Eighty Percent Of Top State Department Positions Remain Vacant

Top positions in the State Department are vacant, and there's only one person to blame for that.

Bloomberg reports that eight of the top ten positions at the State Department are currently unfilled:

The leadership of the U.S. State Department was already thin as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew back from an abbreviated trip to Africa on Monday night. Then came the bombshell: Tillerson was ousted, via a Twitter announcement by President Donald Trump.

Tillerson had spent his weekend in Africa fighting for his job after a middle-of-the-night White House call warning him that Trump was looking to shake-up his staff. But after returning to Washington at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Tillerson didn’t think any decision was imminent. Then came the president’s tweet, which said CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be nominated as Tillerson’s replacement.

With his voicing cracking at a hastily arranged news conference, Tillerson praised his colleagues and urged senior staff to stay on through the transition. While he said he’d remain in his job through March 31, he said he was handing over all responsibilities to his deputy, John Sullivan.

Sullivan won’t have a lot of company in the job. Eight of 10 top jobs at the State Department are now vacant, either because staff have left, been fired or the posts were never filled. Those vacant assignments include positions overseeing the agency’s role in U.S. trade policy, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, refugee issues and efforts to counter human trafficking.

This graphic makes the extent of the problem at the top of Foggy Bottom clear:

From the reports, it’s unclear where the responsibility for these vacancies lies. As other reports have noted, there has been much criticism of the management style of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and there were reports of numerous departures by career foreign service personnel during his tenure due to low morale and other factors. At the same time, though, the Trump Administration has been slow to name people to fill key slots in the State Department, something that was the subject matter of several disputes between Tillerson and White House personnel over the course of the President’s first year in office. Whatever the reason, though, the fact that so many high-level positions in the department, as well as lower level positions in the diplomatic corps, have gone unfilled or been handed off too already overworked deputies, is a sign that the Trump Administration does not seem to be giving much priority to what is arguably the most important department in the Executive Branch.

This isn’t the only example of the problems that Trump Administration faces on the diplomatic front, as this list maintained by the American Foreign Service Association, Ambassadorial posts in many major nations remain vacant, including positions such as Ambassador to South Korea, a position that would seem to be rather important given the fact that we’re headed into a potential summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, the leader of the DPRK. The idea that the White House hasn’t found qualified personnel for these positions lacks credibility. In any case, whatever the reasons for these vacancies and delays in appointments, there doesn’t really appear to be any valid excuse for why these positions are still vacant. We’re more than a year into the Trump Presidency now. There’s been more than enough time to vet potential candidates and to get them through the pre-screening process that candidates for such positions ordinary go through. In the past, Trump has blamed the slow pace of confirmations on Democrats in the Senate, but this is clearly a case of neglect that rests solely with the White House.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. To the point I was trying to make in my post right after this one: this is a combination of policy ignorance and norm breaking. The president is clearly ignorant of the needs that these positions fulfill and is violating a basic norm of his office: the responsibility to adequately staff the government.

    This is not just a policy preference problem.




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  2. CSK says:

    You can add to the fact of Trump’s total ignorance of the fact that these positions need to be filled the fact that no one remotely competent wants to fill them.




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  3. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is not just a policy preference problem.

    To go back to something Dave Schuler posted earlier today, to Trump’s strongest supporters this is a feature, not a bug.

    There is a significant portion of the core populist Republican base that is convinced (or conditioned to believe) that the Federal government (if not all governments) is too big. So they simply do not see staffing as a valuable norm.

    In not filling those positions, Trump is in fact doing what he was elected for.




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  4. @mattb: I agree that this is true of some of his base. I do not think that it is true for most GOP voters who actually have a general notion that the government should function.

    Beyond that: this is not some well orchestrated (or even poorly orchestrated) plan. This is just incompetence and neglect.




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  5. @mattb: @Steven L. Taylor: In other words, I think that position gives him too much credit.




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  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Who ever follows Trump as president will disappoint their partisans. She/he will need to spend so much time and effort rebuilding the institutions of our government that they won’t have the time or the human resources to implement a platform.




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  7. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that he was doing it intentionally. I think it’s completely out of incompetence.

    That said, I am at the point where I am not sure if I agree with you about :

    I do not think that it is true for most GOP voters who actually have a general notion that the government should function.

    Perhaps it’s just the fact that the majority of GOP people I know tend towards the populist side, but I think that while they think that “government should function,” they also hold the belief that “it’s too big” and that “we probably don’t need all of those state department positions anyway.”

    In other words, they have a “general notion that government should function” but also think that it is still currently functioning well enough (at least in areas like State). When I’ve brought up things like the fact that we currently don’t have an Ambassador to South Korea, I have had people say “well maybe we really don’t need one — look at all that we’ve accomplished without one.”




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  8. @mattbernius: I don’t totally disagree. Yes, many GOP voters think the government is too big and have naive views on what can be done to “fix” that fact.

    I do suspect that if one polled GOP voters with the question “Should the US have an ambassador to South Korea?” That the overwhelming majority would say “yes.”

    Likewise, if you asked them specific questions about staffing the State Department, most would want more than 20% of top positions to be filled.

    But, to your point, the conservative infotainment complex has spent almost 30 years trying to say that we really don’t need the government.




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  9. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do suspect that if one polled GOP voters with the question “Should the US have an ambassador to South Korea?” That the overwhelming majority would say “yes.”

    I do think you are right about this (at least I hope you are). It’s entirely an example of look at the intent versus what they are saying.

    Likewise, if you asked them specific questions about staffing the State Department, most would want more than 20% of top positions to be filled.

    Again, I hope you are right. I fear the answer will be “well, they are doing more with fewer positions — that’s a good thing. I’m sure not all of those positions need to be filled.”

    But, to your point, the conservative infotainment complex has spent almost 30 years trying to say that we really don’t need the government.

    And I honestly don’t know where that complex ends any more and middle of the road Republicans begin. Again, my experience really makes me wonder. But I was brought up in a CIC family, so my sample may be skewed.




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