Foggy Bottom’s State of Affairs: No Active Service Diplomats as Lead in Geographic Bureaus

During Tillerson’s brief tenure at the State Department, there was quite a shock when a large number of offices at the top of the State Department were left empty. We’re not sure if that was intentional (so control remains with the Secretary’s inner circle absent  the presidential appointees), or if this was because Tillerson and the White House could not agree on the same nominees for these offices. In some cases there were career diplomats appointed in acting capacities, in others, there were only senior bureau officials.  We’re almost at the two year mark of this administration, and the State Department is already on its second secretary of state in a four year term, so we’ve decided to take a look at the geographic bureau appointments.  For non-State readers, note that embassies do not report directly to the secretary of state, just as ambassadors do not report directly to the White House; they report through the geographic bureaus. Of course, these days, the traditional reporting structure seems to be breaking apart (which invite chaos), but the staffing is worth taking a look nonetheless.

According to AFSA’s appointment tracker, out of 49 total appointments at the top ranks of the State Department right now, only five are career appointees. The five appointments include three active Foreign Service officers, U/S Political Affairs David Hale (confirmed), Carol Z. Perez as DGHR (nominated, pending confirmation) and USAID’s Michael T. Harvey as Assistant Administrator, Middle East (nominated, pending confirmation). The other two are recalled retired FSOs Tibor Nagy, Jr. for African Affairs (confirmed), and Ronald Mortensen for Population, Refugees and Migration (nominated, pending confirmation). There are also two previous members of the Foreign Service (Diplomatic Security’s Michael Evanoff and Consular Affairs’ Carl Risch) who were two of Trump’s earliest appointees but are considered political appointees.

Going back to 1960, the European and Eurasian Affairs (70.6%), Near Eastern Affairs (85.7%), and African Affairs (53.8%) have the highest numbers of career appointees at the assistant secretary level.  The largest number of noncareer appointees in the geographic bureaus  are in International Organizational Affairs (23.1%) followed by East Asian And Pacific Affairs (42.9%). South and Central Asian Affairs (50.0%) and Western Hemisphere  Affairs (50.0%) are split in the middle between career and noncareer appointees.

During Obama’s first term, the assistant secretary appointments at the regional bureaus was 57% noncareer and 42% career. On his second term, this flipped with career appointees leading four of the seven bureaus.

George W. Bush made a total of 19 appointments (career-8; noncareer-11) in the geographic bureaus during his two terms in office. This translates to 57.8% noncareer and 42.1% career appointments.

Right now, Trump’s overall State Department appointments are 89.8% noncareer and only 10.2% career appointees. His career appointments in the geographic bureaus is currently at 1 out of 7. We do need to point out that with the exception of African Affairs (AF) where the appointee is a recalled retired FSO, there are no active service diplomats tasked with leading a geographic bureau in Foggy Bottom.  It is possible that this Administration will bring in a career diplomat to head the South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) bureau, but then again, if they have not found one before now, who’s to say that they will ever find a career diplomat that they like enough to nominate in the next two years?

Of course, everything’s fine. It’s not like we have an ongoing war in Afghanistan, yeah?

Below is the staffing/vacancy status of assistant secretaries at the geographic bureaus as of this writing.

African Affairs (AF): The bureau covers these countries in sub-Saharan Africa but not those in North Africa.

CURRENT Assistant Secretary:  Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. (2018-
Retired FSO/Confirmed

 

East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP): Click here for the countries covered by the bureau. Department website notes that “The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, headed by Senior Bureau Official W. Patrick Murphy deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. relations with the countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

CURRENT: No Acting Assistant Secretary

NOMINATED: David Stilwell (NonCareer/Pending at SFRC)

 

European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR): The Department of State established the position of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in 1949. The name changed to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs on August 8, 2001. The bureau covers these countries.

CURRENT Assistant Secretary: A. Wess Mitchell (2017-)

NonCareer/Confirmed

 

Near Eastern Affairs (NEA): The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) deals with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. diplomatic relations with AlgeriaBahrainEgyptIranIraqIsraelJordanKuwaitLebanonLibyaMoroccoOmanPalestinian TerritoriesQatarSaudi ArabiaSyriaTunisiaUnited Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Regional policy issues that NEA handles include Iraq, Middle East peace, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and political and economic reform

CURRENT: Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
David M. Satterfield (Career FSO)

NOMINATED David Schenker
(NonCareer/Pending at SFRC since 4/2018)

 

South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA): The Bureau of South Asian Affairs was established Aug 24, 1992, and is responsible for relations with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and the Maldive Islands. It has since expanded to cover these countries.

CURRENT: No Acting Assistant Secretary

NO NOMINEE ANNOUNCED

 

Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA): On January 12, 1999, the Bureau assumed responsibility for Canada and was renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. The Department of State had first established a Division of Latin American Affairs in 1909. The bureau covers these countries.

CURRENT Assistant Secretary:  Kimberly Breier (2018-)
(NonCareer/Confirmed)

 

International Organization Affairs (IO): The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs in February 1949, using one of the six Assistant secretary positions originally authorized by Congress in 1944 (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). On June 24, 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson established the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) as part of the U.S. effort to meet the needs of post-World War II diplomacy.  IO is the U.S. Government’s primary interlocutor with the United Nations and a host of international agencies and organizations.

CURRENT Assistant Secretary: Kevin Edward Moley (2018-)
NonCareer/Confirmed

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