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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Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department

— Domani Spero
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The retirement of Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and the attendant task of finding his replacement as the State Department’s No.2 official highlighted the career versus political appointments in the upper ranks of the oldest executive agency in our country. Below via Yahoo News:

Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He has chosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.

The report notes that “just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy.” It further notes that this number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included.

The report also quotes AFSA saying, “We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building. [snip] But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”

For comparison, see this chart to see how the breakdown between career versus non-career appointees have progressively trended towards non-career appointees in the past decades.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01

infographic via afsa.org

Last Friday, the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers.  As a sign of the times, the official who rebutted the criticism is the spokesperson of the State Department, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee:

“There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

“It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

For understandable reason, AFSA wants to see another FSO appointed as a Deputy Secretary.  Congress created the position of Deputy Secretary of State in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1972, approved Jul 13, 1972 (Public Law 92-352; 86 Stat 490), to replace the Under Secretary of State as the second ranking officer in the Department. The Deputy Secretary serves as the principal deputy, adviser, and alter ego to the Secretary of State; serves as Acting Secretary of State in the Secretary’s absence; and assists the Secretary in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and in giving general supervision and direction to all elements of the Department. Specific duties and supervisory responsibilities have varied over time.

 

The candidates currently rumored to replace Bill Burns are not career diplomats. That is not at all surprising. According to history.state.gov, of the 17 deputy secretary appointments since the position was created in 1972 only four had been career Foreign Service officers:

 

In this blog’s last two months online, this might actually be an interesting project to look into — and see just how imbalanced are these appointments.  As we have blogged here previously, we readily recognize that the President and the Secretary of State should have some leeway to pick the people they need to support them in doing their jobs. That said, we think that this practice can be done to such an extreme that it can negatively impact the morale and functioning of the organization and the professional service, in this case the State Department and the institution of the Foreign Service.  Not only that, following an election year, it basically decapitates the upper ranks of an agency pending the arrival of new political appointees. In the case of the State Department, 4/5 of the top appointees are political. It will almost be a wholesale turnover in 2017 whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the White House.

So let’s take a look, for a start, at the top organizational component of the State Department.

1. Secretary of State (S): John F. Kerry, Political Appointee 

2. Deputy Secretary (D) – VACANT

3. Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR): Heather Higginbottom, Political Appointee
She was the Policy Director for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign in 2004, Policy Director for then Senator Obama’s Presidential Campaign in 2007, and came to the State Department after stints in the White House and OMB. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State from her party.

4. Counselor of the Department (C): Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Career Foreign Service Officer
Former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and former Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He is only the seventh Foreign Service Officer to hold the position of Counselor since World War II, and the first in 32 years. Not quite mandatory retirement age in 2017, we expect he would  rotate out of this position for another upper level assignment, unless, he takes early retirement and goes on to a leadership position at some think tank.

5. Under Secreatry for Arms Control and International Security (T): Rose E. Gottemoeller, Political Appointee
She was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation, which entered into force on February 5, 2011. Prior to the Department of State, she was senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 1998-2000, she was the Deputy Undersecretary of Energy for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation and before that, Assistant Secretary and Director for Nonproliferation and National Security. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

6. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J):  Sarah Sewall, Political Apppointee
Prior to this position, she served as a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2012, Dr. Sewall was Minerva Chair at the Naval War College and from 2006 to 2009 she served as the Director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She was also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance at the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1996. From 1987 to 1996, she served as the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

7. Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E): Catherine Novelli, Political Appointee
Prior to the State Department, she was Vice President for Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple, Inc.; Prior to her tenure at Apple, Ms. Novelli was a partner in the Washington office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP where she assisted Fortune 100 clients on issues involving international trade and investment. She was also a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Europe & the Mediterranean. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State.

8. Management (M): Patrick F. Kennedy, Career Foreign Service Officer
He has been the Under Secretary of State for Management since 2007. From February 2005 to April 2005, he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In 2001, he was appointed  U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador. During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and from May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq. He joined the Foreign Service in 1973, so he’s been in federal service for at least 40 years.

His Wikipedia page indicates that he is 65 years old, the mandatory retirement age for the Foreign Service. Except that the regs also make exceptions for presidential appointees under  3 FAM 6216.2-2. (With regard to a member of the Service who would be retired under 3 FAM 6213 who is occupying a position to which the member was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, the effective date of retirement will not take effect until the end of the month in which such appointment is terminated and may be further postponed in accordance with 3 FAM 6216.2-1 if the Director General determines it to be in the public interest). If he serves out the rest of the Obama term as “M,” he’ll be the under secretary for management for almost a decade (2007-2016), probably the longest serving incumbent in this position.

9. Political Affairs (P): Wendy Sherman, Political Appointee
She is the Department’s current fourth-ranking official. Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm. Yes, that Albright.  Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. On November 3, 2014, she became dual-hatted as the Acting Deputy Secretary of State.  The Cable says that she has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job. We expect that she’ll tender her resignation on/or about January 2017 unless she leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State after the 2016 elections.

10. Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R): Richard StengelPolitical Appointee
Mr. Stengel was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on February 14, 2014. As of October 31, 2014, the official directory for the State Department still lists that position as vacant, by the way. Prior to assuming this position, Mr. Stengel was the Managing Editor of TIME from 2006 to 2013. From 2004 to 2006, he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We expect that he’ll tender his resignation on/or about January 2017 unless he leaves earlier or is asked to stay on by the next Secretary of State. The average tenure, by the way, for the incumbent of this position is 512 days.

So, as of this writing, a total of ten positions occupy the top ranks of the State Department: one vacant position, two positions encumbered by career diplomats, and seven encumbered by political appointees.

Is that the right balance?

The State Department spox is indeed right; Tom Shannon is the first career FSO in 32 years to serve as counselor of the State Department, and Secretary Kerry deserves credit for that pick. We must also note that Secretary Clinton picked one FSO (Burns) and that Secretaries Clinton and Kerry both inherited a third FSO from Secretary Rice’s tenure (Kennedy).(We’ll look at the assistant secretaries in a separate post).

But.

What message are you sending to a 24,000 career workforce if you cannot find a single one among them to appoint as deputy of their own agency? The political appointees have impressive resumes.  That said, why should any of the career employees aspire for an under secretary position when despite their work experience and  years of sacrifices (and their families’) in all the hellholes in the world, all but one (sometimes all), inevitably go to well-connected political appointees?

Any career advice about picking political horses or how to get on the state-of-the-art bullet elevator to the Seventh Floor?

Maybe  somebody will be brave enough to ask these questions during Secretary Kerry’s next town hall meeting? Yes, even if folks get instructions to ask policy-related questions only. In the next few weeks we will also peek into some of these upper offices within State and go on a journey of institutional discovery. We understand that it’s pretty interesting out there.

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