Mass exodus at the State Department


Maybe if they tweeted this like our Twitter-Troll-in-Chief does, this story would get wider media coverage. This is a big effin’ deal.

Josh Rogin at the Washington Post reports, The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.

Tillerson was actually inside the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, taking meetings and getting the lay of the land. I reported Wednesday morning that the Trump team was narrowing its search for his No. 2, and that it was looking to replace the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy, who has been in that job for nine years, was actively involved in the transition and was angling to keep that job under Tillerson, three State Department officials told me.

Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. All are career Foreign Service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Kennedy will retire from the Foreign Service at the end of the month, officials said. The other officials could be given assignments elsewhere in the Foreign Service.

In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.

It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”

Several senior Foreign Service officers in the State Department’s regional bureaus have also left their posts or resigned since the election. But the emptying of leadership in the management bureaus is more disruptive because those offices need to be led by people who know the department and have experience running its complicated bureaucracies. There’s no easy way to replace that via the private sector, said Wade.

“Diplomatic security, consular affairs, there’s just not a corollary that exists outside the department, and you can least afford a learning curve in these areas where issues can quickly become matters of life and death,” he said. “The muscle memory is critical. These retirements are a big loss. They leave a void. These are very difficult people to replace.”

Whether Kennedy left on his own volition or was pushed out by the incoming Trump team is a matter of dispute inside the department. Just days before he resigned, Kennedy was taking on more responsibility inside the department and working closely with the transition. His departure was a surprise to other State Department officials who were working with him.

One senior State Department official who responded to my requests for comment said that all the officials had previously submitted their letters of resignation, as was required for all positions that are appointed by the president and that require confirmation by the Senate, known as PAS positions.

“No officer accepts a PAS position with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time,” this official said. “These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service. These are the patterns and rhythms of the career service.”

Ambassador Richard Boucher, who served as State Department spokesman for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said that while there’s always a lot of turnover around the time a new administration takes office, traditionally senior officials work with the new team to see who should stay on in their roles and what other jobs might be available. But that’s not what happened this time.

The officials who manage the building and thousands of overseas diplomatic posts are charged with taking care of Americans overseas and protecting U.S. diplomats risking their lives abroad. The career Foreign Service officers are crucial to those functions as well as to implementing the new president’s agenda, whatever it may be, Boucher said.

“You don’t run foreign policy by making statements, you run it with thousands of people working to implement programs every day,” Boucher said. “To undercut that is to undercut the institution.”

By itself, the sudden departure of the State Department’s entire senior management team is disruptive enough. But in the context of a president who railed against the U.S. foreign policy establishment during his campaign and secretary of state with no government experience, the vacancies are much more concerning.

Nancy LeTourneau at the Political Animal blog adds, The Entire Senior Management Team at the State Department Has Resigned:

As a reminder, both the president and his nominee to be Sec. of State have spent their entire careers in the private sector with zero experience in government affairs. Not only does Tillerson face the prospect of having to hire an entire management team, he has to do so with no personal experience and no senior management to consult with on the hiring process.

Since the election, there has been a fair amount of speculation about whether or not long-time public servants will remain in their jobs during a Trump administration. There has also been an attempt to target many of them for removal based on tests of political ideology. It is very likely that this exodus from the State Department is just the beginning.

This is a troubling sign of things to come.


  1. The State Department has traditionally been one of the great thorns in the side of Presidents. Foreign Service people have always had a dependable arrogance towards all others and have shown mere tolerance for elected and appointed official. They approach each one with a “we’ll just have to endure this ignorant clown” attitude, all the while believing that the Foreign Service ALWAYS knows best. Trump is fortunate that many of them are leaving, either by invitation to leave or by personal decision. The State Depertment has needed a house cleaning for decades.

    “But the emptying of leadership in the management bureaus is more disruptive because those offices need to be led by people who know the department and have experience running its complicated bureaucracies.”

    “Complicated bureaucracies” is another term for the Byzantine structure created by foreign service officers out of inflated egos that they were somehow better than everyone else. They fervently believe that what they do is so special and so complicated that only a few people are talented enough to do it.

    “Since the election, there has been a fair amount of speculation about whether or not long-time public servants will remain in their jobs during a Trump administration.”

    Using a term that “Not Tom” uses frequently, such speculation is projection. People who hate Trump want to see that hatred reflected in others. They want to see people making grand gestures of “resigning in protest”. But most government employees like their fat paychecks too much to let a little thing like politics get in the way. There will not be many of them resigning in protest over Trump, which is a shame because Federal bureaucracies really need to be purged of dead wood and redundancy.

    “This is a troubling sign of things to come.”

    If Trump passes gas, to you it is a troubling sign of things to come.

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