The Personnel Crisis Awaiting the Next Secretary of State

Although the personnel change was rumored for months, it was still stunning when President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday morning via Twitter, and announced his intention to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. If Pompeo is confirmed to be the country’s top diplomat and the president’s principal foreign policy adviser, he will inherit the Trump administration’s self-inflicted personnel crisis at the State Department. The following leadership chart, which is the official department organization chart with names filled in, shows just how extensive that shortfall of permanent leaders is at the institution.

 

(A PDF version is available here and explanatory details are shown in endnotes.)

The timing of the staffing troubles could hardly be worse in light of the international challenges of the moment — including North Korea – which call for greater reliance on America’s diplomatic prowess, not less. Unfortunately, Tillerson’s tenure had been plagued by story after story about the department’s personnel woes since the beginning of the Trump administration. Those stories have covered vacancies at the top and among the rank-and-file, the president’s unusually slow pace of nominations, hiring and promotion freezes, the tenuous standing of officials lingering in “acting” capacity, fading interest from potential recruits, plummeting morale, and the distress of agency staffers enduring workplace hell. For the next secretary of state, a key challenge will be stemming the heavy hemorrhaging of star diplomats, invaluable experts like the agency’s chief North Korea specialist, and dedicated career employees with decades of experience.

If personnel is policy, the current plight of State Department staffing reinforces a number of concerns about the Trump coterie’s approach to U.S. foreign policy as well as basic governance.

First, the personnel crisis has magnified the power of Trump loyalists who’ve been installed elsewhere in the government, weakening the influence of the country’s top diplomats. For instance, Foreign Policy reported last year that foreign officials were bypassing State to contact Trump’s nepotism hires of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, despite the myriad of troubling potential conflicts-of-interest lurking in those contacts. The State Department vacancies also pose a serious dilemma for senators. Should they avoid rubber-stamping flawed Trump nominees, or should they prevent the vacancies from festering by approving flawed political appointees? And, in the meantime, many key openings simply don’t have a pending nomination at all.

This is wholly consistent with a president who believes “I alone can fix it” and dismisses concerns about unfilled positions because “the one that matters is me.” Moreover, Trump has bragged that he has handed over “total authorization” to the military. What else should we expect from an administration that wants to gut the State Department’s funding, sideline its human rights work, and close America’s doors and hearts to immigrants — while plowing more money into the Pentagon, deploying more U.S. military troops overseas, and ceding more civilian control over to military generals? These sets of choices are not what we would see from a president who’s committed to lowering the bar to wage diplomacy and raising it to wage war, or from an administration that values diplomacy over militarism and political resolution over war.

Translated into actual practice at the State Department, Trump’s borrowed “America First” doctrine is turning out to be “America Alone.” Undercutting diplomacy in such a manner is not a strategy for American greatness that lives up to our shared ideals, as scores of diplomats, ex-staffers, and retired military generals sounding the alarm have explained. Given the unpredictable, complex times we live in, it’s a recipe for disaster.

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Secretary of State – President Trump announced on March 13 that he intends to nominate current CIA Director Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, replacing Rex Tillerson. Tillerson’s official last day is March 31; he delegated all authorities to Sullivan on March 13. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan would ascend to acting secretary of state under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, but the president may choose someone else to serve as the acting officer.

Chief of Staff – Margaret Peterlin submitted her resignation on March 13. According to news reports, her expected last day is March 31, the same as Tillerson’s. 

Counselor of the Department – Kristie Kenney left the State Department on April 28, 2017. Her listing was removed from the department telephone directory sometime after March 7, 2018.

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources – On May 24, 2017, John Sullivan was confirmed deputy secretary of state. He serves concurrently and without additional compensation as the deputy secretary of state for management and resources. On March 13, 2018, Secretary Tillerson also delegated all authorities of the secretary of state role to Sullivan.

Director of the Executive Secretariat – Lisa Kenna is the Executive Secretary. The position was previously held by Joseph Macmanus, who is still incorrectly listed in the department telephone directory. His nomination on November 29, 2017 to be the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia is still pending in the Senate.

Under Secretary for Political Affairs – On February 2, 2018, Thomas Shannon, Jr. announced his retirement and departure once a replacement is named.

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs – On March 13, the White House fired Steve Goldstein from this position for publicly contradicting the White House version of how Tillerson was fired that day. Goldstein’s nomination had been confirmed by the Senate on November 16, 2017. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert has been designated to serve as acting under secretary.

European and Eurasian Affairs Assistant Secretary – A. Wess Mitchell took office on October 12, 2017. The department telephone directory incorrectly lists Elisabeth Millard as acting assistant secretary.

East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary – Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton was nominated for the position she currently holds on December 19, 2017, and re-nominated on January 8, 2018 after the Senate returned her nomination at the end of 2017.

Near Eastern Affairs Assistant Secretary – The department website lists David Satterfield as acting assistant secretary, a position he has held since September 5, 2017. Stuart Jones is incorrectly listed in the position in the department telephone directory and on the State Department website, although he left and joined a private firm in 2017.

Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary – Kimberly Breier was nominated for the vacant position on March 12, 2018. Francisco Palmieri served as the acting assistant secretary until November 2017.

International Organizations Assistant Secretary – The department website lists Molly Phee as acting assistant secretary, a position she has held since December 12, 2017. Kevin Edward Moley was nominated for the position on January 8, 2018.

Energy Resources Assistant Secretary – Francis Fannon was nominated for the vacant assistant secretary position on January 18, 2018.

Chief Economist – According to the department website, the acting chief economist is Daniel Ahn. This position, which is not Senate-confirmed, is not listed in the department telephone directory.

Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary – This vacant position is not Senate-confirmed and not listed in the department telephone directory. Vaughan Turekian, who previously held the position, left in 2017.

Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Assistant Secretary – Anita Friedt is the acting assistant secretary, according to the department telephone directory and website. Yleem Poblete was nominated for the position on Oct. 10, 2017 and re-nominated on January 8, 2018 after the Senate returned her nomination at the end of 2017.

Public Affairs Assistant Secretary – This presidential appointment no longer requires Senate confirmation under P.L. 112-166. Michelle Giuda was appointed in 2018.

Administration Assistant Secretary – This presidential appointment no longer requires Senate confirmation under P.L. 112-166. Nicole Nason was appointed in 2017.

Director of the Office of Foreign Missions – The department website lists Cliff Seagroves as the acting director, while the department telephone directory lists him as the senior bureau official. Gentry Smith previously served as the director, but the department telephone directory no longer lists him.

Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary – Carl Risch was confirmed by the Senate on August 3, 2017. The department telephone directory incorrectly still lists David Donahue as acting assistant secretary.

Intelligence and Research Assistant Secretary – The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, a member of the U.S. intelligence community, has been headed by Daniel Smith since April 24, 2014.

Policy Planning Director Brian Hook has held this position since February 2017. The department telephone directory incorrectly still lists David McKean in the position, although his term ended in 2016.

Conflict and Stabilization Operations Assistant Secretary – The department website’s list of senior officials indicates this position is vacant while the department telephone directory lists Tom Hushek as acting assistant secretary. Hushek’s department biography states that he is the senior bureau official. Hushek was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan on August 3, 2017. No nomination is pending for this position.

Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Ambassador-at-Large – The State Department’s November 2016 chart lists the position as “Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CT); Coordinator and Ambassador-at-Large.”

Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Assistant Secretary – The department website’s list of senior officials indicates this position is vacant, while the department telephone directory lists Virginia Bennett as the acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary. Bennett’s department biography states that she is the principal deputy assistant secretary. No nomination is pending for this position.

Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – The department webpage for this office states that Kari Johnstone is the acting director. Johnstone’s department biography also shows that she’s been the acting director since July 2017. The department telephone directory, however, still lists Susan Coppedge as the director and ambassador-at-large. There is no nomination pending for this position.

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice – The Office of Global Criminal Justice (formerly the Office of War Crimes Issues) had been headed by Special Coordinator Todd Buchwald since December 2015, according to Buchwald’s department biography. However, according to news reports, Buchwald left the department in 2017 after being reassigned to the Office of the Legal Adviser. The agency telephone directory incorrectly lists Stephen Rapp in the position, although he departed in 2015, and Beth Van Schaack as the deputy, although she left the department in 2013. The Trump administration has reportedly considered eliminating this office.

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues – The Trump administration restructured this position to report to the under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights rather than the secretary of State. The position remains vacant with no nomination pending.

Special Envoys and Special Representatives – A full list is available on the State Department website. The Trump administration has been considering extensive structural changes, including elimination, to these offices and positions. See, e.g., “Key U.S. Foreign Policy Positions—including Ambassador for War Crimes—Saved from Getting Axed,” Just Security, August 29, 2017.

Explanatory Notes for the Department of State Leadership Chart

The unofficial leadership chart featured in this post is based on the Department of State’s official Organization Chart dated November 2016. Only the positions marked on the chart with an asterisk are further described below. For brief job descriptions, see this Department of State publication.

All positions and names listed were checked against a variety of sources, including the Department of State Telephone Directory’s Organizational Directory section dated March 12, 2018; the Department of State Telephone Directory’s Organizational Directory section dated November 8, 2016; other Department of State webpages such as its list of department officials and officials’ individual biographies; the U.S. Senate’s lists of nominations received; the Political Appointee Tracker by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post; the federal government’s 2016 Plum Book; and individual news stories. Determining whether an official is serving in an “acting” capacity required a judgment call based on the Department of State Telephone Directory’s Organizational Directory section, dated March 12, 2018, which may contain errors in addition to those noted below, and other department webpages, which sometimes give conflicting information.

This piece represents only the author’s personal views.

 

Image: Getty/Drew Angerer

 

About the Author(s)

Kate Oh

Political Researcher and strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union - Follow her on Twitter (@kathoh).