- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice does not use e-mail. She is no fan of long memos and papers. She is focused on “a few key priorities,” aides say, and her inner circle’s motto is “no wasted motion.”

For nearly four months, the State Department has been adapting to Miss Rice’s management style, but many employees still are grappling with the new rules.

Her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, was an e-mail and Internet junkie, but Miss Rice prefers personal contact to the cold computer screen, aides say.

Mr. Powell had become a father figure to his “troops.” He encouraged them to let him know when something was bothering them, they say, and he got involved in both policy and bureaucratic matters that most secretaries before him found immaterial.

Both political appointees and career department employees agreed in interviews over the past week that Miss Rice has given the State Department more weight in the interagency policy process, largely because of her close relationship with President Bush.

“There is more intellectual vigor here than ever before,” said a senior career official, who, like most of those interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity so that he could be more candid.

But for some career officials, Miss Rice’s concentration on the few areas that she deems most important means that their issues have to be resolved at lower levels.

Miss Rice’s aides say that impression is wrong but acknowledge that she thinks she is more effective when her attention is directed at a few key issues.

“History shows that the best secretaries of state focus on a few key priorities,” said Jim Wilkinson, a senior adviser to Miss Rice. “The president has given his foreign policy team its mission, and the secretary is focusing the department on achieving these priorities.”

Access to the secretary is also an issue for many career officials. The most senior of them were only an e-mail away from Mr. Powell, who often replied within minutes. Now, they have to go through Miss Rice’s chief of staff, Brian Gunderson, or Mr. Wilkinson if they want to speak with her.

“I knew how to tap into the seventh floor with Powell,” one senior career official said, referring to the secretary’s office. “I miss that sense now.”

Miss Rice’s aides said no assistant secretary has been denied access to her, although it is often up to Mr. Gunderson or Mr. Wilkinson to decide whether a request warrants immediate attention.

“There has to be some order and structure,” a senior aide said.

Several senior officials — assistant secretaries or equivalent — have lost the only regular direct contact they had with the secretary. Since March, they have not been invited to her 8:30 a.m. senior staff meetings, which have been cut from daily to three times a week.

Many of those who no longer attend the meetings come from the so-called management bureaus, prompting some officials to question Miss Rice’s commitment to the department’s management needs.

“It sends a bad signal,” said a senior career official, noting that Miss Rice’s hectic travel schedule has not left her much time to take care of the building.

But the secretary’s aides vehemently rejected that notion, pointing out repeatedly that her first briefing during the transition was on the subject of management.

“She is getting involved with the budget in a way few of her predecessors have,” the senior aide said.

Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary for political affairs and the highest-ranking career official, said Miss Rice wants to be the department’s “chief management officer.” He said she has gone out of her way to let employees know how much she cares about them and their families, many of whom risk their lives every day.

The senior aide said Mr. Gunderson had to limit access to the senior staff meetings because the room could barely hold the more than 45 people who used to attend.

Several employees expressed frustration that Miss Rice “doesn’t read much” of what they send to her office, including memos prepared before she meets with foreign officials.

Miss Rice’s aides were bewildered by the comments, saying she is the secretary of state and she decides what she will say in a meeting. If a memo has been ignored, perhaps it was not of the highest quality, they suggested.

They said she reads “an enormous amount of material” and is “very well-prepared.” They also said she has taken a speed-reading class and “devours briefing memos.”

Still, officials said, in order to better cope with the volume, she has asked that information and meeting memos be no longer than a page or two, while “action papers” can run longer.

Miss Rice owes most of her management experience to her time as provost of Stanford University.

“The job was essentially making the trains run on time,” she said in an interview at Stanford five years ago, when she was candidate George W. Bush’s foreign policy adviser.

“I like this hands-on, day-to-day, strategic problem-solving. What I learned helped me understand what it is to be an executive.”

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