Posted: 12:28 pm PT
Updated: Feb 13, 2:02 pm PT
We’ve written previously about staffing and attrition at the State Department in this blog. We’ve decided to put the staffing numbers in FY16 and FY17 next to each other for comparison. The numbers are publicly released by State/HR, and links are provided below.
Since the State Department had also released an update of its staffing numbers dated December 31, 2017 for the first quarter of FY2018, we’ve added that in the table below.
FY2016 saw a high water mark in the total number of State Department employees worldwide at 75,231. There were 13,980 Foreign Service employees (officers and specialists), 11,147 Civil Service employees and 50,104 locally employed (LE) staff members at 275 overseas posts.
The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. On February 1, 2017, Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State. With the exception of the month of January, note that Secretary Tillerson was at the helm at State for eight months in FY2017 (February-September 30, 2017), and the first three months of FY2018 (October 2017-December 2017).
With 75,231 overall number as our marker, we find that the State Department overall was reduced by 351 employees at the end of FY2017. On the first quarter of FY18, this number was reduced further by 476 employees. Between September 30, 2016, and December 31, 2017 — 15 months — the agency was reduced overall by 827 employees (including LE employees).
FY2017 did see six, that’s right, six new FS specialists, and 256 LE staffers added to its rolls (see That FSS Number for additional discussion on that six FSS gains). Note that LE staffers are generally host country nationals paid in local compensation plans with non-dollarized salaries.
Data also shows that there were 68 more FS/CS employees overseas. We interpret this to mean 68 more FS/CS employees assigned overseas, and not/not necessarily new hires. The FSO ranks were reduced by 107 officers, and the Civil Service corps was reduced by 500 out of a total of 25,127 American employees by September 2017. The Foreign Service was further reduced by 197 employees, and the Civil Service reduced by 144 employees by December 31, 2017.
Tillerson on Track
Mr. Tillerson goal is reportedly to reduce the department’s full-time American employees by 8 percent by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has purportedly promised to complete the first round of cuts. A November 2017 report calculated the 8 percent as 1,982 people with 1,341 expected to retire or quit, and 641 employees expected to take buyouts. The data below indicates that the State Department’s American FS/CS employees at 25,127 in FY2016 was reduced by 948 employees by December 31, 2017, a reduction of 3.8 percent. If the buyouts, as reported, occurs in April 2018, Tillerson would be at 6.3 percent reduction by spring, with five months to get to the remaining 1.7 percent to make his 8 percent target by September 30. And this is just the first round.
In 2016, the State Department already projected that between FY 2016 and FY 2020, close to 5,400 career FS and CS employees (21 percent) will leave the Department due to various types of attrition (non-retirements, retirements, voluntary, involuntary). That’s an average of 1,080 reduction each fiscal year from FY2016-FY2020. Even without a threat of staff reduction, it was already anticipated that the State Department was going to shrink by 1,080 employees every year until 2020. We think that part of this estimate has to do with the graying of the federal service, and the mandatory age retirement for the Foreign Service, but also because of the built-in RIF in the Foreign Service with its “up or out” system. Anytime we hear the State Department trimming its promotion numbers, we also anticipate more departures for people who could not get promoted.
It’s Not a RIF, Just Shrinking the Promotion Numbers
Tillerson made the staff reduction his own by announcing a staffing cut and a buyout. This was obviously a mistake, but what do we know? What this signals to us is a lack of understanding of how the system was intended to work most especially in the Foreign Service. This is a mistake that he could have easily avoided had he not walled himself away from career people who knew the building and the system that he was trying to redesign.
Yes, the reduction in State Department workforce was in the stars whether Tillerson became Secretary of State or not. There is a regular brain drain because the Foreign Service is an “up or out” system. Some diplomats who are at the prime of their careers but are not promoted are often forced to leave. But to get more people to leave, Tillerson does not even need to announce a RIF, he only need to shrink the promotion numbers. A source familiar with the numbers told us that in 2017, 41 FSOs were promoted from FS01 to the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), down from an average over the past five years of 101, or a 60% decrease. Across the Foreign Service, we understand that the average decrease in promotion numbers is about 30% percent.
In the rules books, the Director General of the Foreign Service is supposed to determine the number of promotions of members of the Foreign Service reviewed by the selection boards by “taking into account such factors as vacancies, availability of funds, estimated attrition, projected needs of the Service, and the need for retention of expertise and experience.” This decisions is based on “a systematic, long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide: (1) A regular, predictable flow of recruitment into the Service; (2) Effective career development to meet Service needs; and (3) A regular, predictable flow of talent upwards through the ranks and into the SFS.”
The State Department does not even have a Senate-confirmed DGHR. The last Senate confirmed Director General Arnold Chacon left his post in June 2017 (see DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant). Bill Todd who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is now acting Director General of the Foreign Service & acting Director of Human Resources, as well as “M” Coordinator. The Trump Administration has nominated ex-FSO Stephen Akard to be the next DGHR (see Ten Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).
Burning Both Ends of the Candle
The surprise is not that people are leaving, it is that people that you don’t expect to leave now are leaving or have left. An ambassador who retires in the middle of a three-year tenure. The highest ranking female diplomat who potentially could have been “P” retired. A senior diplomat retiring while at the pinnacle of his diplomatic career five years short of mandatory age retirement. A talented diplomat calling it quits while there’s a whole new world yet to be explored. The highest numbers of departures are occurring at the Minister Counselor level, and at the FS01s and below level (PDF). That said, these numbers as released and shown below, are still within the previously projected attrition numbers for FY2017. The FY2018 numbers is the one we’re anxious to see.
Tillerson’s staff reduction is not even the most glaring problem he gave himself. Basically, Tillerson’s State Department is burning both ends of the candle. The diplomatic ranks were reduced by 225 in December 31 last year but State will reportedly only hire a hundred in FY2018. There are rumors of only hiring at 3 for 1 to attrition. If this is the plan, Tillerson will surely shrink the diplomatic service but by not ensuring a smooth flow of new blood into the Service, he will put the institution and its people at risk. For instance, there are about 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. Let’s say 21 percent or 420 agents leave the agency between now and 2020, and the State Department hires 140 new agents during the same period. The work will still be there, it will just remain unfilled or the positions get eliminated. A three-person security office could shrink to two, to one, or none. In the meantime, the United States has 275 posts overseas, including high threat/high risk priority posts that require those security agents. What happens then? Are we going to see more contractors? Since contractor numbers are typically not released by the State Department, we won’t have any idea how many will supplement the agency’s workforce domestically and overseas.
The Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) Count
So if we look at the first table below (thanks JR), note that the total Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) number is 5,821. A State Department release in November 29, 2017 confirms the 5,821 figure. But this figure as you can see here (PDF) includes Consular Fellow gains (previously known as Consular Adjudicators) in FY2017 (231), FY2016 (141), FY2015 (70), FY2014 (35) and FY2013 (37). The numbers are not clear from FY13 and FY14 because the counts were not done at the end of the fiscal year but midyear and end of the year. As best we can tell, the State Department HR Fact Sheet counts Consular Fellows as part of its FSS count in fiscal years 2015-2017.
The result is that the career FSS count is artificially inflated by the inclusion of the Consular Fellows in the count. While the first table below shows an FSS gain of six specialists, in reality, the CF inclusion in the count hides the career FSS losses in the last three fiscal years that ended. Why does that count matter? Because the Consular Fellow LNA appointments max out at 60 months.
Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government. In fact state.gov notes that Consular Fellows are welcome to apply to become Foreign Service Specialists, Foreign Service Generalists, or Civil Service employees, but they must complete the standard application and assessment processes. So for Congressional folks keeping track of the career Foreign Service numbers, this would be a notable distinction.
Trump’s 2019 Budget and the Next 27% Cut
Trump’s fiscal 2019 proposed budget includes a 27% cut to the State Department. This potentially could get a lot worse; when the Administration starts shrinking programs, and priorities at this rate, it will inevitably create a cascading effect impacting overseas presence and personnel. State Department officials may say no post closures, and no reduction-in-force now but we probably will see those down the road, even if not immediately. Remember when State was shrunk in the early 1990’s? It took a while before people could start picking up the pieces, and the replenishment for the workforce did not happen until almost a decade later. (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).
Still, we have to remind ourselves that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and that Congress has the power of the purse. Is it foolish to hang our hopes on our elected reps?
HR Fact Sheet as of December 31, 2017 (PDF)
HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2016 (Archived PDF)
HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2015 (PDF)
Below is a bonus chart with the FY2015 staffing numbers (yellow column#1), and the gains/losses between September 2015 to December 2017 (yellow column ##2). We’re sure that Mr. Tillerson’s aides would say that yes, there are staffing losses but look, the State Department’s overall workforce is still larger at the end of 2017 when compared to 2015. And that is true. Except that if you look closely at the numbers, you will quickly note that the gains of 1,346 employees are all LE staffers on local compensation.
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