William J. Burns — to Move Up as Deputy Secretary of State

If confirmed would only be the fourth career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary

You probably already saw the news that the Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is leaving the #2 job at the State Department.  He will reportedly become the dean of the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University.  Secretary Clinton has announced via email to SD staff that President Obama intends to nominate career diplomat, Bill Burns, the current “P” as Mr. Steinberg’s successor.     

State’s Historian’s Office has a quick recap of the #2 position:  Congress created the position of Deputy Secretary of State in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1972, approved Jul 13, 1972 (Public Law 92-352; 86 Stat 490), to replace the Under Secretary of State as the second ranking officer in the Department. The Deputy Secretary serves as the principal deputy, adviser, and alter ego to the Secretary of State; serves as Acting Secretary of State in the Secretary’s absence; and assists the Secretary in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in giving general supervision and direction to all elements of the Department. Specific duties and supervisory responsibilities have varied over time.

If the Secretary of State resigns or dies, the Deputy Secretary of State also becomes Acting Secretary of State until the President nominates and the Senate confirms a replacement. In 2008, Secretary Clinton appointed both James Steinberg and Jacob J. Lew to the position of Deputy Secretary of State, the former for policy and the latter for management and resources.  Mr. Lew had since returned to OMB and was replaced by Thomas Nides

If confirmed, Bill Burns would become the 17th Deputy Secretary of State and only the fourth to come from the career Foreign Service. Previous Deputy Secretaries to come from the professional ranks are:  Walter John Stoessel, Jr. (February 11, 1982–September 22, 1982) under President Reagan, Lawrence Eagleburger (January 20, 1989–August 19, 1992) under President G.H.W.Bush and  John Negroponte (February 13, 2007– January 19, 2009) recalled from retirement under President G.W.Bush.

Below is Ambassador Burns as Under Secretary for Political Affairs, as he testified recently at the SFRC on “developments in the Middle East.”


Less than three months ago, a desperate Tunisian street vendor, tired of too many indignities and too many lost hopes, set fire to himself and sparked a revolution still burning across an entire region. That single tragic act, has brought the Middle East to a moment of profound transformation, as consequential in its own way as 1989 was for Europe and Eurasia.
The long-held conceit of many Arab leaders was that there were really only two political choices – the autocrats you know or the Islamic extremists you fear. That provided a convenient rationale for blocking real political outlets or broadened participation, and it ultimately produced the spontaneous protests in Tahrir Square and elsewhere throughout the region. We have long recognized the tinder that was accumulating in the region, the combustible mix of closed systems and corruption and alienation and indignity documented so eloquently in the Arab Human Development Reports.
As much as it is in our long-term interest to support the emergence of more transparent and more responsive governments, who will ultimately make stronger and more stable partners, the short-term is likely to be complicated and maybe even unsettling.
Successful transitions are about a lot more than just elections; institutions have to be built too, supportive policies, effective checks and balances, and an independent media to hold governments accountable. There will be plenty of vulnerabilities, and no shortage of predatory extremists ready to exploit them. And there will be plenty of hard tradeoffs for American policymakers, with popularly-elected governments sometimes taking sharper issue with American policies than their autocratic predecessors did, and elections sometimes producing uncomfortable results.

Full testimony available here (pdf).

Clinton’s letter to the SD staff is here (h/t to The Cable’s Josh Rogin).

More on the 7th floor shuffle including the top contenders for the “P” job here from The Envoy’s Laura Rozen.