Posted: 3:29 am ET
Updated: 2:51 pm PT
Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported recently on the appointment of FSO Andrew Veprek as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and how this is “alarming pro-immigration activists who fear that President Donald Trump is trying to effectively end the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”
A White House aide close to senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who has advocated strict limits on immigration into the U.S. has been selected for a top State Department post overseeing refugee admissions….
Veprek’s appointment as a deputy assistant secretary is unusual given his relatively low Foreign Service rank, the former and current State officials said, and raises questions about his qualifications. Such a position typically does not require Senate confirmation.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed Veprek’s new role and, while not describing his rank, stressed that Veprek comes to PRM “with more than 16 years in the Foreign Service and experience working on refugee and migration issues.”
“He was Stephen Miller’s vehicle,” the former State official said. The current official predicted that some PRM officials could resign in protest over Veprek’s appointment. “My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” the former U.S. official said, adding that Veprek’s views about refugees and migrants were impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”
PRM currently has no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary. The leadership of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration as of this writing includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and two Deputy Assistant Secretaries, all Senior Executive Service, and Senior Foreign Service members.
According to congress.gov, Mr. Verdek was originally appointed/confirmed as a Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States in October 2002.
His name appears again in congress.gov in August 2006 with 129 nominees confirmed as Foreign Service Officers Class Four, Consular Officers and Secretaries in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.
We have not been able to find anything beyond that at congress.gov but in April 2010, he was identified here as Andrew Veprek, Consular Chief of the U.S Consulate in Chiang Mai during a Q&A at the Chiang Mai Expats Club in Thailand.
Emails from 2012 released under FOIA request related to Benghazi indicates that in September 2012, Veprek was a Senior Watch Officer at the Ops Center. Those assignments used to be 12 months, so there are gaps in what we know about his career in the State Department.
However, in Sept 2017, he was identified in a WSJ article about the review of the J-1 program as Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump. A govexec database of White House staff also indicates the same title and a salary of $127,489 for Veprek. That’s a salary closest to an FS01/8 rank in the 2017 payscale (PDF). (Or he could be also be an FSO2 in DC with a salary still close to what’s listed on the database as White House detailees apparently receive a parking stipend that’s counted as income).
But how did he become an anti-refugee diplomat or a refugee hardliner in the retelling of this story? Or even “a low-ranking protegé of nativist Stephen Miller?”
Unlike Interior’s “independent scientist” who WaPo points out “highlights a regular bureaucratic ritual that has attracted little notice under this administration: When a new president comes to power, civil servants aligned with the administration can suddenly gain prominence,” we have so far been unable to find papers, write ups or speeches that indicate Verdek’s politics.
We don’t know him from Adam, and we have no idea about his political leanings are but we know that he is a career FSO who has worked for the USG since 2002. It seems to perplex people online that somebody who worked in a Clinton State Department, could also end up working at the Trump White House. That’s what the career service is; career FS employees working for the administration of the day whether or not they personally agree with that administration’s policies. And when they can no longer do that, they are honor-bound to put in their resignation. It is likely that Veprek came in during Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, under George W. Bush. In some quarters who call career employees “holdovers”, he would be a George W. Bush holdover who went on to work for Barack Obama, and now an Obama holdover who end up working for Donald Trump’s White House.
This appointee appears to be on a consular career track and the State Department spox, of course, wants to highlight his experience in “refugee and migration issues.” Is he the best one for this job? Maybe, or maybe not but that’s a question that is obviously immaterial. He may be Miller’s pick, but that also makes him this Administration’s pick, a prerogative exercised. And since these appointments do not require Senate confirmation, DAS appointments are mostly done deals.
It is also worth noting that the State Department, a pretty old organization is a highly hierarchical entity with a regular Foreign/Civil Service and a Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service corps. Would career people leave because an FSO-01 is appointed to a position traditionally filled by a SES/SFSO? We can’t say. Did career people leave when GWB appointed a midlevel FSO-02 as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs?
We would suggest that the proper functioning of the service does require an organization that respects order in ranks, traditions, and practices (What’s the use of playing the Jenga game if you don’t follow the rules, hey?) But we understand from long-time State Department watchers that the politicization of the senior ranks and appointments have been slow burning for years. This Administration with its deep aversion to career diplomats and its propensity for chaos may just blow it up and make us all pay attention for a change.
We are convinced that while this one appointment may not trigger senior officials to leave — given the lack of appointments of senior employees to appropriate career slots, the limited promotions numbers made available, the rumored 90-day rule and mandatory retirements — a combination of these factors may nudged retirement eligible employees to hang up their hats and walk off into the sunset.
It is highly likely that the departures from senior members of the Foreign Service will continue this year, with the number hitting three digit numbers by summer per some unofficial estimates.