The path forward for President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson just got a little more complicated due to mass resignations at the State Department.
According to a report from The Washington Post‘s Josh Rogin, “the entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday” as part of an “ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”
The Post says that the mass action started just after Tillerson visited State Department headquarters this Wednesday to follow up on the resignation of long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Soon after Kennedy’s resignation, three other top State Department officials, 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, all took his lead and handed in their resignations.
State Department resignations.Why would you stay if the boss wants to take foreign policy in a direction you can't support? I'd say FU too.
— Steve Redmond (@sjredmond) January 26, 2017
“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff during John Kerry’s tenure as Secretary of State, tells the Post. “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.”
“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,” Wade added. “The muscle memory is critical. These retirements are a big loss. They leave a void. These are very difficult people to replace.”
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.