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Hillary widens her circle

Hillary Rodham Clinton ran a presidential campaign notoriously insular and unhappy, managing a group of egos and backstabbers whose dysfunction may have cost her the White House. Understndably, people wondered what kind of management style she would bring to the State Department.

world Updated: Mar 12, 2010 23:13 IST

Hillary Rodham Clinton ran a presidential campaign notoriously insular and unhappy, managing a group of egos and backstabbers whose dysfunction may have cost her the White House. Understndably, people wondered what kind of management style she would bring to the State Department.

But a little over a year into her tenure as secretary of state, allies and detractors alike say Clinton has made a vigorous effort to widen her circle, pulling into her orbit the agency’s Foreign Service and civil service officials, many of whom said in interviews that she has brought a new energy to the building.

“We have had other secretaries of state who have cared deeply for the institution,” said Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management and a senior Foreign Service officer. “None who have done as much internal outreach.”

To be sure, Clinton has her share of critics who complain that she has ceded too much of her power to special envoys and that she has been in a global campaign mode of relentless image-building, intense travel and international media cultivation. Her job approval ratings top President Barack Obama’s.

One loyalist inside the agency, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, suggested that Clinton has not narrowed her goals or developed signature issues that will define her tenure. “What bothers me is that we’re planting zillions of seeds ... speeches on every issue, but where’s the thematic coherence?” this aide asks.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department under Colin Powell, agreed that Clinton “seems to still be struggling with priorities” and questioned whether she has a “grand strategic vision.”

It is well known that Clinton has long placed a high premium on loyalty — some say too high, leaving her open to criticism that she values it over job qualifications. And at State, she is still surrounded by advisers from her days as a first lady and a senator, often referred to as Hillaryland. In addition, her vast network of former White House, Senate and campaign aides, as well as some supporters, permeates every floor of the building. But even before her confirmation, Clinton was expanding Hillaryland: She asked two popular Foreign Service officers to stay on, Kennedy and William Burns, undersecretary for political affairs. She has approached this new constituency of 60,000 worldwide like a seasoned pol trying to shore up support.

Clinton had one condition that eclipsed all others as she considered Obama's offer to be secretary of state: She demanded hiring authority at the department. To Team Clinton, this meant every political job — about 200 — from the most senior level to the 20-something researchers.

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