- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an internal letter circulated to thousands of rank-and-file U.S. diplomats Thursday that he remains determined to get the State Department “its swagger back” as he approaches the one-year anniversary of his appointment atop the department later this month.

While critics on Capitol Hill and some within the State Department remain wary of unfilled ambassadorships and other top diplomatic posts — as well as continued Trump administration threats to cut U.S. foreign aid budgets — Mr. Pompeo said he’s “more inspired than ever” to “elevate the entire State Department team.”

His internal letter to career diplomats, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, lays out a broad-stroke vision for bettering the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. diplomacy writ-large — saying a more specific statement will be released around the anniversary of his swearing-in as secretary of state on April 26.

“We are closing in on defining our own ‘ethos’ — the qualities that reflect the spirit and excellence of the U.S. Department of State and all of us who serve our country as part of this team,” Mr. Pompeo wrote. “This ‘ethos’ will be captured in an inspirational and aspirational statement. And it will serve as the foundation for our training, how we recognize superior performance, how we develop our next generation of leaders, and more.”

“Last year at my swearing-in ceremony, you heard me say, ‘I want the State Department to get its swagger back,’ ” he wrote.

“During scores of embassy visits, as well as several ‘Meet with Mike’ gatherings and Town Halls here in Washington, I’ve cherished our conversations and your ideas about how to ensure we are truly One Team with One Mission and One Future,” Mr. Pompeo added. “Thousands of you have shared with me your pride in serving our nation, your concerns — as well as those of your families — and your dreams for our future together.”

“Now, as we approach my one-year anniversary…One of my top priorities is to ensure that all of us—our Civil Service, Foreign Service, contractors, locally employed staff and political appointees — feel united as teammates behind our common work for the American people.”

Officials working on the new “ethos” with Mr. Pompeo say it will be a blueprint for breaking what the secretary sees as decades-old barriers between services within the State Department, as well as a plan for how to more effectively train and educate incoming officials and generally restore confidence inside Foggy Bottom.

At a moment when Mr. Pompeo faces a diplomatic impasse in Venezuela, high-stakes denuclearization efforts with North Korea and a host of other crises around the world, Thursday’s letter represents an inward look at a department that officials say has struggled to unite around a common sense of purpose in recent years.

Mr. Pompeo’s arrival at the department a year ago came amid struggling morale that coincided budget cut threats and a major reorganization push by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom President Trump fired. Mr. Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget, released last month, called again for sharp cuts in State Department and foreign aid funding.

Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing back against any such cuts. Several lawmakers have also expressed concern over unfilled diplomatic posts, although Mr. Pompeo and other administration officials suggest their attempt to fill key positions has been stifled by the Senate’s failure to confirm nominees.

During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, Rep. Ami Bera, California Democrat, pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report that found 13 percent of overseas foreign service positions were vacant as of a year ago.

“GAO found that the staff at overseas posts told us the vacancies are increasing workloads, contributing to high stress levels,” Mr. Bera said. “We realize that morale is taking a beating. … It’s important for us to fill those positions. In our oversight role, I’m curious who’s responsible for us to fill those positions?”

Mr. Pompeo responded that he’s fully aware of the situation and suggested he’s no less frustrated about it than anyone else. “The person you would work with would be my undersecretary for management,” he said. “But I don’t have one. So, it would be great if I did. We’ve gone two years without a confirmed undersecretary for management.”

The Trump administration nominated former CIA Chief Operating Officer Brian Bulatao to the post back in June. But he’s been stuck in nomination limbo during the months since.

State Department officials who spoke with The Times on Wednesday night admitted the department has been suffering from a lack of confidence internally, but asserted it stems largely from outside political criticism.

“The secretary felt, look, this is an institution that’s been beaten down a little bit, that feels like it’s been under a microscope and we need to be confident in what we’re doing,” Daniel B. Smith, State’s director of the Foreign Service Institute, told The Times in an interview.

But officials also said a central problem has come from discrepancies in training, with some employees — particularly political appointees — lacking a full understanding of what other branches of the department do each day. Mr. Pompeo and his deputies said a major part of the department’s new “ethos” will focus on internal education — something that’s historically fell by the wayside as diplomats manage foreign policy

“This is a historic problem within the Department of State and a historic challenge for us,” Mr. Smith said. “One of the things [Secretary Pompeo] wanted to do is figure out how we could address this. His ethos statement is an effort to instill the mission of the department in all of our employees and lay out the expectations for those employees as a starting point.”

In addition to discrepancies in training, officials said Mr. Pompeo will emphasize the entire department working in concert, harnessing the power of career experts in Washington with employees around the world to accomplish America’s foreign policy goals.

“The more fractured an organization is, the less likely it’s a team,” said State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. “The harder it is to accomplish the mission. The ultimate value, we believe, is the team will be far more cohesive. The left hand will understand the right hand.”

All the while, Mr. Pompeo has won respect from many world leaders as the one Trump administration heavyweight other than Vice President Mike Pence who has held top-level Cabinet status for Mr. Trump’s entire presidency.

Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Pompeo two months before the presidential inauguration to lead the CIA, a post he served in for a year and a half before taking over as secretary of state.

It is widely whispered that the 55-year-old Mr. Pompeo, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Business School who ran a successful business before winning a House seat in his native Kansas, has political aspirations after his tenure at Foggy Bottom.

For now, however, the secretary appears determined to leave a positive mark in his current role. He has shot down reports that he might be weighing a 2020 run for a Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide