Senior U.S. envoy tries to calm fears
over State Department re-design
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[August 09, 2017]
By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 U.S.
diplomat on Tuesday sought to allay concerns among the State
Department's rank-and-file employees over possible layoffs and
perceptions of a lack of firm direction under the administration of
President Donald Trump.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly chief executive of Exxon
Mobil and new to government, has initiated a top-to-bottom
re-organization of the agency, saying it will improve diplomats'
experience and help the department better meet 21st-century challenges.
"Re-design is not a synonym for layoffs," Deputy Secretary of State John
Sullivan was quoted as saying by two officials who listened to his
remarks to around 450 employees at a town hall-style event that was
closed to journalists.
Diplomats have fretted over a hiring freeze that has hampered their
ability to switch jobs, the slow pace of appointments to senior
positions, and a proposed 28 percent cut in State Department funding.
Sullivan acknowledged in remarks to a small group of reporters after the
event that the pace of senior job hires had been frustrating.
Tillerson is not directing any specific outcome from the re-design,
which is being led by senior career officials, other than a
better-running and more efficient department, Sullivan said.
According to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks political
appointments, the Trump administration has not yet put forward a nominee
for 86 of 131 Senate-confirmed positions at the department, including
posts leading diplomacy on the Middle East and East Asia, where there
are several potential crises.
"No one here would say that we're pleased by the fact that we don't have
more of our undersecretary and assistant secretary slots filled, but
we're working hard to do that," Sullivan told reporters.
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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaks during a news
conference on the sidelines of the Organization of American States
(OAS) 47th General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, June 20, 2017.
Sullivan said media portrayals of a listless bureaucracy and "a
hollowed-out State Department that is not effective" were wrong. He
said work was being done on major issues such as the North Korea
nuclear and missile programs, a rift between Gulf nations and Qatar
State Department officials said the tone of the town hall event was
professional, with pointed exchanges of views at times. One said
that Sullivan's public appreciation for career diplomats "has been
Sullivan's uncle was William H. Sullivan, the last U.S. ambassador
to Iran, who left in 1979 when Iran's monarchy was overthrown and
replaced with an Islamic theocracy.
In response to a question from an employee about State Department
efforts for gay and lesbian couples posted abroad, Sullivan told
employees he would do everything he can to make sure everyone is
treated fairly, a remark that drew strong applause, one of the
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Grant McCool)
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