Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to “create the State Department of the future” but Democrats are frustrated to the point of rage as they watch diplomats groomed by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry leave the foreign service at what Ambassador Barbara Stephenson calls “a dizzying speed.” Democrats on the House Foreign Relations Committee sent Tillerson a letter voicing their concerns about “what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks,” leaving thousands of coveted embassy positions in limbo.
According to a high ranking State Department insider, this only upsets the staff who remain. “There are qualified people who are delivering on America’s diplomatic mission, R.C. Hammond, spokesman for the State Department relates. “It’s insulting to them every time someone comes up to them and says that the State Department is being gutted.”
A second letter was written by RINO Senator John McCain, (R-Arizona) and Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen, (D-New Hampshire) expressing “deep reservations” about Tillerson’s policies, which, they fear, “threaten to undermine the long-term health and effectiveness of American diplomacy.” They also feel, “America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex global crises are growing externally.”
Secretary Tillerson vowed to slash the department’s “bloated bureaucracy” by a third, even before he officially took charge. “The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient.”
He knows it won’t be easy. Accomplishing the goal will take “fundamental restructuring,” to get the job done. “That’s why we call it a process redesign,” the former Exxon-Mobile CEO explains. “A reorganization is taking boxes on a chart and cramming them together and moving them around, but nothing really changes. We want to get down to how do you get your work done and how can we help you get your work done more efficiently, more effectively,” he told state department staff in September.
Hillary Clinton’s poor security performance in Benghazi and “Lurch” look-alike John Kerry’s Iran nuclear deal disaster, that ended up with cash-laden pallets shipped to the Ayatolla, are mistakes Tillerson wants to avoid from the start.
Tillerson outlined the key points of his plan in September, speaking before a gathering of State Department employees and officials, calling them “the face of America.”
His top priority is diplomat safety and security as they conduct their missions across the globe, often in uneasy political climates. “We’ve got to make a commitment to the safety and security of each and every one of our State Department people, our consular people, and to the American citizens.”
Referring to Hillary’s famous failure in Benghazi, Libya, Tillerson continued, “we’ve had some failures in the past. We have to learn from those but there can never be an acceptable explanation for us ever losing one of our colleagues. I take that very seriously and I take your safety and security very seriously.”
The second main point of his plan involves accountability. He wants his diplomatic staff to know they should not only take credit when things go well, they should take responsibility when things are not as much of a success as hoped. “It isn’t going to always turn out the way we want it to.”
“In fact, that’s just the nature of what we do and that’s okay. If it doesn’t turn out the way we want it to, we’ll learn. We’ll learn something from it, we’ll go back at it, and we’ll take a different tack. We have to be accountable for not just the successes. We have to be accountable when things go wrong as well because that’s the only way we get better. To be willing to accept that not as a criticism but as a learning moment.”
Secretary Tillerson began with a “listening tour” where 35,000 staffers responded to a survey and 300 face to face interviews were conducted. Over 200 individuals work on “redesign teams” in addition to their regular duties. Another way Tillerson is working to improve efficiency is by diverting otherwise idle hands into processing FOIA federal information requests. In order to both clear the extensive backlog and comply with President Trump’s executive order to ramp up the scavenger hunt for Hillary’s emails, even the seniormost diplomats are tasked with responding to citizen information requests.
This has been one of the biggest contributors to voluntary resignations and retirements as officials holding ranks equivalent to a general are forced to do clerical tasks. “I used to advise the President on national security and now I’m reviewing FOIA letters,” one Obama era mid-level officer complained. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
Liberal Democrats like Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) see the pruning as a “high-level decapitation of leadership” that has “put our country in danger” but it is not as much of a crisis as Democrats let on. Tillerson is concentrating on the quality of the overall team and letting the deadwood drift away. Even though there is a temporary freeze on hiring, 2,300 exemptions have been approved allowing at least “300 foreign service officers and 150 civil service staff employees” to be brought onboard.
Officials at the State Department are quick to defend the numbers of their ranks, pointing out there are “more senior diplomats” today than when Obama took over in 2009.
One career officer quips, “We have always been a grumpy group.” Adding, “this is not just about how the place is managed. It is about the politics, policy and a whole approach to diplomacy. We are a country in the midst of serious political change that will have a profound impact on how we do our foreign policy and people are having to come to terms with that.”