Sec­re­tary of State

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Tracy Wilkin­son

Rex Tiller­son says planned cuts in his department will boost ef­fi­ciency, but his “re­design plan” is draw­ing bi­par­ti­san fire.

WASH­ING­TON — Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son is fin­ish­ing what he calls a “re­design plan” that would shrink the State Department and re­vamp Amer­i­can diplo­macy in ways that al­ready have drawn bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism on Capi­tol Hill.

Tiller­son said he is de­ter­mined to do more with less even as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion grap­ples with grow­ing for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges in North Korea, Syria and Rus­sia.

“The most im­por­tant thing I can do is to en­able this or­ga­ni­za­tion to be more ef­fec­tive, more ef­fi­cient,” Tiller­son told U.S. Em­bassy em­ploy­ees Thurs­day in London. “Be­cause if I ac­com­plish that, that will go on for­ever and you will cre­ate the State Department of the fu­ture.”

Since tak­ing of­fice, Tiller­son has moved slowly to fill tra­di­tional lead­er­ship slots at State, leav­ing many of­fices va­cant or nearly so. Re­tire­ments, re­movals, hir­ing freezes and fewer pro­mo­tions have trimmed staff. A few diplo­mats have pub­licly quit to protest ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy.

Among the most vul­ner­a­ble have been diplo­mats at pro­grams now out of fa­vor, like cli­mate change and women’s em­pow­er­ment, as well as spe­cial en­voys.

Tiller­son de­liv­ered a progress re­port on his re­design plan to the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get on Tues­day. It quickly prompted a bi­par­ti­san protest.

“Smart in­vest­ments in diplo­macy and de­vel­op­ment can help ac­cel­er­ate eco­nomic growth, cre­ate op­por­tu­nity, pre­vent the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases, sta­bi­lize com­mu­ni­ties, and mit­i­gate the need for costly mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions,” four mem­bers of Congress, two Democrats and two Repub­li­cans, wrote OMB di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney.

“Poor plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion can have the ex­act op­po­site ef­fect,” they wrote.

Congress al­ready has pushed back hard on the staffing and bud­get cuts.

Ear­lier this year, Tiller­son backed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posal to cut State’s bud­get from about $55 bil­lion to about $39 bil­lion. He told a Se­nate com­mit­tee in June that he aimed to cut about 1,300 jobs, in­clud­ing 327 for­eign ser­vice of­fi­cers and about 1,000 civil ser­vice em­ploy­ees. State has about 13,000 for­eign ser­vice em­ploy­ees and 11,000 civil ser­vice em­ploy­ees.

The Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee last week voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove a $50 bil­lion bud­get, adding $11 bil­lion to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest, warn­ing that deeper re­duc­tions “serve only to weaken Amer­ica’s stand­ing in the world.”

Many diplo­mats con­cur with Tiller­son’s call for greater ef­fi­ciency at State, which of­ten is de­scribed as bloated and el­i­gi­ble for stream­lin­ing.

But crit­ics say Tiller­son has cut too sharply. He has yet to name an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for eastern Asia, for ex­am­ple, de­spite the cri­sis with North Korea. A lower rank­ing spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for North Korea pol­icy is han­dling the port­fo­lio in­stead.

“You have to put some­body of enough rank on a plane to Seoul, to Tokyo … to build a coali­tion,” said Daniel Fried, who re­tired in March af­ter 40 years in the for­eign ser­vice. “It can’t just be tweets and phone calls.”

The State Department “is not a cor­po­ra­tion you can down­size at will,” Fried said. “I don’t think this is a plot by Tiller­son to de­stroy diplo­macy … but you need to have your peo­ple in place.”

Con­ser­va­tive groups have ar­gued that State has strayed from its core diplo­matic mis­sion and wastes money in aid for “trendy causes” like rights for gays and les­bians, em­pow­er­ment of women and cli­mate change.

“If you be­lieve in diplo­macy, cuts are a good first step,” Theodore Bro­mund wrote in a re­port for the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion. State needs to be ad­e­quately funded, he wrote, “but it also needs a cul­tural change and to re­turn to its core busi­ness of bi­lat­eral diplo­macy.”

LEON NEAL/GETTY

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son told U.S. Em­bassy staff in London that he is nearly fin­ished with the “re­design plan.”

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