The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff issued a report ‘Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department’ on July 28. If you’ve been following the goings on at State, there’s not a lot of surprises in this report. Never mind the swagger by the WSOS in modern times, but one has to be living in a parallel universe not to see the sad and distressing state of the Department of State.
Quick excerpts below:
- Vacancies and acting officials at the Department have persisted through two Secretaries of State, despite numerous commitments to fill key positions.
- Three and a half years into the Administration, 11 Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary posts—more than one-third—are vacant or filled by acting officials.
- As of July 2020, more than half of Senate-confirmed Department positions have been filled at least once by someone who had not been confirmed.
- Career public servants report that senior leadership exhibits a sense of disrespect and disdain for their work, prompting many to leave and contributing to a loss of expertise at the Department.
- Senior leadership’s lack of accountability and refusal to defend career employees against attacks has contributed to declining morale and a drop in confidence in leadership.
- From 2016 to 2019, employees in key bureaus reported steep increases in fear of reprisal for reporting suspected violations of law and declining confidence in senior Department leadership.
This report makes 10 recommendations aimed at reversing the downward trends in morale, strengthening protections for employees, and ensuring that the individuals leading our foreign policy are of the caliber that the American people deserve in their diplomats.
- Rebuild and retain expertise in the State Department’s ranks.
- Reduce barriers to restoring lost expertise and for former diplomats and civil servants to return to the Department.
- Promote more career employees to senior positions.
- Increase diversity at senior ranks and throughout the Department.
- Formalize the State Department exit survey process.
- Initiate a review of how the “corridor reputation” system at the Department enables or exacerbates the challenges outlined in the report.
- Restore and commit to minimum vetting standards for nominees.
- Prioritize and fill senior leadership slots.
- Maintain an independent Inspector General.
- Enforce accountability for improper personnel practices and management.
Chapter 4 presents “some of the more concerning trends reported by the Department’s employees—results that are not evident in the aggregated Department-wide data that the State Department has released—which provide critical and troubling insights into the consequences of corrosive and negligent leadership on our diplomatic corps.231”
Some of the trends highlighted by the report are as follows:
- Office of the Legal Adviser (L):
A 34 point increase among those reporting that the Department’s senior leaders did not maintain high levels of honesty and integrity, rising from 0 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2019.
- Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM):
An almost ten-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in 2019.
- Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT):
A nearly two-fold increase in the percentage of respondents who reported that their senior leaders did not generate high levels of motivation and commitment, increasing from 28 percent in 2016 to 55 percent in 2019.
- Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR):
An eight-fold increase in the percentage of respondents reporting that the Department’s senior leadership did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, rising from 3 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2019.
- Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO):
A nearly tripling in the percentage of respondents reporting that senior leaders at the State Department did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, increasing from 12 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2019.
Note: Indeed the aggregated report publicly available does not include any of that. Click here (PDF) for what the State Department released to the public. Like, what concerning trends, hey?
The DGHR notes that “the results show satisfaction with supervisors and with the work itself remains strong. The results indicate that the Department’s challenge areas relate to performance management, fairness, and perceptions of leadership.” Yay!
The report has a section on Measurable Damage to Integrity, Leadership, and Workplace Culture
The mass exodus of senior and mid-level leadership, and a drop in interest of joining the Foreign Service coincides with a large drop in the Department’s ranking of workplace culture and sinking morale levels. After consistently ranking as one of the top five large federal government agencies to work at since 2012, the State Department fell from a ranking of 4 in 2016 to 8 in 2017 after the Trump presidential transition.266 After a year of Trump administration leadership, the Department’s ranking dropped even more in 2018, from 8 to 14.
The Partnership for Public Service’s Best Place to Work historical rankings from 2003 to 2019 is available to download here (see Scores and Rankings) with the State Department ranking as follows for large agencies:
#8 (2017) worse than 2010 at #7 and 2011 at #7
#14 (2018) worse than 2005 at #10 but hey, not as bad 2003 at #19, right?
#13 (2019) one step up the hole, but still worse than 2005 at #10 and not as bad 2003 at #19.