State Department senior officer turnover significant but not a politically-driven mass resignation

State Department senior officer turnover significant but not a politically-driven mass resignation


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Quite a few screaming headlines were generated in the U.S. press when it was announced Under Secretary of State for Management (called “M” at State) Patrick Kennedy would be resigning from that position January 27 and retiring at the end of the month. By January 26, the Washington Post published a piece entitled “The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned.”
We also learned that in the January 25-27 period, 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 Patrick Kennedy out of their current positions (all are career Foreign Service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations).
One’s immediate reaction is to ask why the current senior managers are leaving so suddenly and whether we are seeing an anti-Trump political signal as implied in the Washington Post’s first take.
What has emerged is that most of the departing officials were informed last week that their appointments were being terminated; they had all submitted pro-forma resignations as is required during a transition. They are not losing their jobs per se, but they will leave their current positions in the Department. Some choose other assignments, others may opt to retire.
Also, we would remind readers this is not in any way the State Department’s entire senior management but it is a group that has a critical role in day-to-day administration of the Department’s operations.
Ask yourself, it you were the sheriff taking over a tough new town, would you really fire a large group of of your best deputies before you had replacements? That is basically what we have seen here, but the reserves of people with broadly similar skills inside the State Department are significant. It remains to be seen if they will be tapped by the incoming Secretary of State Tillerson, expected to be confirmed in the coming days.

The State Department Acting Spokesman released the following statement January 26, which is quite clear in explaining that this is not a mass resignation as had been initially portrayed and loudly repeated:
“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.”

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