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

Posted: 12:12 pm PT
Updated: 1:15 pm PT
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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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Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management

Posted: 10:09 am PT
Updated: 10:29 am PT
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Yesterday, Mark Toner, the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson said that “Patrick Kennedy will resign as Under Secretary for Management on January 27, and retire from the Department of State on January 31. A career Foreign Service Officer, Under Secretary Kennedy joined the Department in 1973.”  To read more about him, see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight.

Today, WaPo reports that the “entire senior management team just resigned.” In addition to U/S Kennedy stepping down, others named includes A/Barr, CA/Bond, DS/Gentry Smith, all career diplomats, and presumably are retiring from the Foreign Service. Previous departures include OBO’s non-career appointee, Lydia Muniz o/a January 20, and Diplomatic Security’s Greg Starr who retired a week before inauguration.

As we have noted before in this blog, U/S Kennedy has been the Under Secretary for Management since 2007. He is the longest serving “M in the history of the State Department, and only the second career diplomat to encumber this position. U/S Kennedy’s departure is a major change, however, it is not unexpected.

The “M” family of offices is the train that runs the State Department, it also affects every part of employees lives in the agency. But there are 13 offices under the “M” group.  Four departures this week including Kennedy, plus two previous ones do not make the “entire” senior management.  If there are other retirements we are not hearing, let us know.  But as one former senior State Department official told us  too much hyperventilation at the moment “is distracting from things that really are problematic.”  

The challenge now for Mr. Tillerson who we expect will be confirmed as the 69th Secretary of State next week, is to find the right successor to lead the “M” group.  We hope he picks one who knows the levers and switches in Foggy Bottom and not one who will get lost in the corridors.

Update: Via CNN “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”

Update: Statement from Mark Toner, Acting Spokesperson:

“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.”

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