Tillerson Updates @StateDept Employees on Reorganization, He’s Got One Glaring Problem

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson sent out a message to State Department employees with an update on the progress of his redesign effort. The message talks about modernizing an outdated IT system, flexible work programs, and increasing “the level of EFMs.”

“This week we are submitting to the Office of Management and Budget an Agency Reform Plan with specific recommendations for improving our respective organizations. For example, we know a priority for us is to modernize an outdated IT system, so we’re taking major steps toward putting our systems on the cloud. We know you have families, so we’re also exploring options for flexible work programs. In addition, Eligible Family Members are an important part of supporting efficient delivery on our mission, so we’re making provisions in some cases to increase the level of EFMs. Our working groups have also identified areas where we can improve our human resource functions, empower leadership at all levels, and improve management support services to reduce redundancies while ensuring you have the tools you need to do your job.”

Wait, does Tillerson  really mean “increase the level of EFMs” … because this should be interesting for single folks?  Or does he mean the level of EFM “jobs” but avoids actually mentioning the magic word?

It’s vague enough, it makes one both perplexed and excited!

His message also talks about “ambitious proposals” with “a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years.” And get this — “an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B).” Wow! What does that look like? We’re definitely interested.

“Our redesign plan seeks to align State and USAID foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to execute foreign policy priorities more effectively. It includes seven ambitious proposals with investments that will generate a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years, with an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B). These efficiencies enabled by modernized systems and work processes will adjust the current historically high spending level by reducing duplications and unnecessary overhead for State, USAID, and other agencies. Adopting these recommendations that you expressed your hope for in the listening sessions will allow us to better focus on our core policy priorities and programs. It will also lay the groundwork for additional efficiencies and improvements in later years.”

This past week, we’ve seen the Senate Appropriations bill that includes mandatory notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on the proposed changes at the State Department. That same bill also requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans (see Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill). On September 12, the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to OMB specifically asking OMB Director Mick Mulvaney for a briefing on the role he intend to play in the redesign at the State Department.  We have these in mind when Secretary Tillerson says this in his message to employees:

“In the weeks ahead, we will continue to develop and advance other recommendations. Some will require Congressional approval or a change in law, some will require OMB support, but there are a number of actions we can begin to undertake internally. Some examples that we’ve already started on include integrating certain Special Envoy offices into the bureau structures and efforts to increase diversity in our workforce. You should expect to see results unveiled on a rolling basis. Once a solution is ready to go, we are going to put it to work as soon as we can. We will continue to ask for input and consult with you and other stakeholders – including Congress – as we move forward.”

Also this:

“Your participation is essential to a successful redesign. As the process continues there will be more opportunities to give your input and be a part of the various execution teams as we move toward implementation. We will be asking for volunteers through the portal, and I encourage you to sign up to add your skills and talents to our effort.”

Tillerson has a problem, and it goes to the heart of his redesign efforts.  Since employee participation is “essential” to a successful redesign, it is particularly troubling that he has not directly engaged with his employees during the redesign effort in the most transparent way. He gave a couple of speeches but took no questions.  The Sounding Board, the Secretary’s Employee Forum was shut down in August 31. Employees can still submit ideas reportedly through the “redesign portal” but the secretary of state who is the chief sponsor of this reorganization has not given employees the opportunity to ask him questions.

Folks are talking – in the cafeteria, in water coolers, in rest rooms, in online forums, etc. etc. but they have not had the opportunity for an honest, two-way conversation about this reorganization with Secretary Tillerson . His paid consultants forgot to advise him that “if honest conversation stays private, the public conversation will be unreal, and ultimately discouraging.”

That’s from management consultant, Peter Block which seems appropriate as the State Department prepares for the implementation phase of its redesign. Here’s one more:

“There will be no forward movement until the staff in turn has the opportunity to challenge management. Providing public space for this to happen is the first step in shifting a culture, in implementing a change.”

 

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One response

  1. Thank you for expressing here what we FSOs have thus far been unable to do. Except for the newly arrived and alien lieutenants the atmosphere of all at Main State and abroad continues to be one of fear, concern and even anger.