Thursday, March 12, 2009

Undiplomatic: Bottleneck at State

Undiplomatic has the following post about the appointments (or lack thereof) to fill top positions at State.

Inside the State Department, you can’t know who does what without a scorecard. Every position/bureau has a one- to three-letter abbreviation — even the Secretary, whose office is called “S” inside the building.

There are six undersecretaries, each of which also has a single letter abbreviation: Political Affairs (P); Management (M); Democracy and Global Affairs (G); Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R); Arms Control and International Security (T); and Economic Affairs (E). These are the most senior positions in State other than the Secretary and two Deputy Secretaries, and each supervises somewhere between six and fifteen bureaus and offices. Think of the undersecretaries as the government equivalent of a business with Vice Presidents who oversee a number of offices.

So why am I telling you all this? Because nearly six weeks into the Administration (and four months since the Obama transition team started work), four of the six positions — G, R, E, and T — all remain unfilled.


In case you’re wondering about the other two Undersecretary Positions — Political Affairs and Management — they are both filled by career foreign service officers who were originally appointed by the Bush Administration. That’s normal — career FSOs serve specific terms (two, sometimes three years), even in senior positions (though they still serve at the pleasure of the President and still must be confirmed by the Senate).

That means that the current score is career FSO positions 2, political appointments 0. The Administration needs to get its act together to resolve this, either by finding appropriate political appointees or naming talented FSOs to fill the slots. Although these vacancies may not be as critical as the positions at Treasury, it’s awfully hard to steer the ship if you’ve only got a captain and two mates.

Of course, the single letter offices aren't the only ones unfilled. Most of the bureaus have "Acting" Assistant Secretaries while we wait for word of when someone will fill that office. But at least we have leadership, usually in the form of the former Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) from that bureau. So these are folks who know how things work. Not so with some of the single letter offices...some of them don't even have an "Acting."

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