Posted: 3:09 am ET
On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department. The event was closed to the press though there was one report filed soon after it concluded. We’ve got thoughts about this, so we wrote Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.
Now, we think that this town hall was put together in a hurry to counter the deluge of bad press that’s been flooding our inboxes about the State Department, and Secretary Tillerson in particular. Why do we think that? Because Mr. Sullivan, who we’re told is personable and likable, was not as prepped as he should have been if this was appropriately planned. Secretary Tillerson is on travel from August 5-9, so a wait of 48-72 hours after his return to hold a town hall would have been feasible. But somebody must have decided that the negative reports have reached a tipping point and that they must be addressed before Tillerson returns to office. So now that his deputy has held one, Secretary Tillerson no longer has to do one. Or not immediately. According to Mr. Sullivan, Secretary Tillerson will do one in three months, “He’s going to do one in three months, and it will be the same format as I used today.”
The State Department obviously want the press corps to write about the town hall, how the deputy secretary is taking questions from employees, and answering them, and to impress upon media folks that things are going well in Foggy Bottom. And yet, the event was closed to the press. We are guessing that the State Department wanted good press clips, but did not really want members of the media to witness the question and answer. Unscripted things happen in those events, sometimes embarrassing ones and reporters could write up those stuff. And then you have a bigger fire.
As far as we are aware, no video was posted of the town hall and no transcript was made publicly available, though there are a few photos. But after the event concluded, the State Department made Deputy Secretary Sullivan available for On-the-Record Briefing With the State Department Press Corps. We’re hearing from Mr. Sullivan, but we’re not hearing from the folks who asked him questions. See the interesting gap there? In any case, here are the things that we found notable from Mr. Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing. We’ll address the interesting gap next time.
Hitting on all cylinders!
John J. Sullivan: “So we’ve been very busy; he’s been very busy, supported by our great Foreign Service and Civil Service here at the State Department. So the notion that’s been out in the press and in the media of a hollowed-out State Department that is not effective, I think, is counterfactual, and the fact that the Secretary and the department have been able to accomplish what they have is evidence of the fact that we are hitting on all cylinders even though we don’t have the full complement of political appointees that we should have.”
- Foreign Policy: State Dept. Rebuts Criticism: ‘We Are Hitting on All Cylinders’
- Politico: State Department’s No. 2 tries to buck up staff morale ahead of reorganization
- Reuters: Senior U.S. envoy tries to calm fears over State Department re-design
Frozen, who’s frozen?
JJS: “I don’t think anyone would say – no one here would say that we’re pleased by the fact that we don’t have more of our under secretary and assistant secretary slots filled, but we’re working hard to do that. Those slots are not being – those slots are not being frozen or not filled because of the redesign that’s underway. […] So I think the last stat I saw was that we have roughly 60 percent of the unders and assistant secretaries slots either confirmed, nominated, or in the process, so getting – undergoing the security clearance review and so forth. And we hope to get all of those slots filled as quickly as we can.”
Five working groups — who are you people?
JJS: “But the redesign is in midstream. It’s really the – we’ve really hit our stride, and this month is going to be a key one for the working groups that are leading the effort on – there are five working groups that are leading the effort on redesigning the State Department. And I’d be happy to give you a little more detail on that if you would like to hear about that. […] So whether it was the mission statement that I was talking about earlier, the draft mission statement, to reorganization of the – of bureaus, that’s all going to be fed up through this redesign process, employee-led, and with input over time this month – later this month from other interested stakeholders, whether it’s senior leaders of bureaus in the department, union – unions – AFSA, for example, OMB, members of Congress. So we’re going to be as transparent as possible as we go forward and reach final decisions on these issues, and eventually implement them.”
COMMENT: Oh, yes, we’re interested on more details about these working groups. Who are in these five working groups? How were they selected? Who selected them? How transparent was the selection? Where can we find their names? How long are they expected to work in these groups. Have they been detailed to these groups or are these their collateral duties?
Hold on, the noise is coming from the building!
JJS: “I am from Boston and a New England Patriots fan, and those of you who know football know Bill Belichick’s motto is: Do your job and don’t pay attention to the noise out there. But in this town, it’s kind of hard to miss when your friends and colleagues start calling you and emailing you about the latest article that appeared.”
Helllooooo A/GIS/DIR – show yourself!
JJS: “And what we’ve discovered is that over the last seven years or more there have been hundreds of delegations of authority that no one had kept track of and there was no central either registry or system so that a current assistant secretary would know exactly what had been delegated to her or to him.”
COMMENT: Per regulations dated March 1, 2010, the State Department’s Office of Directives Management (A/GIS/DIR) under the Bureau of Administration (presently carrying on without an Assistant Secretary) manages the Department of State’s Delegations of Authority Program. It processes delegations of authority for publication in the Federal Register, and — get this — maintains the Department’s inventory of delegations of authority, including the Web-based Delegation of Authority Database. So A/GIS/DIR assigns appropriate serial numbers to delegations of authority and maintains the Department’s records of official delegations. In addition, A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website.
John, call your office now!
JJS: “So there are elements of truth in some of these stories, whether it’s about the delegation of authority or about the mission statement, but then they’re twisted in a way that makes it sound as though the Secretary is out of touch, mismanaging, whatever. [….] So I think there’s really a misperception both of the department and what we’re doing and his role in the department.”
COMMENT: The State Department should have every opportunity to respond to stories we write about it. They lost that opportunity when they banned this blog and refused to respond to email inquiries. See our original post on delegations of authority: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom). See our follow-up here: Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept/ .
As recently as last week, we asked about a specific case regarding a DS agent accused of rape and stalking. But all there are … are crickets (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?). Hey, we’ve also asked about the “Naughty List” but still got crickets ….so anyways, we got work to do …
Noooo! Not the 1960’s or why Colin Powell should call in to protest
JJS: “I – once I asked – I won’t name him by name, because I don’t want to drag him into a news story, but I asked a retired, very senior Foreign Service officer – I had lunch with him not – just before I got – just before I came on board here. I asked him about what he knew about morale at the State Department, and he said morale at the State Department is very low. He said, “It was low when I started in 1960 and it’s still low. It’s the nature of the State Department.”
COMMENT: We wrote a bit about Colin Powell here: Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.
Congrats, it was all for nothing!
JJS: “I think it’s almost 800 EFMs that have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.”
COMMENT: We’ve said this before and we’ll say this again. Whether the State Department is successfully reorganized or not, there will remain a need for community liaison coordinators, security escorts, consular associates, mailroom clerks, security coordinators, etc. at our overseas posts. So the freeze on these jobs did not make a whole lot of sense in the first place. But it did make life at overseas posts more difficult for employees who have to cover for these unfilled positions, and make for distressed diplomatic spouses who already suffer from extended under employment when they go overseas.
Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”
Making Ops Center Watchstanders’ Lives Easier Soon!
JJS: “We don’t put a lot of – we don’t have a huge budget for things. We have a budget for people and we’re going to organize ourselves better, to use our people better, to – excuse me, to put our people and our employees in a position to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and to make their – make their jobs, their professional lives easier.”
COMMENT: The State Department is making folks’ professional lives easier already. And it’s starting with the watchstanders at the Operations Center. The State Department has directed that Ops tours should now be two years instead of 13 months. The nomination request cable went out already. For the first time ever, the Ops Center will have officers working insane shifts on two year rotations 24/7. More on that later. And they’re making lives easier for families, too. We’ve been hearing issues with umbrella schools for homeschooling families and issues with allowances related to Foreign Service children with special needs.