The US diplomatic service State Department has been hit by a spate of resignations by senior officials as the incoming secretary of state Rex Tillerson prepares to take charge pending confirmation by the Senate.
Leading the resignations was Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management. He was followed by three assistant secretaries of state from his department. Together with a few recent retirements and resignations from the department’s regional bureaus, these exits were being called both stunning and unprecedented.
The US State Department, however, said on Thursday that the outgoing administration in coordination 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 spokesperson Mark Toner said
“It’s the single-biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” David Wade, chief of staff to former secretary of state John Kerry told The Washington Post, which first reported these departures on Thursday.
The diplomats who resigned were career foreign service officials who, however, were appointed by former president Barack Obama, and were thus political appointees who would have either expected to be replaced by nominees of the incoming administration or be asked to continue.
Kennedy, a long-serving undersecretary and a powerful figure at the State Department, was expected to retain his position, according to The Washington Post.
The Trump administration is in the process of filling some 4,000 federal positions that are usually left vacant by an outgoing administration. Though some of them remain unfilled for long period of time, but most need to be staffed urgently.
At the State Department, as in other federal departments, positions of assistant secretary and above are staffed by people named by the President.
Appointed by Obama, Indian American Nisha Biswal -- the assistant secretary for central and south Asia -- and ambassador to New Delhi Rich Verma have left too. The Trump administration is expected to name their replacements soon.
The State Department, which has a staff strength of over 30,000, is said to be undergoing several fundamental changes under the new administration. Most significantly, it is expected to be narrower at the top.
Instead of two deputy secretaries of state, the new administration plans to have only one, The Washington Post reported. The lone deputy secretary is expected to be a powerful No 2 to the secretary of state.