This will not be your John Kerry or Hillary Clinton State Department. Newly confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reassigned a majority of the staff that will directly serve him. Veterans of State fear it is the beginning of a major purge of longtime employees.
The news was abrupt and sent shock waves through the agency. Career officials are on edge about their assignments, or in many cases, reassignments. Tillerson is currently on his first overseas trip. One employee in particular, State Department Counselor Kristie Kenney, was told Tillerson does not intend to keep her position.
It just so happens Kenney was one of the last remaining senior officials at the department, having served as an ambassador under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and is expected to retire next week. It is a clear indicator that loyalty is not the only factor in the shuffling and reorganizing that has begun.
However, the Kenney announcement leaves approximately two dozen career foreign and civil service officers scrambling for reassignments within the department. R.C. Hammond, a State Department spokesman now serving as a top communications adviser to Tillerson, said Friday that in some cases, people are being “redeployed” to new assignments.
Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest corporation, has decided to get more productivity out of fewer employees. It is seen by many as another campaign promise the campaigning Donald Trump made to trim the federal workforce. One aide said, “The difference now is they are actually doing work. We think the American taxpayer will appreciate that.”
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in his first days of office freezing federal hiring, so any vacant positions would be filled by existing employees. Tillerson’s moves seem to indicate that is his position from day one. The State Department has a bloated bureaucracy and will dramatically change to far more efficiency under Trump’s administration.
On his first day in office earlier this month, Tillerson commended the thousands of career diplomats and civil service officers worldwide. He lauded the department employees for a job well done. But he also struck a CEO-like tone at one point, saying he would be looking to reform the agency to make it more efficient.
With Kenney’s departure, Tillerson is left with a handful of aides and the makings of a sliced and diced staff. His boss, President Trump has also entered the job-cutting and selective hiring process. Tillerson’s choice to be his deputy was rejected by Trump after the President learned that the former deputy national security adviser had criticized him during the campaign. No replacement has yet been named.