The King is Dead; Long Live the King

Mike Pompeo Replaces Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

I’ve put off writing on this blog, because to me the reign of Rex Tillerson meant the end of the Foreign Service. A corporatist surrounded by narrow-minded groupies, Tillerson & Company hacked away at the Foreign Service. He hired McKinsey to redesign the State Department, he cut the senior ranks of the Foreign Service by more than 50%, and prolonged a hiring freeze that choked off the entry level ranks.
And no one really cared.  Yes, there was bipartisan support  in Congress, among pundits, and even the news media, but within the Trump Administration, there was little or no complaints. Trump himself preferred a sidelined, defunded State Department.
The perfect soundbite for the Trumpists is “the State Department spends hundreds of billions on refugee resettlement, humanitarian food aid, and economic development. Why aren’t we spending that money in the United States?”
Meantime, the Department has always had a problem selling itself to Americans, except perhaps when passports are delayed or you have a relative in trouble overseas.
Some of State’s defenders in and out of government come from the Department of Defense.  Just a month after Trump’s inauguration, more than 120 retired generals and admirals signed  a letter to Congressional leaders warning of the dangers of cutting the State Department’s budget.
In early 2013, then head of the Central Command, Gen. James Mattis (now SecDef) testified before Congress and said that “if you don’t fund fully the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
So where does that leave us:  More than 150 senior State positions unfilled, a hiring freeze, and a foreign policy that seems to be decided on the fly — with no interagency consultation or debate.
I hope that SecState Pompeo will reverse the anti-Foreign Service bias, lift the hiring freeze, and expand the intake of new entry level officers.
He’s making a lot of the right noises and his successful tenure at the CIA signals an ability to work in a government agency and rely on Foreign Service professionals.
Fingers crossed.


  1. Brian Weaver says

    While I voted for President Trump, I also have long realized that Congress, and to a lesser extent the senate, really had no concept of the importance of the State Department in Foreign relations. As A disabled Marine, I truly understand the need for the Diplomatic Corps. I realized as soon as Tillerson started it was going to be painful for American Diplomacy. Glad Sec. Pompeo is in there now. While the process is still hard, I think this year is my chance to final make it in.

    • Good luck to you! I agree that the State Department has been marginalized in the current Administration and Tillerson was a terrible Secretary of State. So far, Secretary Pompeo has demonstrated a skill at listening and drawing out the best advice from State Department employees in the Civil and Foreign Service. This was something his predecessor failed at.

  2. Can you please give an update on how the State Department is doing under Pompeo?

    • Dan–
      I’d say he has mixed returns. Better than Tillerson — hiring freeze lifted, speedier nominations — but recent discussions of dissolving the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration would be a disaster.

      For what it’s worth, the two best Secretaries of State during my career were George Shultz and Colin Powell. It was less for their policy views than their stewardship of the Foreign Service.


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