EXCLUSIVE: Career diplomats protest Obama appointments

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The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say.

As a result of the reversal, some donors to President Obama’s election campaign - as well as senior advisers and other supporters of the campaigns of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - are likely to find their hopes of being rewarded with an embassy dashed.

“The White House has come around, and we truly expect that, at the end of the process, the balance will be within historical norms,” said one senior administration official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

Mr. Obama has been criticized in recent weeks for continuing the tradition of handing out ambassadorships to major campaign donors with no experience in foreign affairs.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that an old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have been given ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama’s campaign, according to public records.

The decision to uphold the historic ratio of 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career diplomats came only after members of the Foreign Service protested to White House staff and Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, officials said.

“There was some question about how sacrosanct the 30 percent was,” the senior administration official said.

Although the 30-70 ratio is not official, “all administrations have adhered fairly closely to it in the last several decades,” said Steven B. Kashkett, acting president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the diplomats’ union.The U.S. has 175 ambassadorial posts.

Senior political appointees at both the White House and the State Department apparently were not aware of past practice and were en route to exceeding 30 percent political appointees, several career diplomats said. That message was conveyed to Harry K. Thomas Jr., who until recently was director-general of the Foreign Service, they added.

Concerned that too many political supporters of Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton, who ran separate campaigns during last year’s Democratic primaries, may be expecting to become ambassadors, career officials at the State Department alerted Ms. Mills several weeks ago. She raised the matter with Mrs. Clinton and later involved the White House, officials said.

“The thinking on this issue has evolved at the White House,” the senior administration official said. “They have come to recognize its importance in light of the president’s campaign promises.”

He noted that those who expected jobs but will not get them now should not be too concerned, because the administration “will need talent later.”

The White House did not respond by publication deadline to a question about preserving the 30-70 ratio.

Mr. Obama ran on a pledge to emphasize diplomacy and transparency but appeared to be well on his way to inflating the number of political appointees as ambassadors until the Foreign Service intervened.

“Why is ours the only profession where it’s considered acceptable to appoint someone without any experience?” Mr. Kashkett said. “Would you appoint someone to head a hospital without medical experience?”

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About the Author
Nicholas  Kralev

Nicholas Kralev

Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...

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