budgetary battles months away, almost everyone from senior diplomats to the newly minted junior foreign service officers -- who took their oath of office witnessed by the president of the United States -- is walking around wearing a smile.

By Charles Wolfson
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