Video of the Day: 69th Secretary of State Says, “I checked. I’m fully intact.”

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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Holy caramba!  The world is falling apart, and here is the 69th Secretary of State. We feel sorry for us and the historians at history.state.gov but this is a remarkable moment. How low have we fallen … uh, that’s not a question. He also talked about other stuff, but obviously, we can’t remember what he said, or even if we can remember what our top diplomat said … what the heeeey, it’s pretzel day, every day these days.

AND NOW THIS —

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U.S. Laughing Stock Gets a Trump Rally, Offsets National Debt

Posted: 2:50 am ET
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AND NOW THIS —

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SecState Who Was Called a Dog, Reportedly Called POTUS an “F-ing Moron” #RealLife

Posted: 4:10 am ET
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Less than 48 hours after Secretary Tillerson was called Donald Trump’s dog (see WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!), NBC News was out with a scoop where Secretary Tillerson was reported to have called POTUS a  “moron” this past summer (see Tillerson’s Fury at Trump Required an Intervention From Pence). So then Mr. Tillerson, fourth in line to the throne, excuse me, the presidency, came out to speak to his long lost friends in the media in Foggy Bottom.

He starts with expressing his commitment to the success of President Trump:

There were some news reports this morning that I want to address. First, my commitment to the success of our President and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as Secretary of State. President Trump’s “America first” agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries. President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country.

He spent a paragraph of his remarks addressing the “erroneous” reporting involving the VP though he did not talk about that Nikki Haley part of the report helpfully provided on the record by his comm advisor:

To address a few specifics that have been erroneously reported this morning, the Vice President has never had to persuade me to remain the Secretary of State because I have never considered leaving this post. I value the friendship and the counsel of the Vice President and I admire his leadership within President Trump’s administration to address the many important agendas of President Trump, both from a foreign policy perspective and a diplomatic – I’m sorry, a domestic objective.

This presser is clearly intended for an audience of one. His  speechwriters get points for calling POTUS “smart” and remembering to include the “America First” slogan:

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about this President, whom I did not know before taking this office. He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes, and he holds those around him accountable for whether they’ve done the job he’s asked them to do. Accountability is one of the bedrock values the President and I share.

Oops … and this!

While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.

His full statement is here.

Congrats to Tillerson’s speechwriters. It worked!

Click here for the State Department spox Heather Nauert who officially denied from the podium that the Secretary of State called the President of the United States a “moron.”  For the record, the reporter  said “My source didn’t just say he called him a moron. He said he called him an f-ing moron.” 

We’d like to know what kind of talking points Public Affairs is sending out to the field so our diplomats overseas can respond to their host countries’ inquiries, and whether they’re allowed to wear brown paper bags over their heads.

One reporter asked during the Daily Press Briefing, “Tillerson’s own spokesperson came out and walked back information that he had given to that story that apparently wasn’t accurate. And he said that he spoke out of line about conversations that he was not privy to. So that seems to me that he contributed inaccurate information to that story. On another occasion he denied conversations had happened between the State Department and the White House that multiple sources told us did happen, including a White House source. So how can we believe what the State Department says did or did not happen when Tillerson’s own spokesperson seems to be putting information out there that is not necessarily accurate?”

The spox’s response: “Honesty, being forthright, integrity is something that the Secretary has spoken to often. That is a value that he holds very close and very dear.[…] My colleague issued some tweets in response to that. I think I certainly share his sentiment in that he regrets those. His statement say that he spoke out of line about conversations he wasn’t privy to.”

The reporter pursued the question: “But if he’s giving information to a reporter that is categorically false on what seems to be now two occasions, how does the Secretary feel about his own spokesperson?”

The spox’s response:  “I have not asked the Secretary that question.”

Um … “why not?”

AND NOW THIS —

We all know that this is not going to be the end of this exhausting drama. We’re just gonna stock on this shirt in our bunker so we’ll have a permanently screaming owl on our chest 24/7 from hereon (via Amazon Affiliate).

 

WaPo’s Dana Milbank Goes Scooby-Doo Slap-A-Lympics on Tillerson – Holy Bow Wow!

Posted: 3:41 am ET
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I know,  I know, the world is ending again this month, so what the heck, here is a cute one for all dog lovers and pals out there.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on @StateDept ReDesign With Tillerson Oops, Sullivan

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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On Tuesday, September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the State Department’s redesign efforts. You’d think that the chief sponsor of this entire endeavor, Secretary Tillerson would be at the hearing to answer questions from congressional representatives. But it looks like Mr. Tillerson is meeting the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher at the Department of State at 10:25 a.m.. That leaves his Deputy John  Sullivan as “it” for the hot seat instead.

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “This hearing is the latest in our ongoing oversight of the State Department’s vital work. It will allow members to raise important questions about the State Department’s redesign plan, and help inform the committee’s efforts to authorize State Department functions.”

The American Academy of Diplomacy previously wrote to Secretary Tillerson requesting that the reorganization plan be made public and was refused (see Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan).  The group has now written a new letter addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing its support for the “sensible streamlining and the elimination of offices and positions in order to promote effective diplomacy.” It also tells HFAC that it believes that “the Administration should reconsider the decision to declare its plan for reorganization “pre-decisional.” The Congress should ask that the plans to date and those to be considered be made available for public comment.” More:

The Academy believes certain principles should guide the reorganization.
–Change only those things which will strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
–People are more important than programs. Programs can be rebuild quickly. Getting a senior Foreign Service takes 5 to 20 years.
–As a rule, front-line personnel should be increased, although there are Embassies where there are more people, including those from other agencies, than U.S. interests require

It points out that the Foreign Service has a built-in RIF in its system:

The Foreign Service, as up-or-out service, loses about 300 – 400 FSOs and Specialists each year by selection out for low ranking, expiration of time in class, failure to pass over a promotion threshold or reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. Only Foreign Service personnel are subject to world-wide availability. With their experience, capabilities and languages, they can be sent anywhere, anytime to meet America’s foreign policy objectives. Over the last 12 years the largest personnel increases have been the additions of Civil Service personnel in State’s Regional and, particularly, Functional Bureaus.

And there is this interesting request for clarity on potential appointees; are there talks that DGHR would be filled by a political appointee?

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

The group also writes that it “encourage the Congress to press hard for clarity about the objectives of this reorganization process: is the goal increasing effectiveness or rationalizing budget decisions?”

Read the letter below or click here (PDF).

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Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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On September 18, the American Academy of Diplomacy released a letter from Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Ronald Neumann asking that Secretary Tillerson make to the State Department’s reorganization plan public.  Below is the text of the letter, the full letter is posted at www.academyofdiplomacy.org.

We understand that the State Department reorganization plan forwarded to OMB has been deemed “pre-decisional” and will therefore not be made public.

On behalf of the Board of the American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-partisan and non-governmental organization comprising senior former career and non-career diplomatic practitioners, we ask that you reconsider this decision and make your recommendations available for public comment.  The Academy, whose only interest is in strengthening American diplomacy, is already on record supporting many needed changes in the State Department’s structure and staffing.  Indeed, we would hope to make the Academy’s extensive experience available and relevant to any conversations about the future of the Department so that we might be able to support the outcome of this process, just as we supported your decision on reducing special envoys.  We cannot do so if your vision and plans remain publicly unavailable.

As the recent report prepared by your consultants very properly highlighted, the Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who work for you are patriotic, dedicated, public servants.  Many have gone in harm’s way and more will do so.  For nearly eight months these employees, and many of their families, have lived in a state of suspended animation, not knowing how reorganization will affect their lives and careers.  In light of their sacrifices for our Country, it strikes us as unfair to ask them to remain in this limbo for additional months while the Administration considers in private your recommendations for change.

Keeping your decisions from public view will only fuel the suspicion and low morale which now affects so many in the Department.  We ask that you be transparent with those most affected by your efforts to build efficiency and expertise.  Not doing so prejudices their future support.  Your leadership and America’s diplomacy would be better served by allowing public comment.  It is on that basis that we respectfully ask that you reconsider this decision.

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Related to this, Politico reported last week that “as part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now.” See Tillerson vows State Dept. redesign won’t concentrate power in his hands. Click here or image below to see the State Department-USAID Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief via Politico’s Nahal Toosi. Note the slide titled “What Redesign is Not.” There is no intention at this time to dismantle State or USAID at this time. Whewww! That’s a relief, hey?

Click on image to view the document.

Click on image to view the document: Redesign Overview Capitol Hill Brief, September 2017 via Politico

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Tillerson Gives Another Pep Talk at Another Embassy – Tells Joke, But Takes No Questions Again?

Posted: 4:20 am ET
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In addition to his Welcome Remarks to Employees (02/02/17)  and his Remarks to U.S. Department of State Employee last May (05/03/17), Tillerson has made exactly four remarks to State Department staffers during his trips overseas.  These pep talks were made at the U.S. Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Wellington, Ankara and now London.  
Excerpt from his remarks to the staff and family members at US Embassy London, September 14, 2017:

So safety and security, accountability, and respect for one another. I really want you to think about that every day and try to practice that. If you do those things, you’ll have a performing organization. That’s what I know. I know that to be true.

And as you know, we’re going through a redesign at the State Department. Part of this was in response to an executive order from the President, but it was also something that I wanted to do from day one. The most important thing I want to do during the time I have – I hope we get peace in North Korea; I hope we can settle the conflicts in Syria; I hope we can settle the conflict in Libya; I hope we can develop a better relationship with Russia. But those won’t be the most important things that I’ll do. The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient, and for all of you to take greater satisfaction in what you do day in and day out. Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future.

That’s why we started this with a listening tour. We got 35,000 of you responded. If you responded, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And we interviewed over 300 people face to face, and since we started the redesign, which is led by you and your colleagues, we’ve had over 200 people working in redesign teams while they’ve been doing their day jobs at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with them from time to time and see the work as it’s progressing, and I just can’t tell you how excited I am. You know – you know what needs to be fixed. I don’t, but you do. You know where you’re having problems, where you’re struggling, where things get in the way of you being effective. That’s what we want to get at. And that’s why we call it a process redesign. A reorganization is taking boxes on a chart and cramming them together and moving them around, but nothing really changes. We want to get down to how do you get your work done and how can we help you get your work done more efficiently, more effectively.

So I tell people I’m in the blocking and tackling business. You tell me what you need to run downfield, and let me go do some blocking for you to do it. If we need Congress to change a – make a statutory change, we’ll go after it. If they need to make a change in things that require appropriations, we’ll go after it. And I’m already in conversations with them about that. So with your involvement in this through the portal, a lot of ideas – we’re getting great ideas through the portal. Please, keep those coming. And those things that we can fix on our own right away, I have entire teams to get after it and let’s start fixing some of these things.
[…]
So again, thank all of you for what you do for us. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. Now, we have an Ambassador Johnson and we have a Foreign Secretary Johnson. What I’ve concluded is, on any given day, a Johnson is going to be to blame. (Laughter.) We’ll let them figure out who. (Laughter.)

Tillerson Updates @StateDept Employees on Reorganization, He’s Got One Glaring Problem

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson sent out a message to State Department employees with an update on the progress of his redesign effort. The message talks about modernizing an outdated IT system, flexible work programs, and increasing “the level of EFMs.”

“This week we are submitting to the Office of Management and Budget an Agency Reform Plan with specific recommendations for improving our respective organizations. For example, we know a priority for us is to modernize an outdated IT system, so we’re taking major steps toward putting our systems on the cloud. We know you have families, so we’re also exploring options for flexible work programs. In addition, Eligible Family Members are an important part of supporting efficient delivery on our mission, so we’re making provisions in some cases to increase the level of EFMs. Our working groups have also identified areas where we can improve our human resource functions, empower leadership at all levels, and improve management support services to reduce redundancies while ensuring you have the tools you need to do your job.”

Wait, does Tillerson  really mean “increase the level of EFMs” … because this should be interesting for single folks?  Or does he mean the level of EFM “jobs” but avoids actually mentioning the magic word?

It’s vague enough, it makes one both perplexed and excited!

His message also talks about “ambitious proposals” with “a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years.” And get this — “an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B).” Wow! What does that look like? We’re definitely interested.

“Our redesign plan seeks to align State and USAID foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to execute foreign policy priorities more effectively. It includes seven ambitious proposals with investments that will generate a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years, with an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B). These efficiencies enabled by modernized systems and work processes will adjust the current historically high spending level by reducing duplications and unnecessary overhead for State, USAID, and other agencies. Adopting these recommendations that you expressed your hope for in the listening sessions will allow us to better focus on our core policy priorities and programs. It will also lay the groundwork for additional efficiencies and improvements in later years.”

This past week, we’ve seen the Senate Appropriations bill that includes mandatory notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on the proposed changes at the State Department. That same bill also requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans (see Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill). On September 12, the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to OMB specifically asking OMB Director Mick Mulvaney for a briefing on the role he intend to play in the redesign at the State Department.  We have these in mind when Secretary Tillerson says this in his message to employees:

“In the weeks ahead, we will continue to develop and advance other recommendations. Some will require Congressional approval or a change in law, some will require OMB support, but there are a number of actions we can begin to undertake internally. Some examples that we’ve already started on include integrating certain Special Envoy offices into the bureau structures and efforts to increase diversity in our workforce. You should expect to see results unveiled on a rolling basis. Once a solution is ready to go, we are going to put it to work as soon as we can. We will continue to ask for input and consult with you and other stakeholders – including Congress – as we move forward.”

Also this:

“Your participation is essential to a successful redesign. As the process continues there will be more opportunities to give your input and be a part of the various execution teams as we move toward implementation. We will be asking for volunteers through the portal, and I encourage you to sign up to add your skills and talents to our effort.”

Tillerson has a problem, and it goes to the heart of his redesign efforts.  Since employee participation is “essential” to a successful redesign, it is particularly troubling that he has not directly engaged with his employees during the redesign effort in the most transparent way. He gave a couple of speeches but took no questions.  The Sounding Board, the Secretary’s Employee Forum was shut down in August 31. Employees can still submit ideas reportedly through the “redesign portal” but the secretary of state who is the chief sponsor of this reorganization has not given employees the opportunity to ask him questions.

Folks are talking – in the cafeteria, in water coolers, in rest rooms, in online forums, etc. etc. but they have not had the opportunity for an honest, two-way conversation about this reorganization with Secretary Tillerson . His paid consultants forgot to advise him that “if honest conversation stays private, the public conversation will be unreal, and ultimately discouraging.”

That’s from management consultant, Peter Block which seems appropriate as the State Department prepares for the implementation phase of its redesign. Here’s one more:

“There will be no forward movement until the staff in turn has the opportunity to challenge management. Providing public space for this to happen is the first step in shifting a culture, in implementing a change.”

 

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Secretary Tillerson Swears-In Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch

Posted: 12:22 am ET
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Via state.gov

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson swears-in Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch, at the Washington Passport Agency, in Washington, D.C. on August 31, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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American values? Tillerson: “The president speaks for himself.” Uh-oh!

Posted: 4:51 am  ET
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Axios writes: “We’ve been hearing for weeks, from sources who’ve spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.” The report enumerates multiple criticisms directed at Tillerson:
1) why he still doesn’t have political appointees in the top roles at the State Department;
2) Tillerson hasn’t put in the time to build goodwill with Washington’s foreign policy community or with the media;
3) reports that Tillerson has destroyed morale at State, empowering only the tiniest inner circle;
4) Qatar;
5) Venezuela and Tom Shannon;
6) Iran;
7) Tillerson’s Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin

AND NOW THIS —

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