How to Save Trump’s State Department

    Ronald Neumann

    Security, Americas

    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs for travel to Utah from the White House in Washington, U.S. December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    Every review of State Department procedures has noted that the department has too many layers with unclear lines of authority, which impedes the department’s ability to make rapid decisions.

    For ten months the State Department has been nearly immobilized between staffing cuts that are shredding its expertise and a reform process that has put lives and decisions on hold for almost a quarter of the administration’s term while it seeks to discover some holy grail of reform. Most press discussion has focused on what is happening at the moment, little has been on what reform might mean for the departement. Yet multiple studies of departmental reform already exist with common elements that suggest both the broad lines that reform should take and the fact that it could be managed without the agony of the current process.

    The current state of affairs has been widely discussed. Senior officers are leaving, positions are cut, a hiring freeze remains largely in place despite some exceptions, and many senior positions remain unfilled. The freeze itself has resulted in a constricted decisionmaking process that appears, at least from outside, to be top-down micromanagement, contrary to efficient decisionmaking. To take just one example, senior training at various war colleges and universities was put on hold, presumably to consider whether such things should be curtailed, although no rationale was offered. Months after such assignments would normally be made, an exception to the hold was finally made at a very senior level, and officers who had had their families’ futures suspended for months could finally plan. This is a small example. But in a service where staff moves across continents, it is important for families and careers to have timely decisions. And when decisions are suspended, officers try to find other jobs to avoid being left with only the dregs of the assignments process if the training does not go forward.

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