State Department’s senior executive team “resigns”

Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports that “the entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.” The departing officials are Patrick Kennedy, the Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management; Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr; Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond; and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions.

Rogin’s own reporting calls into question his claim that the departing officials didn’t want to stick around. Kennedy “was actively involved in the transition and was angling to keep [his] job under Tillerson,” according to three State Department officials with whom Rogin spoke.

In fact, it may be that all four of these officials are leaving involuntarily. Two senior administration officials now say that the Trump administration told the four that their services were no longer needed. This, the two officials say, is part of an effort to “clean house” at Foggy Bottom.

Rogin says that the departure of these high level officials, along with several senior Foreign Service officers in the State Department’s regional bureaus, makes “Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department. . .considerably more difficult.” There is some truth to this, I think. A vast amount of know-how in the day-to-day operation of the Department will be lost.

But perhaps we should be more skeptical than Rogin about statements suggesting that the departing officials are virtually irreplaceable. I would think that the combination of good managers from the private sector and holdover employees who reported to the officials who resigned would suffice to keep the Department running at or around par.

Moreover, new officials from outside the agency might well be able to lift the State Department above par. Certainly, there is room for improvement. All of the “institutional memory” that Rogin and his sources tout didn’t suffice to protect our consulate in Benghazi, for example.

Kennedy was implicated in the Benghazi fiasco. He was also involved in the Clinton email scandal. Fox News reported that Kennedy proposed a “quid pro quo” to convince the FBI to strip the classification on an email from Hillary Clinton’s server and repeatedly tried to “influence” the bureau’s decision when his offer was denied.

I see no reason to mourn his departure.

The others may have been exemplary civil servants for all I know. But I strongly suspect that after four years of Hillary Clinton and four of John Kerry, there’s much to be said for a housecleaning at Foggy Bottom.

Unfortunately, I have seen no indication of resignations or firings in the notoriously anti-Israel Near East Bureau.

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