Career diplomats are finding that they can't advance to top State Department posts such as ambassadorships because President Obama has stuffed political appointees into those jobs, the most ever in his second term.

"Yes, it's a problem," said Robert Silverman, president of the American Foreign Service Association. "This is an ongoing struggle. We need to maintain the ability for our top people to go straight to the top," he said.

The issue is a big one: While the State Department has a good record for hiring a diverse workforce of diplomats and experts who often take hardship posts to move up the ladder, the Obama White House is keeping way too many of the best jobs for its political allies.

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Just look at the numbers. Silverman's group said that 40.6 percent of Obama's second term ambassadorial positions, the top jobs, have gone to political hacks, with 59.4 to career foreign service careerists. Some Obama picks have been criticized for having no experience in or knowledge of the country they are being sent to.

Overall, 34.9 percent of Obama's picks in six years have gone to political allies. That includes the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel B. Shapiro.

That is the highest percentage in 27 years, since when former President Ronald Reagan's "political" rate was 38 percent. Under George W. Bush, political appointees took just 29.8 percent of ambassadorships and under Bill Clinton it was even lower, at 28 percent.

"We're not against political appointees in the system," said Silverman at a Wilson Center conference on the issue, "as long as there is career development for people coming into the system."

Rates of presidential political vs. career ambassador picks:

Obama: 34.9 percent to 65.1 percent.

George W. Bush: 29.8 percent to 70.2 percent.

Bill Clinton: 28.06 percent to 71.94 percent.

George H.W. Bush: 31.3 percent to 68.69 percent.

Ronald Reagan: 38 percent to 62 percent.

Jimmy Carter: 26.73 percent to 73.27 percent.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at