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House GOP to Use Holman Rule to Target Staff/Funds of the Congressional Budget Office #Bonkers

Posted: 2:06 pm ET

 

In early January, we blogged about the Holman Rule, which was removed from the standing rules in 1983 but reinstated by House Republicans early this year (see House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Cut Pay of Any Federal Employee. According to the Hill, the House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is trying to eliminate 89 positions from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s staff and require the office to aggregate think tank data instead of using its own professional expertise. The Hill says that Meadows would use the Holman Rule. “In an amendment to be offered to the security-related spending bill scheduled for a House vote this week, Meadows would cut $15 million of funding to CBO staff members responsible for estimating the budgetary costs of bills in Congress…”

This is bonkers.  They don’t like the Congressional Budget Office’s scores, so they’ll eliminate 89 positions and slash the agency’s funding. If they succeed in doing this, they could replicate this at any agency. It will hasten the death of expertise in federal agencies and we will be left with whatever desirable facts and fancy reports will be rolled out by the administration of the day based on aggregated reports from preferred think tanks.

The “Holman Rule” in the rules package passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193. WaPo previously reported in January that a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program, but that its passage put agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

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Top U.S. Diplomat in China David Rank Resigns Over #ParisAgreement Withdrawal

Posted: 3:22 am ET

 

Reports broke on Twitter on Monday that David Rank, the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Beijing, has left the State Department over the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris agreement to fight climate change.  Reuters later confirmed his resignation citing the spokesperson from the EAP Bureau:

“He has retired from the foreign service,” said Anna Richey-Allen, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia Bureau. “Mr Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department.”
[…]
A senior US official confirmed the account given in the tweets but added that after Rank announced his intention to retire on Monday in Beijing, he was told by the State Department to leave his post immediately.

David H. Rank is the Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy Beijing. He assumed the position when Ambassador Max Baucus departed post.  Prior to assuming the position of Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Beijing in January 2016, he served as the Director of the State Department’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs and as a Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  From 2011-2012, Dave was the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Since joining the State Department in 1990, he has also served in Washington, DC; Beijing, Taipei, Shanghai, Athens and Port Louis, Mauritius.  In Washington, he worked in the Office of Korean Affairs, served as the Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and was a Dean Rusk Fellow at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

Dave has received numerous Superior Honor and Meritorious Honor Awards, as well as the American Foreign Service Association’s Sinclaire Award for the study of languages and their associated cultures (Greek, 2004).  In 2015 he received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for his role in securing the return of the only American service member held by the enemy in Afghanistan. Dave speaks Mandarin Chinese, French, Dari and Greek.  He and his wife, Mary, have three children – Mary Margaret, Robert and Ellen.

If true that his resignation is over the Paris Agreement withdrawal, this would be the first resignation by a career Foreign Service officer over a policy disagreement.  In March 2017, a Foreign Service specialist, DS Agent TJ Lunardi resigned over his belief that President Trump is “a threat to our constitutional order” (see Diplomatic Security Agent With 17-Year Service Resigns Over Trump). If there are other resignations we should know about, email us!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to the Press, Congress, and the Path to Blowing the Whistle

Posted: 12:30 am ET

 

The Foreign Policy Project produced a podcast in partnership with the Women’s Foreign Policy Network on the do’s and don’ts of talking to the press, congress, and the path to blowing the whistle. The discussion includes an overview of protections available – do you want to disclose openly or anonymously?  What does the process of going to the Project on Government Oversight look like? What tools can you use to encrypt your communications? What should you consider before going to the press? POGO’s Danielle Brian is in the podcast. Check it out.

Check out the rest of the podcasts here: http://theforeignpolicyproject.org/women-in-diplomacy-podcast/.

 

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Lonesome Rex to Make Inaugural Trip to Asia Without His Traveling Press?

Posted: 2:37 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson knew when he took this job that he would be the face and the voice of America to the world. That includes talking to the press, and more importantly answering questions from the press corps. We get that he’s new at this but he better get it together fast; he’s now one of our most prominent public servants, and he cannot continue to evade the press and avoid answering questions without running afoul of one of his three core principles.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell  has now been escorted twice out of a State Department presser. Reporters were also previously escorted out during the Lavrov-Tillerson meeting in Germany. We betcha when Secretary Tillerson starts talking to the press, reporters would not have to shout their questions during every 30-second photo-op. And now, we’re hearing that Secretary Tillerson is making his inaugural trip to Asia next week. He will be traveling with the new Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the EAP Bureau Susan Thornton who assumed post after Danny Russel’s recent departure.  According to the State Department, Secretary Tillerson will arrive in Tokyo on March 15, continue on to Seoul on March 17, and travel to Beijing on March 18 —  apparently without his traveling press.

Here is the official word on this according to the acting @StateDept spox, Mark Toner:

[W]ith respect to the trip to Asia, we’re still working out the logistics, so I really can’t say specifically or speak definitively, I guess, as to whether we will be able to accommodate any press on the Secretary’s plane. I think we’re all aware that it is a smaller plane for this particular trip. There will, as you know, going to – there will be some U.S. media who will be traveling to the destinations, each destination, and of course, we will do our utmost to support them at those destinations and provide whatever access we can.  And I think going forward, the State Department is doing everything it can to – and will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane.

Wait, Secretary Tillerson’s minders did not purposely select a smaller plane, did they?  The smaller plane excuse would only really work had Secretary Tillerson traveled with the full press during his trips to Mexico and Germany, then say, hey, can’t this time because we’re forced to use a smaller plane. But in Mexico, Secretary Tillerson reportedly only traveled with press pools, took a small plane and had one writer and one photographer. So this is starting to look like this could be the new normal.  If he can get away with not taking his traveling press this time, are we looking at our top diplomat ditching the press for good in the future?  This is, of course, worrisome coz how are we going to Make America Great Again if we can’t even provide a good size plane for our chief diplomat and his traveling press?

Folks, this doesn’t look good. You need to make this right. And hey, about the milkbox, does he have a favorite color?

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Secretary Rex Tillerson to Foggy Bottom: Core Principles to Adopt – Accountability, Honesty, Respect

Posted: 6:30 pm PT

 

A day after he was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State, Secretary Tillerson walked into Foggy Bottom with his wife, Renda, and gave his welcome remarks to an anxious group of employees in DC and worldwide. He started his talk with a spark of humor saying, “We apologize for being late. It seemed that this year’s prayer breakfast, people felt the need to pray a little longer.” Except for one exception, Secretary Tillerson did not make any direct reference to the widely reported dissent  from our diplomats but did say, “Each of us is entitled to the expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team.”  He declared that “Change for the sake of change can be counterproductive, and that will never be my approach.” He went on to cite a few core principles that he asked to adopt in  Foggy Bottom: accountability, honesty, and respect.  Secretary Tillerson said, “What I ask of you and what I demand of myself – I will embrace accountability, honesty, and respect no less than anyone.”

In possible reference to the leaked Dissent Channel memo, he said, “Let us extend respect to each other, especially when we may disagree.” The full transcript of his remarks is here.

The reception appears warm and Secretary Tillerson’s speech was both reassuring and encouraging.

One Foggy Bottom nightingale gave the welcome remarks an A+.

An unnamed foreign service officer attending the event described Tillerson’s remarks to VOA as sincerely communicating “a genuine concern for the well-being of all members of the State Department team.”

People appreciate his stop at the Memorial Wall where 248 individuals are memorialized for heroic service and for perishing in the line of duty.

Secretary Tillerson has no prior government service but some folks we know liked what they’ve seen and heard so far.  We’re guessing that all are hopeful that the new secretary of state remain interested and engaged in the building and its people — contrary to some of his predecessors — oops … did we say that out loud?!

Good luck Foggy Bottom with your new captain, keep the four leaf clover in your pocket.

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OMB/OPM Issues Additional Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read)

Posted: 2:43 am ET

 

On January 31, Mark Sandy, Acting OMB Director, and Kathleen McGettigan, Acting OPM Director issued a joint memo which provides  additional guidance regarding the freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees. The hiring freeze  was directed by the President on January 23, 2017, via Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze.”

Item #3 lists the exemptions permitted under the Federal civilian hiring freeze. Take note of the following:

c.  Nomination and appointment of officials to positions requiring Presidential appointment, with or without Senate confirmation.

d.  Appointment of officials to non-career positions in the Senior Executive Service (SES) or to Schedule C appointments in the Excepted Service, or the appointment of any other officials who serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority (i.e., “appointed” positions of a political/non-career nature).

h.  Appointments made under the Pathways Internship and Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Programs (this does not include the Recent Graduates Program).  Agencies should ensure that such hires understand the provisional nature of these appointments and that conversion is not guaranteed.

and

r.  The head of any agency may exempt any positions that it deems necessary to:

i.  Meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities, or

ii.  Meet public safety responsibilities (including essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property).  Agencies may refer to longstanding guidance, which provides examples of such activities in OMB Memorandum, Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations, dated 11/17/1981 [see examples 3(a) to 3(k)].

Note that the memo ends with the following:  The guidance in this memorandum is effective immediately.  Within 90 days of the publication of the PM issued on January 23, 2017, the Director of OMB, in consultation with the Director of OPM, shall recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.  The hiring freeze will expire upon implementation of the OMB plan.

The original memo is here or read in full below (click on lower right hand corner arrow to maximize reading space).

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Trump’s New Liaison to Hill Conservatives: ‘Go after the State Department folks, too … Let’s go after the Foreign Service”

Posted: 3:35 am ET

 

“Go after the State Department folks too. Everybody talks about the civil service domestically, but no one talks about the Foreign Service. Let’s go after the Foreign Service.”

–Paul Teller
Trump Liaison to Congressional Conservatives
William F. Buckley Jr. Council – November 2016

 

Full talk via vox.com, at 27 min mark: https://soundcloud.com/cnp-786867471/william-f-buckley-jr-council-november-2016

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Recipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up

Posted: 12:12 pm PT
Updated: 1:15 pm PT

 

We just posted about the reported mass resignations of senior management officials at the State Department (see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management).

The State Department spox released the following statement:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

The senior management officials reported to be stepping down today are not exactly quitting because U/S Kennedy resigned.  Our understanding is that they are leaving because they, too, got letters telling them to go.

What we know right now is that a good number of senior career official received letters yesterday morning essentially saying, “Thank you for your service.  You’re done as of Friday.”  The letters went to U/S Pat Kennedy, A/S Michelle Bond (CA), Joyce Barr (A), and Gentry Smith (DS M/OFM).  We noted previously that there are 13 offices under the “M” group which includes among other things, housing, medical, logistics, personnel, training, security.  We understand that the only person left in the “M” family in a Senate-confirmed position is DGHR Arnold Chacon.

We can confirm that one career under secretary serving in an acting capacity did not receive a letter or notification to leave.  But letters reportedly also went to others, including an assistant secretary in a geographic  bureau overseeing a most challenging region saying “you’re done, once we nominate your successor.”

Here’s the problem, with the exception of the announced nominations for ambassadors to China and Israel, there are no announced nominees for the State Department in the under secretary or assistant secretary level.  How soon will the replacements come onboard? As soon as the nominees are announced, vetted, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Just to be clear, this is not the case of career employees refusing to continue working with a new administration or quitting public service, or quitting in protest — they were told to leave.

People who got these letters are “resigning.”  A good number of them are also retiring as of the 31st because they can no longer be in the Foreign Service due to mandatory retirement (they’re over 65) or they are subject to time-in-class/time-in-service restrictions.  For those who are not retirement-eligible or subject to TIC/TIS, they’re still in the Senior Foreign Service and could theoretically move into different jobs.

With the exception of the DGHR position, we understand that all Senate-confirmed positions in the “M” family are “unemcumbered” or will soon go vacant. The Trump Transition may not know this, but these positions are the most critical to keeping the Department going.  We understand that these firings cause all sorts of problems because “there are certain authorities that can only be vested in someone who is in a confirmable position.”  For example, whenever “M” is on travel, the role of “Acting M” always defaulted to the Senate confirmed senior official at Diplomatic Security, Administration, or Consular Affairs.

For real life consequences, “M” approves authorized and ordered evacuation requests and authorizes the use of K funds. So better not have an evacuation or embassy shutdown right now because without an “M” successor, even one in an acting capacity, no one has any frakking idea who is responsible.  We are presuming that the Legal Affairs bureau is trying to figure this out right now. That is, if the Legal Advisor is still in place and had not been asked to leave, too.

This need not have to happen this way. The Landing Team get to an agency, and it goes about the job of filling in positions with their selected appointees in an orderly manner. This is not the first transition that the agency has gone through.  We understand from the AP’s Matt Lee that there was only one under secretary position left at State during the Clinton to Bush transition.  But giving career employees, some with 30-40 years of dedicated service to our country a two-day notice to pack-up is not just disgraceful, it is also a recipe for disaster.

Unless somebody with authority steps in now, by Monday, the only person possibly left standing in the 7ht Floor is Ambassador Tom Shannon who is the Acting Secretary of State pending Rex Tillerson’s confirmation.  And when Rex Tillerson, who has never worked for the federal government shows up for his first day at work next week, with very few exception, he may be surrounded with people, who like him will be lost in Foggy Bottom.

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House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Cut Pay of Any Federal Employee

Posted: 2:59 pm PT

 

Via WaPo:

House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker — down to a $1 — a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service.

The Holman Rule, named after an Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program.

A majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment, but opponents and supporters agree that it puts agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

Via Federal News Radio:

The House of Representatives voted on party lines and approved the rules package for the 115th Congress. It reinstates the “Holman Rule,” a little-known provision that allows lawmakers to bring an amendment on an appropriations bill to the House floor that may “retrench” agency spending, reduce the number of federal employees in a particular agency or cut the salary or “compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

srene

 

Excerpt from the GOP Rules Package from January 3, 2017:

Holman Rule – A new standing order for the first session of the 115th Congress reinstates the “Holman Rule”, most of which was removed from the standing rules in 1983.  The standing order functions as an exception to clause 2 of rule XXI to allow provisions changing law in certain limited circumstances.  Under this order, a provision in a general appropriation bill or an amendment thereto may contain legislation to retrench expenditures by (1) reducing amounts of money in the bill, (2) reducing the number of salaries of Federal employees, or (3) reducing the compensation of any person paid by the Treasury. To qualify for treatment under this order, an amendment must be offered after the reading of the bill and must comply with all applicable rules of the House, such as germaneness.  The purpose of this provision is to see if the reinstatement of the Holman rule will provide Members with additional tools to reduce spending during consideration of the regular general appropriation bill.

FreedomWorks which praised the inclusion of the “Holman Rule” in the rules package that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193 says:

The provision, which is effective only for the first session of the 115th Congress, allows Members to introduce amendments to appropriations bills on the floor of the lower chamber to reduce the size of a federal agency’s workforce or adjust compensation for certain federal employees, who, according to a 2015 study by the Cato Institute, earn an average of 78 percent more than workers in the private sector.

The group also puts out a backgrounder for the Holman Rule, which we are not acquainted of, until today:

Named after Rep. William Holman (D-Ind.), the “Holman Rule” was first adopted by the House in 1876. Holman, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and a fierce opponent of federal spending, introduced the amendment to reduce extraneous spending. The Holman Rule was part of the House rules from 1876 until 1895. It was adopted again as part of the rules in 1911 and survived intact until 1983, when Democrats, who had the majority in the House, nixed it.

Some House Democrats complained about the reinstatement of the Holman Rule prior to the vote on the rules package, foolishly suggesting that it is an attack on federal workers. “Reinstating the so-called ‘Holman Rule’ would allow any Member of Congress to simply offer an amendment that could reduce the salary of any federal employee, or eliminate a federal employee’s position without hearings, testimony, or due process,” Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), John Delaney (D-Md.), and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a press release. “[W]ith this rule House Republicans would instead treat these civil servants like political pawns and scapegoats.”

FreedomWorks notes that “the reinstatement of the Holman Rule is temporary, lasting only for the first session of the 115th Congress, or the 2017 legislative year. But its revival is a trial run that could lead to spending cuts for federal agencies that often run roughshod over congressional authority in Article I of the Constitution, as well as achieve the goal of reducing federal spending as the national debt approaches $20 trillion.”

So a “trial run” for this legislative year, but could become normal in the years ahead.  The reinstatement of the Holman Rule was lost in the uproar over the proposed gutting of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The WaPo report says that as “a concession to Republicans who oppose this rule, leaders designed it to expire in one year unless lawmakers vote to keep it in place.” But the same report quotes House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying that “insofar as voters elected Trump with the hope of fundamentally changing the way government works, the Holman Rule gives Congress a chance to do just that.”  

“This is a big rule change inside there that allows people to get at places they hadn’t before,”  McCarthy told reporters.

Note that WaPo says a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program, but that this puts agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

So, we’re now all just waiting to see which congressional representative will be the first to throw a tantrum and attempt to get a federal employee’s salary down to $1.00?

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Transition Team Requests Staffing and Program Info: How Did This Turn Into “Rounding Up Names”

Posted: 4:06 am ET

 

The Trump Transition team at the State Department apparently sent a memo to employees requesting information on staffing and funding of gender-related programs. Some emails we got made references to news reports asking for names. Some in social media talks about the “demand” for a list of State Dept staffers working on “gender-related” issues and “women’s equality.”  Both NYT and WaPo carried the same story of the transition request.  Somebody provided a copy of the request to the NYT.

The one-page memo, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, asks for a summary “outlining existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.”

It also asks for information on positions dedicated to those activities, as well as how much funding was directed to these programs in 2016. The responses were due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the same day the questionnaire was circulated within the department.

WaPo reported that the request is “stroking fears of another witch hunt.” The New York Times reports that the request has “rattled” the State Department. One publication says that “Trump’s transition team is rounding up names of US State Department staffers working on gender-equality issues.” Oh, hey, the “State Dept” is now trending on Twitter.

We suspect that those “freaking out” have not been through a number of presidential transitions.  The Trump Transition was asking for positions and program funding, it does not look like it was asking for names. We think the request is reasonable as the new administration assumes office. The new administration will have new program priorities and it may cut funding and staffing on some programs more than others.  Will it cut programs focused on gender equality? It’s possible, but that is its prerogative, as it was when the Obama Administration assume power eight years ago.  Employees may disagree with those priorities, and policies, but their commitment to the Service is to serve the administration of the day whether they personally agree with those policies or not (see On the Prospect of Mass Resignations: A Veteran FSO Cautions Against Rash Decisions).

Poor Mr. Kirby had to explain this at the podium:

The incoming administration will make their own policy decisions based on the foreign policy agenda that President-elect Trump lays out. That’s their job. That’s why we have elections in this country. And the professionals here at the State Department – and they’re all professionals – will carry out that foreign policy agenda and they will support that foreign policy agenda.
[…]
As I said yesterday, it is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected that as a new team comes in – and I saw this for myself eight years ago when I was in the Pentagon for the transition between President Bush and President – then-President-elect Obama – for a transition team to want to have a sense of organization, of resourcing, and of staffing for the organization and the sub-units of those – of that organization that they’re about to lead.
[…]
The people that work here, now that I’ve had two years to see it, they are true professionals. Whether they’re political appointees or career Foreign Service or civil servants, they are professionals. And while I can’t discount that some of them might have some anxiety, I can assure you and I can assure the American people that they will face change squarely on, that they will respond appropriately, that they will remain professionals, and that whatever the foreign policy agenda that is being pursued by the incoming administration, they will support it, they will implement it, they will inform it, and they will help guide it, because that’s what they do. 

Please don’t disappoint Mr. Kirby.

We should add that FSOs (Generalist) and FS Specialists have an average of 12 years and 11 years, respectively, in the Department. Civil Service employees have about the same average number of years in the Department at 11 years.

Which means that the average employee came in during the Rice tenure under President Bush, and has served through two of President Obama’s terms under the Clinton and Kerry tenures at the State Department. The last time there was a huge policy shift during their employment was in 2008 when the White House transitioned from Republican to Democratic leadership.

No doubt there will be issues and policies in the future that some folks at the State Department may consider their red lines. But today is not that day.  The “panic” or freak out” at today’s, or rather yesterday’s reported request may have been driven by higher anxiety or trepidation but folks need to recognize the need for bureaucratic discernment, particularly during this transition, but also when the new administration is in place.

No one likes change but there it is every four or eight years.  The political appointees will leave to make way for new political appointees.  There will be new priorities and low priorities. Some old programs may be cancelled, and some new programs and initiatives will certainly be prioritized but the career services go on.  The State Department needs its best people now more than ever.  As Ambassador Bill Burns said recently, the ability of American diplomats to help interpret and navigate a complicated world matters more than ever.  We’re counting on our career folks not to get “rattled” whether dealing with this complicated world, or anything else.

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