- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, charged with holding a troubled State Department together until CIA Director Mike Pompeo can take over, offered a sober plea to diplomats Thursday to stay “inspired” at a moment of transition and uncertainty in the Trump administration.

Speaking at the U.S. Institute for Peace, Mr. Sullivan said it’s not the myriad world problems that keep him “up at night,” but the challenge of managing and protecting the “people” who are the life-blood of American diplomacy.

“It’s the heart of our department,” he said. “We don’t have tanks. We don’t have carrier strike groups. We have people, men and women in the Civil Service and Foreign Service, and making sure that they are supported, treated fairly, inspired — that’s what keeps me up at night.”

The comments came as outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom Mr. Trump fired last week, delivered a solemn farewell Thursday to employees at Foggy Bottom, urging them to protect their own integrity against “mean-spirited” Washington politics.

“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Mr. Tillerson told a crowd of several hundred gathered in the main lobby of the department’s headquarters.

The former ExxonMobil chairman who often clashed with the president drew laughter and applause by adding: “This can be a very mean-spirited town. But you don’t have to choose to participate in that.”

But a likely future of budget cuts and personnel issues weighs heavily on the demoralized troops at Foggy Bottom, where many are eager to transition quickly to Mr. Pompeo, the hawkish onetime Republican congressman who has Mr. Trump’s ear and faces a confirmation battle to replace Mr. Tillerson.

Mr. Pompeo has spent recent days making the rounds on Capitol Hill in hope of smoothing the way to easy confirmation as secretary of state, meeting Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, has said a confirmation hearing will be held as “expeditiously as possible,” although no specific date has been set.

In the interim, Mr. Sullivan, a longtime national security attorney, will take the helm at State. Prior to his appointment last May, Mr. Sullivan worked in private practice and served at the Justice, Defense and Commerce departments. He was a deputy general counsel at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration.

His remarks Thursday seemed aimed at easing the nerves at Foggy Bottom, where many diplomats privately lament their budget is being cut by President Trump at a moment of expanding Pentagon spending.

Mr. Trump has proposed cutting the department’s budget from roughly $53 billion in fiscal 2017 to about $39 billion for fiscal 2019. The president also wants to trim the foreign aid budget of $16.8 billion for 2019, down from the roughly $29.5 billion the agency received in 2017.

But both Democrats and moderate Republicans have fought Mr. Trump’s proposed cuts. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, said this week they would undercut efforts to combat terrorism, address health threats and promote democracy around the world.

The White House is pushing for the creation of a so-called “Development Finance Institution” to increase the flow of private-sector contributions to U.S. aid and diplomatic initiatives, an idea Mr. Royce has praised.

The administration argues such contributions can compensate for the budget cuts, a message Mr. Sullivan picked up on in his remarks Thursday. “The private sector has great potential to provide meaningful support and engagement in humanitarian responses,” he said. “We need other governments, NGOs, and the private sector to work together.”

Mr. Sullivan noted the U.S. is the world’s “single largest donor” of international humanitarian aid. “But it’s really just a fraction of the humanitarian needs that exist,” he said, adding, “One government or one entity can’t tackle these issues alone.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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