State Dept Assistant Secretary Positions: How Far Back is “Recent Memory?”

— Domani Spero
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Recently, the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers.  The spokesperson of the State Department, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee, reportedly told Yahoo News via email the following:

“There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

“It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

See Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department

So, because we’re a tad obsessive, we wanted to find out if what Ms. Psaki told Yahoo News is actually true.  If her “at any time in recent memory” includes only the the Clinton tenure, then sure, Secretary Kerry, indeed, appointed five FSOs career employees (four FSOs and 1 Civil Service) out of seven assistant secretaries, which is two more than former Secretary Clinton who appointed three FSOs out of seven assistant secretary positions at the regional level. (WHA’s Roberta Jacobson is reportedly a CS employee; history.state.gov incorrectly lists her as a foreign service officer). *Corrected graphic below.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 3.24.22 PM

 

Secretary Rice under the second Bush term, appointed five FSOs and three political appointees as assistant secretaries at the geographic level. If we go back all the way to 2001 then, Secretary Kerry has appointed as many FSOs as Secretary Rice but not “more,” at least at the geographic level. If “recent memory” includes the appointments under the Clinton, Rice and Powell tenures, the spox’s claim would not fly.

We hope to look at the functional bureaus separately, time permitting; maybe that’s the appointment universe the spokesperson is talking about?

The Powell appointments at the geographic level are sort of weird. It looks like he inherited one A/S from the previous administration (C. David Welch) and that appointee continue to served until 2002. In all, stats from history.state.gov and Wikipedia indicates that Secretary Powell appointed  three FSOs and seven non-career appointees to the seven geographic bureaus. AF, WHA and IO had two appointees each during the Bush first term.

We should note that if you’re a career FSO, the chance of getting an assistant secretary (A/S) position at the regional level is highest at Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), European Affairs (EUR), African Affairs (AF). Statistics compiled by AFSA from 1975 to-date indicates that 92.3% of all A/S appointments to the NEA bureau were career diplomats.  That percentage of FSO A/S appointment is 75% for the EUR bureau and 58.3% for the African Affairs bureau.

However, if you’re a non-career political appointee, the chance of getting an assistant secretary position at the regional level is highest at International Organization (IO) and East Asia Pacific (EAP).  Statistics compiled by AFSA from 1975 to-date indicates that 80% of all A/S appointments to the International Organization Affairs bureau went to non-career appointees. Ranked a distant second is EAP appointments at 57.1%.  The A/S appointments for South Central Asia Affairs  has been 50/50 according to the AFSA statistics.

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 Updated on 11/10/14 @ 8:52 am to correct listing of appointees during the Powell tenure and to clarify the total between FSOs and non career appointees.

@1531 added clarification that current WHA A/S is a career CS employee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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