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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tillerson Is Hollowing Out the State Department

Gardiner Harris at NYT:
[In] his first nine months in office, Mr. Tillerson turned down repeated and sometimes urgent requests from the department’s security staff to brief him, according to several former top officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Finally, Mr. [Bill] Miller, the acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, was forced to cite the law’s requirement that he be allowed to speak to Mr. Tillerson.
Mr. Miller got just five minutes with the secretary of state, the former officials said. Afterward, Mr. Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, was pushed out, joining a parade of dismissals and early retirements that has decimated the State Department’s senior ranks. Mr. Miller declined to comment.

In the following months, Mr. Tillerson launched a reorganization that he has said will be the most important thing he will do, and he has hired two consulting companies to lead the effort. Since he decided before even arriving at the State Department to slash its budget by 31 percent, many in the department have always seen the reorganization as a smoke screen for drastic cuts.
Mr. Tillerson has frozen most hiring and recently offered a $25,000 buyout in hopes of pushing nearly 2,000 career diplomats and civil servants to leave by October 2018.
His small cadre of aides have fired some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether. Among those fired or sidelined were most of the top African-American and Latino diplomats, as well as many women, difficult losses in a department that has long struggled with diversity.
For those who have not been dismissed, retirement has become a preferred alternative when, like Mr. Miller, they find no demand for their expertise. A retirement class that concludes this month has 26 senior employees, including two acting assistant secretaries in their early 50s who would normally wait years before leaving.
The number of those with the department’s top two ranks of career ambassador and career minister — equivalent to four- and three-star generals — will have been cut in half by Dec. 1, from 39 to 19. And of the 431 minister-counselors, who have two-star-equivalent ranks, 369 remain and another 14 have indicated that they will leave soon — an 18 percent drop — according to an accounting provided by the American Foreign Service Association.

The political appointees who normally join the department after a change in administration have not made up for those departures. So far, just 10 of the top 44 political positions in the department have been filled, and for most of the vacancies, Mr. Tillerson has not nominated anyone.