Posted: 1:03 am ET
On February 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following career nominees to be U.S. Ambassadors to Gabon and to Rwanda:
Executive Calendar #667 – Peter Hendrick Vrooman, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Rwanda.
— Embassy of Haiti (@EmbassyOfHaiti) March 28, 2015
— The Reporter (@TheReporterET) July 14, 2017
Posted: 12:39 am ET
The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was selected to coordinate the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of 21 government personnel (11 women and 10 men) identified by the State Department and evaluated an average of 203 days following exposure to reported sound (described as “buzzing,” “grinding metal,” “piercing squeals” or “humming”) and sensory phenomena (described as pressure-like or vibrating and likened to air “baffling” inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down) at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.
“Of the 21 individuals assessed at Penn, 17 reported cognitive or behavioral problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or both. “It’s not that any patient can’t do a given task, but it requires way more effort,” said coauthor Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “They don’t have as much cognitive reserve.”
The author and his coauthors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the State Department, “so they cannot discuss whether they know more about what happened in Havana than has already been made public.”
The study concludes that “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”
Take a closer look at the study focused on neurological symptoms among U.S. diplomats in Cuba with @LVHN's Steven L. Lewis, MD and our own Christopher C. Muth, MD: https://t.co/oz8fmw2Cju #Neurology pic.twitter.com/SB3nL7mspe
— JAMA (@JAMA_current) February 15, 2018
Neurological Manifestations Among US Government Personnel Reporting Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana, Cubahttps://t.co/VQwbzJN15D
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) February 16, 2018
The mystery of the Cuban diplomatic malaise endures. Neurologists see concussion-like symptoms but can’t pin down a cause. https://t.co/Nx8th4NqwB
— Carl Zimmer (@carlzimmer) February 15, 2018
— diplomattitude (@diplomattitude) February 15, 2018
— Live Science (@LiveScience) February 15, 2018
Posted: 12:35 am ET
Today, Secretary Tillerson held a bilateral meeting with #Turkey’s President @rt_erdogan and Foreign Minister @mevlutcavusoglu in Ankara to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues. pic.twitter.com/HCRtipL96N
— Department of State (@StateDept) February 15, 2018
Secretary of State Tillerson is currently meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is the lone US representative and Turkey’s foreign minister is translating.
— Nicholas Wadhams (@nwadhams) February 15, 2018
This is the second Erdoğan – Tillerson meeting where all Turkish, American officials, and even the translators excluded.
Turkish FM functions as a translator. https://t.co/ofsDgYGxog
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) February 15, 2018
Not even a note-taker? Not a good idea TRex… https://t.co/C4cwReLrqv
— Svetozar (@CountTilly) February 15, 2018
Doesn't Tillerson understand that the translator (interpreter, actually) needs to be on his side? https://t.co/2G6HkUeSYn
— Cheryl Rofer (@CherylRofer) February 15, 2018
Saving money on translators, too? And the foreign FM will just share his notes of the T-E discussion with the State Dept. Or EUR can use their Magic 8 ball. 😭 It knows everything and always willing to share. https://t.co/xdDdi9f9WS
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) February 15, 2018
Im trying to understand — I never expected Pres Erdogan and Sec Tillerson to have a press conference but they did not even read statements following 200 minutes of a meeting? cc @DaveClark_AFP
— ilhan tanir (@WashingtonPoint) February 15, 2018
— CNN (@CNN) February 16, 2018
Spoke too soon. There was a brief US readout, now deleted pic.twitter.com/zH1c1KnDBy
— Dave Clark (@DaveClark_AFP) February 15, 2018
AND NOW THIS, from people paying attention:
— The National (@TheNationalUAE) February 15, 2018
#Lebanese officials deny Rex #Tillerson was made to wait for meeting on purpose, but this image shows otherwise. The US Secretary of State is on a five-day regional tour taking in Lebanon as well as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey. https://t.co/YMLESED61p pic.twitter.com/6DYnP7Xpz7
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) February 15, 2018
Posted: 4:25 am ET
On February 13, Foreign Policy did a piece on Tillerson’s hiring freeze of Eligible Family Members (EFM) at the State Department and how even as the freeze ends, it “left resentment in its wake.”
“It’s been months,” said one department official speaking on condition of anonymity, “and still no one understands what is going on with EFMs.”
The confusion could be cleared up soon with concrete steps Tillerson is expected to take this month. Tillerson has authorized an additional 2,449 EFM positions to the State Department payroll, effectively lifting the prior hiring freeze, a department spokesman said. He also plans to expand a selective pool of jobs for highly educated family members, known as the Expanded Professional Associates Program, from some 200 to 400 positions.
“This should put us back to normal hiring levels” for diplomats’ family members, the spokesman told Foreign Policy.
Read the full piece here.
First, on that EPAP expansion that supposed to expand professional opportunities from some 200 to 400 positions, read our recent post: @StateDept Releases New Strategery For Diplomatic Spouse Professional Employment #Ugh. Previously qualified applicants must re-qualify to be eligible under the new standards; they will not be grandfathered into the new program. EFMs on EPAP position are taking jobs that are comparable in duties and responsibilities to career FSOs and FS Specialists, but in some cases, the standard required for EFMs to qualify are higher than those required of FSOs/FSSs. We’ve already heard that some posts will not be requesting EPAP positions. We’d be interested to know what is the fill rate of this program by end of FY2018.
Second, the FP piece citing a department spox says that “Tillerson has authorized an additional 2,449 EFM positions to the State Department payroll effectively lifting the prior hiring freeze.”
That “additional” number got our attention because despite years of effort, the number of EFM jobs has always been problematic, and given Tillerson’s track record, we frankly have low expectation that he will expand or provide something “additional” to a situation that he made worse on his first year on the job.
When we asked about this, the reporter told us “State won’t give us a clear answer – in large part because its hard to track exact number as FSOs cycle to new posts. Best we got was its ‘returning to normal levels.’ Rough estimate: 884 EFMs waived by RT + the 2449 new ones = 3333, a bit below Fall 2016 levels.”
So, if there’s one thing the State Department is really, really good at, it is how to track its people overseas. Also there’s absolutely no reason why the State Department could not give FP a clear answer. Unless, of course, the clear answer would indicate that the EFM employment is not/not returning to normal levels. See, twice a year, the State Department actually releases a report on EFM employment. This happens once in spring, typically in April after the Foreign Service’s winter cycle is done, and again in fall, typically in November, after the summer rotation concludes.
This is the Fall 2017 release. Note that when this report was generated, there were actually more EFMs working outside the mission overseas than inside the mission. This is the first time we’re ever seen this. Below is the Spring 2017 release (also see Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017)). Between April and November 2017, a difference of over a thousand EFM employees. Below is a breakdown of EFM employees by region from 2014-2017. Last year’s 2,373 is the lowest number in four years. In Fall 2017, there were 11,816 adult family members overseas (this includes State Department, other foreign affairs agencies as well as other USG agencies under chief of mission authority); so 20% EFMs were employed at our overseas posts. In Fall 2016, there were 11,841 adult family members overseas, and 3,501 were employed at our overseas posts or 30 percent. By the way, the overall “not employed” EFM category jumped from 56 percent in April 2017 to 64 percent in November 2017.
The State Department could argue that some more EFMs were hired after the Fall 2017 report. That’s entirely possible. Or if Tillerson’s additional 2,449 EFM positions” are real numbers, that’s a 96 percent increase to the 2,373 Fall 2017 number. Really? If FP’s 3,333 number is accurate, it would be 60 less than 3,393 (count released in April 2017); it would also be 168 less than the annual Fall count the previous year at 3,501, and brings the total number closest to the 2015 level.
We’ll have to wait and see, after all, when State announced that it lifted the EFM hiring freeze late last year, it turned out, it was only a 50% lift. So as you can imagine, we have some difficulties digesting this additional number of EFM positions. We’ll have to wait for the Spring 2018 report to see how back to normal this really is. If/When it does return to normal, one still need to shake one’s noggin. This. Was. A useless, needless exercise by thoughtless newbies.
Read more here:
Posted: 4:17 am ET
Updated: Feb 14, 1:17 pm PT
The State Department’s 2019 Budget Proposal released on February 12 includes a cover letter where Secretary Tillerson talks about the “completed [the] 2017 Redesign.” Hookay. On February 13, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to his employees announcing The Impact Initiative (Please note that the Impact Initiative links do not work in the regular Internet, but only works in the State Department’s Intranet so we’ve disabled them below).
The Impact Initiative is the implementation of plans generated during the 2017 Redesign to enhance our ability to carry out America’s foreign policy and strengthen our leadership training and development. Modernization and Leadership projects are now underway, and employees are being asked to participate in various components of the initiative. Through Modernization and Leadership, the Impact Initiative will help improve efficiency and enhance our ability to deliver on our mission. Please go to http://impact.state.gov for additional information and to sign up for regular updates.
TII is supposed to lay a foundation for the future, and as we’ve previously reported, INR’s Dan Smith is now formally identified as the lead for this new organizational experience. Also see Tillerson’s #Redesign Gets Rebranded as “The Impact Initiative” or TII But Why Not TELII?
The Impact Initiative is the implementation of plans generated during the 2017 Redesign for modernizing work processes and tools and strengthening leadership in the Department. The Modernization projects will reduce impediments to more efficient operations, as identified during the Redesign process; and the Leadership component will focus on ensuring we build the skills, experience, and leadership qualities that we need in our Civil Service, Foreign Service, and locally employed staff. I am pleased to announce that Ambassador Daniel Smith (http://impact.state.gov/ambassador-daniel-b-smith/), Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, will lead the Impact Initiative.
Tillerson’s message to State Department employees includes a section labeled “Background: From Redesign to Impact” — obviously a necessary reminder for an exercise that has been repeatedly identified as “employee-led” … well, in case the employees have forgotten:
The 2017 Redesign, a joint State-USAID initiative, examined our work processes, our workforce development, and our technology tools. The Redesign was tasked to identify opportunities to make our agencies more effective and efficient and identify obstacles that, if removed, would allow us to accomplish our mission with greater impact. Many of you were involved in the various phases of the Redesign, which examined work processes and organizational practices that hold us back and identified those problems that were both significant and solvable. During the Redesign, teams of your colleagues came up with concrete plans and proposals to modernize our work.
As the Redesign wrapped up in 2017, I shared my vision for implementing the resulting projects during a town hall last December: Modernization + Leadership = Greater Mission Impact, or the Impact Initiative for short.
And now about those “Keystone Projects”
The first component of the Impact Initiative is Modernization. Impact Initiative teams are working to implement Modernization projects in three areas: information technology and human resources, policy processes and our global resource footprint, and operational efficiencies. In practical terms, this means the Impact Initiative aims to bring our HR and IT systems in line with modern day standards, streamline our policy development and execution, modernize how we deploy our resources globally, and capture operational efficiencies.
There are 16 keystone Modernization projects with teams working in those projects but they’re only available on the Intranet site.
Tillerson talks about leadership and strengthening training and development:
The second component of the Impact Initiative is Leadership, and I have highlighted the importance of strengthening leadership development. I recently launched a series of Leadership Lectures based on the core leadership tenets. We are reviewing our leadership principles and working to ensure we have the right policies and programs in place to effectively recruit, train, and develop the next generation of Foreign and Civil Service leaders to advance our foreign policy goals for the 21st Century. At my direction, a Leadership Coalition has been selected from a diverse cross-section of established and up-and-coming career leaders to identify ways to strengthen and improve leadership development and delivery of leadership training. Julieta Valls Noyes (http://impact.state.gov/ambassador-julieta-valls-noyes/), Acting Deputy Director of the Foreign Service Institute, is heading the Leadership component of the Impact Initiative.
Tillerson ends his message with a note that TII needs the employees’ “support and participation” and ask that they sign up for regular updates. “For the Impact Initiative to succeed, everyone in the State Department and USAID must stay up-to-date on progress of the work of the Modernization Project teams and Leadership Coalition.”
Posted: 3:17 am ET
Below is an unlisted video uploaded on February 2, 2018 by the “DMO Team” (?) that talks about the Mandatory Harassment Training ordered by Secretary Tillerson at the State Department. The presenter is Pamela Britton, an Attorney-Adviser from the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) at the State Department.
Around the 22 minute mark, the presenter talks about the reporting trends on harassment – saying that it has increased dramatically over the past four years FY2014 (235), FY2015 (320), FY2016 (365), FY2017 (483) but also notes that S/OCR “does not believe that the number of reports are equivalent to the number of actual behavior increasing” or that there’s “an uptick in poor behavior.” They’re tying the increase in reporting “to the fact that people are now more informed of what to do, how to report, and what should be reported.” Supervisors are reportedly now better informed of their mandatory reporting requirement. Also that there is less tolerance for behavior that may have been tolerated 20 years ago. One more thing to note. Majority of reports are reportedly from overseas, and a significant number of alleged harassers are at the GS-14/FS-02 and higher ranking employees.
This video also cites two EEOC cases from DHS and the U.S. Navy. Whoever put this video together somehow forgot the sexual harassment case at FSI that S/OCR determined was not a sexual harassment case, but where the EEOC eventually found the State Department liable: @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case). And here’s another one: Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?
According to the description posted with this video, on January 12, 2018, Secretary Tillerson mandated all American direct-hire employees receive harassment awareness training within 90 days (by April 12). The Bureau of Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) have made the following video available to ensure that all employees can comply. To ensure accountability with this requirement, all Assistant Secretaries, Chiefs of Mission, Charges, and Principal Officers must certify that all American, direct-hire employees under their supervision have received the training, via memo for domestic employees and front-channel cable for employees stationed abroad. In addition, the Foreign Service Institute, in coordination with S/OCR and HR, will reportedly develop an online harassment awareness-training course, which will be available later in 2018. All locally employed staff, personal services contractors and contractors will be held accountable for completing this on-line training by December 31, 2018.
The video posted says that for questions, please email SOCR_Direct@state.gov. If you would like to report an instance of harassment, please use the reporting link http://socr.state.sbu/OCR/Default.asp…. (links to Intranet site). If you do not have intranet access, folks may send an email to the aforementioned address or call 202-647-9295.
With regards to the harassment training, note that the EEOC in 2016 put out a Report of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (June 2016), which find that much of the harassment training done over the last 30 years has been ineffective in preventing harassment. See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report.cfm,
Posted: 3:49 am ET
QUESTION: Hi, I – yeah, just an arithmetic question, really. When the OCO money, the 12 billion, is brought under the caps, does that effectively expand the 39.3 up to 50 billion? Or will that be rolled into the 39.3?
MR PITKIN: It’s all part of the 39.3. So previous to this adjustment, if you look at the printed materials that are going to come out today from both our initial budget and OMB, that 12 billion will be separate. So it’ll be 30 – about 27 in the base budget, and then 12 billion —
QUESTION: So that 12 billion is just being renamed.
MR PITKIN: It’s being renamed or —
QUESTION: It’s not disappearing or —
MR PITKIN: Right. Right, right.
QUESTION: — being added onto anything?
MR PITKIN: It’s still the same topline amount. The advantage is it’s now all now under the same spending caps that all the other agencies have to operate under as well.
QUESTION: That is relative to a decrease, as Josh pointed out, of something like 30 percent from 2017, though. So —
MR PITKIN: That’s true. But again, I think, the – as the Secretary has said that we did not think that the $55 billion that was provided last year, including a supplemental, was sustainable over the long term. So I think even the House and the Senate – we’ll wait and see what the House and the Senate do for FY18. I think until we have to – it’s hard to compare what we’re requesting now versus ’18 because the House and the Senate still have to act on FY18 appropriations, take into consideration these caps. But we would note that the levels that the committees marked up back several months ago did not even there reach the $55 billion level. But again, we have to wait and see what Congress says for ’18 before we can make a true apples-apples comparison. But even they were not at the FY17 level; they were down as well.
Director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning/State
Briefing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of State and USAID
Feb 12, 2018
Posted: 3:31 am ET
On January 11, Deputy Secretary Sullivan held a session “Harassment in the Workplace” at the State Department (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case). The following day, Secretary Tillerson delivered his remarks on values, also specifically addressing sexual harassment.
We understand that for a while there on January 12, Secretary Tillerson’s Conversation on the Value of Respect was reportedly the “tip of the day” when you log in to the Department’s OpenNet. That’s right, just mere hours after the President of the United States was reported to call certain countries “shitholes” during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House. Click here for reactions from different countries.
We’re not sure why both Deputy Secretary and the Secretary talked about sexual harassment two days in a row. Our most charitable take is that this is something the State Department cares very much, and the senior leadership would like to impress upon employees the importance it places on sexual harassment (see our posts on sexual harassment here). The less charitable take is that they’ve heard about folks talking to Congress about sexual harassment at the State Department, and they did not want to be perceived as not doing anything. (See Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault Data; Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints; Inbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”).
Of course, we also have our jaded take and we’re not alone on this — that Tillerson’s folks had atrocious timing, and did not want to seem like the Secretary was criticizing his boss on the day when the “shitholes” comment was bouncing around the globe.
Fast-forward to February 12, Tillerson has now reportedly announced mandatory sexual harassment training for State Department employees. Reuters reports that the mandatory training is supposed to be completed by June 1:
“There is no form of disrespect for the individual that I can identify, anything more demeaning than for someone to suffer this kind of treatment,” he said.
“It’s not OK if you’re seeing it happening and just look away. You must do something. You must notify someone. You must step in and intervene,” Tillerson added, speaking in Cairo to about 150 U.S. embassy staff outside the ambassador’s residence.
We’d be interested to know who provides the training, and what’s the source of the training material. For those who experienced sexual harassment first hand, we’d like to know if you think this mandatory training would help remedy the problem.
Tillerson announces mandatory sexual harassment training https://t.co/N7Pp6hBa6X
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 12, 2018
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) February 12, 2018
Secretary Tillerson: Harassment and abuse have no place in a country founded on the value of individual liberty. It can have no place in our State Department– not here in Washington, not at our posts abroad, nowhere. It will not be tolerated. pic.twitter.com/WUIZxNEcNJ
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) January 12, 2018
AND NOW THIS — Randy Rainbow’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ is quite memorable.
— Randy Rainbow (@RandyRainbow) February 12, 2018
Posted: 2:50 am ET
The WH announced last week the President’s intent to nominate PACOM’s Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr. to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Australia. If confirmed, Admirall Harris would succeed political appointee Morrell John Berry (1959–) who was Ambassador to Canberra from 2013–2016. The last career diplomat appointed to Australia was Edward William Gnehm Jr. (1944–) who served from 2000–2001.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command, is expected to become ambassador to Australia. He's a vocal critic of China’s military expansion in the region. https://t.co/yXvGJ4mgHZ pic.twitter.com/UktWlMRrbX
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) February 12, 2018
— US Embassy Canberra (@USAembassyinOZ) February 10, 2018
— US Consulate Sydney (@USConGenSydney) February 9, 2018
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.
- AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”
- Snapshot: @StateDept’s Civil Service and Foreign Service Retirements, January-October 2017
- Inbox: Feast-or-Famine Games Being Played With State Staffing Levels
- @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition
- Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition
- @StateDept Spox Talks Foreign Service Retirement Numbers, Paris vs. Pakistan
- A Look Back at @StateDept Staffing Efforts: Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0
- Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps