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.
Tillerson’s job No. 1 must be to find qualified and experienced career officials to manage the State Department’s vital offices. His second job should be to reach out to and reassure a State Department workforce that is panicked about what the Trump administration means for them.
US State Department's entire senior management team quits as Secretary Rex Tillerson takes up post
The entire senior level of management officials at the US State Department has resigned – rather than serve under President Donald Trump.
In the latest display of disquiet among civil servants in Washington over the arrival of the new commander-in-chief, the four top senior officials at the equivalent of America's foreign ministry, announced that they were standing down.
Mr Trump's selection for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was present at the department’s offices in the Foggy Bottom neighbourhood of Washington DC, when the officials quit on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported.
The officials were Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions. All four of the officials served under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
The State Department officials join a growing number of civil servants who have left since Mr Trump took office last week.
Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr and director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations Lydia Muniz left last Friday.
The Associated Press said that while none of the officials has linked his or her departure explicitly to Mr Trump's arrival in the White House, many diplomats have privately expressed concern about serving in his administration, given the unorthodox positions he has taken on many foreign-policy issues.
Mr Trump has yet to fill many top diplomatic jobs, including the deputy secretary roles. Mr Tillerson, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week.
Mr Kennedy was appointed to the Under Secretary post in 2007 by President George W Bush. Mr Kennedy stayed on throughout President Barack Obama's two terms. His position oversees the department's budget and finances, security, global facilities and consular services, the AP said.
Mr Kennedy, a diplomat since 1973, was criticised for the department's insufficient security at the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed in 2012.
In heated congressional hearings, he defended then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the situation and insisted there was no “stand down” order to the US military during the attack.
Records also showed that Mr Kennedy asked for the FBI's help in 2015 to change the classification level of an email from Ms Clinton's private server. The FBI ultimately rejected the request.
Mr Trump has sparked controversy since he has taken over the White House, signing executive orders to build a wall along the Mexican border – a move that led Mexico's president to cancel a visit to DC – pass a temporary ban on visas for people from seven overwhelmingly Muslim countries, and pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade deal.
The US State Department said on Thursday that the outgoing administration in co-ordination with the incoming one had requested "all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation" as is standard practice.
"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," a statement by acting State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said.
Senior management team of US State Department resigns
An entire senior management team of the US State Deparment has resigned under the new adminstration of President Donald Trump, local media has reported.
Four leading US officials from the State Department, which advises the US president and leads the country in foreign policy issues, left their posts on Wednesday, but the reason for the walkout has not been confirmed, the Washington Post said .
Patrick Kennedy, the department's undersecretary for management; Joyce Anne Barr, assistant secretary of state for administration; Michele Bond, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs; and Gentry Smith, director of the office of foreign missions, resigned unexpectedly, the US newspaper reported on Thursday.
According to the Reuters news agency, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Thomas Countryman will also leave his post by Friday.
Turnover is the rule, rather than the exception, among the top officials in the US government when the White House changes hands from one party to another, in this case from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald Trump.
A week ago, Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil Corp chairman Rex Tillerson, was confirmed by the Senate foreign relations committee. He has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate.
In a separate development, the US Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan, a former longtime FBI agent, has left the agency, a source familiar with his departure told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. The reason for his departure was not immediately clear.
The resignations came soon after Trump signed an order for a controversial wall on the border with Mexico. He has also in his first week of office signed orders restricting visas and immigration from countries including Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Iraq, and the entry of refugees.