State Department Hopes to Shed 641 Staff Members with New Buyout Offers
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced this week that the State Department would offer buyouts of $25,000 to the first 641 diplomats or staffers who agree to leave by April. The move is a one piece of Tillerson’s plan to reduce staffing levels at the State Department by 8 percent (or 1,982 staff members).
According to the New York Times, “To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place.”
The Times also notes numbers from the American Foreign Services Association, which show that, as a result of reorganization within the agency, “the number of those carrying the department’s top two ranks — equivalent to four- and three-star generals — has dropped almost in half, from 39 to 21. And nearly 20 percent of those with two-star-equivalent ranks have signaled their intention to leave...”
Members of Congress from both parties have been outspokenly skeptical of the effort, which appears to be carried over from the original budget blueprint from President Trump, a proposal that called for a 31 percent cut to the State Department’s budget. Congress ultimately rejected the cuts on a bipartisan basis, but Secretary Tillerson is said by some to be determined to hit the president’s benchmark, whether or not actual budgetary constraints are a factor.
Tillerson’s announcement is consistent with the president’s repeated suggestions that the country needs fewer diplomats. Speaking to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham about vacancies at the State Department, President Trump said, “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”
When subsequently asked about traditionally influential roles – such as assistant secretary of state – the president said, “The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”
The New York Times also points out President Trump’s response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to force the United States to cut 755 members of its diplomatic staff in Russia.
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” President Trump said at the time. “And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll.”
But Washington Monthly writes that the move appears to be more political in nature than it is based on concerns about a bloated federal workforce, noting that the State Department “is actually significantly understaffed” and pointing to historic trends:
“As a share of the U.S. workforce, the federal civil service is actually smaller than at any time since before World War II. In absolute terms, it has been about the same size for half a century. In 1966, there were about 2.1 million executive branch civil servants (not including Postal Service employees). Since then, the country’s population has increased from 196 million to 323 million. The annual gross domestic product, along with annual government spending, more than quadrupled. And the workforce? In 2016, there were still only 2.1 million federal employees.”
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