America’s ability to advance our nation’s interests around the world through effective diplomacy and development is severely at risk due to a series of disproportionate and damaging personnel policies, hiring freezes and an unusually slow nominations process. While every agency in the federal government has opportunities to streamline for greater efficiency, this decline puts America at risk. As critical human capital at the State Department is being lost and not replaced, there is serious risk of irreversible damage to our Foreign Service that has taken decades to build and could take decades to rebuild.
- Although the federal hiring freeze was lifted in April, the State Department has kept the hiring freeze in place. This freeze is affecting all levels of the Department along with USAID, cutting off the next generation of diplomats and development professionals.
- A slow nominations process has created leadership vacuums for the most senior positions and left critical countries without ambassadors as well as essential foreign policy agencies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation without senior political leadership.
- Proposed buyouts, retirements and fewer promotions have decimated the top ranks of senior personnel and created a diplomatic brain drain of talent and skill.
Senior Positions: Hemorrhaging Expertise
- Only 20 percent of the 47 Senate confirmable positions have been filled at departments and agencies supported by the International Affairs Budget. As of the end of November, only two of the six Under Secretaries of State and six of the 22 Assistant Secretaries of State have been filled.
- 54 ambassador posts have not been named or confirmed – leaving critical gaps to America’s interests in places like South Korea, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan, and the European Union.
- Nominees are lacking for the heads of key foreign affairs agencies including the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
- In recent months, the Department has lost nearly 30% percent of its most senior career leadership – Career Ambassadors and Career Ministers – our nation’s civilian equivalent of three and four-star generals.
Entry-Level Positions: Losing the Next Generation
- New entry-level officers into the Foreign Service will have dropped from 366 in 2016 to 100 in 2017 – due to the hiring freeze.
- The number of Americans applying to take the Foreign Service exam in October 2017 dropped 33% from a year earlier amid the uncertainty over hiring.
- USAID recently halted the hiring of 97 Foreign Service Officers, many of whom had made it through the medical and security clearance processes. Since January, it has only hired five Foreign Service Officers despite a demand for an additional 1,300 Foreign Service Officers globally.
Reaction from Capitol Hill
“America’s diplomatic power is being weakened internally as complex, global crises are growing externally…including emerging nuclear crises, the threat of war and outbreaks of global pandemics.”
– Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in a November 15, 2017 letter to Sec. Tillerson
- “We are concerned…by reports of plans to cut thousands of positions at State Department and USAID and to eliminate missions worldwide.”
– Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Co-Chairs of the Senate Foreign Service Caucus, in a June 1, 2017 letter to Secretary Tillerson
- “Any proposed changes to [Foreign Service and Civil Service levels as of September 30, 2016] requires prior consultation with the Committee…The Committee notes that absent continuous recruitment and training of FSOs the Department of State will lack experienced, qualified diplomats in the mid- and long-terms.”
– Senate FY2018 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill Report, released on September 7
- “A well thought out development strategy, combined with effective engagement with Congress and the development community, will help to ensure that the tangible impacts of proposed structural changes on U.S. strategic interests are well known.”
– Representatives Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, and 67 other bipartisan members of Congress in a November 6 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney
- “I think the concerns about the State Department are bipartisan in nature…And I do think that we need to be much more focused on holding them accountable.”
– Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), on November 14
- “This situation is alarming…It’s our responsibility to make sure we have the diplomatic assets in place in order to represent our national security.”
– Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD), on November 14
- “The amount of talent leaving the State Department endangers the institution and undermines American leadership, security and interests around the world.”
– House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats in a November 16, 2017 letter to Secretary Tillerson