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Tillerson 'Thins' State Department, Firing Top-Level Diplomats

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Throughout Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s tenure in the Trump administration, the State Department has seen its staff reduced considerably, through resignations and firings. In a recent development, Tillerson has fired many State Department diplomats, including most of its top-level women and minorities.

The New York Times continues:

Mr. Tillerson launched a reorganization that he has said will be the most important thing he will do, and he has hired two consulting companies to lead the effort. Since he decided before even arriving at the State Department to slash its budget by 31 percent, many in the department have always seen the reorganization as a smoke screen for drastic cuts.

Mr. Tillerson has frozen most hiring and recently offered a $25,000 buyout in hopes of pushing nearly 2,000 career diplomats and civil servants to leave by October 2018.

His small cadre of aides have fired some diplomats and gotten others to resign by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether.

Longtime senior employees being dismissed or encouraged to resign with cash buyouts has set a different tone for State. This has been noticed in recent months by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who are both skeptical of the approach and seemingly perturbed that they haven’t been consulted. According to Foreign Policy:

“Tillerson has not been an effective voice to represent the State Department through reorganization,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday.

A day before, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of Tillerson’s closest allies on the Hill, blasted the secretary of state for bungling the proposed State Department redesign, ostensibly meant to streamline staff and boost efficiency.

“I don’t think they are anywhere close to having a plan to present relative to the reforms that they want,” he said.

Other legislators are also critiquing Tillerson’s drastic cuts. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., published a shared letter urging him to change course:

The failure to replace losses from the ranks of the Foreign Service due to attrition and resignations with promotions and the recruitment of new entry-level officers appears to be intended to reduce staffing levels. To date, however, Congress has not been consulted on the rationale for these decisions or the details of the Department of State’s reorganization plans.

The letter also laid out their recommendations to Tillerson, among them to stop the hiring freeze and start rebuilding the diplomatic ranks. Tillerson’s efforts have reportedly been especially damaging to the department’s minority diplomats, with most of its top black and Latino employees being shown the door, many of whom are women. (When President Trump was questioned about the State Department cuts in early November, he said that he himself was “the only one that mattered” when it came to foreign policy.)

Tillerson also drew criticism earlier this week when Reuters reported the existence of a memo by several U.S. diplomats alleging that he had violated a federal law dictating America’s stance on the use of child soldiers:

A confidential State Department “dissent” memo, which Reuters was first to report on, said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert defended Tillerson’s decision as being in “technical compliance with the law in the way he read it.”

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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