Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s plan to reform and reorganize the State Department is not going well, according to a pair of leading senators.
State Department officials gave a “very unsatisfactory” update to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a staff meeting last week, Chairman Bob Corker said during a Tuesday hearing. Those conversations stoked bipartisan concern about the department’s leadership on an issue that Tillerson has identified as one of his top priorities.
“I don't think they're anywhere close to having a plan to present relative to the reforms that they want to make there,” Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Tuesday.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin complained that Tillerson’s team hasn’t explained why it has retained a hiring freeze at the State Department, despite President Trump’s decision to lift a government-wide freeze in April.
“My impression is that morale is at an all-time low at the State Department and USAID, causing a massive exodus of diplomatic and development expertise,” said Cardin, the top Democrat on the committee. “Why is this happening, and what is the department’s leadership doing about it?”
Tillerson plans to reduce the number of State Department personnel by about 8 percent by 2018, thinning the ranks of civil servants and foreign service officers by about 2,300 positions.
"It's being managed in a very deliberate way, but being mindful of not diminishing the strength of our foreign service officers," Tillerson told the committee in June.
That’s part of a larger reorganization plan that was supposed to be developed over the summer, but lawmakers faulted the State Department for giving inadequate information on their plans.
“I feel like I have been asking ‘why’ of the administration and the State Department on a lot of issues lately, including on myriad personnel, budget, and reorganization matters,” Cardin said. “And I’m not getting a lot of answers.”
“I do think that we need to be much more focused on holding them accountable,” Corker agreed.