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American Foreign Service Organization: Too Many Political Picks in State Department

American Foreign Service Organization: Too Many Political Picks in State Department

This story originally appeared at Yahoo News:

President Barack Obama’s fondness for rewarding big donors with plum diplomatic postsoverseas made international headlines earlier this year when a few of them embarrassed themselves in confirmation hearings

Now, the association that represents career U.S. diplomats is sounding the alarm about leadership at the very top of the State Department, warning that foreign service professionals are losing ground to “political” picks.

“The world is a mess,” American Foreign Service Association President Bob Silverman told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “We need our most experienced people – people who have actually managed embassies, who have actually managed international programs – in the mix at the top of the leadership.”

With the retirement of Bill Burns, the highly regarded foreign service officer who served as the State Department’s No. 2, just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. (The number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included).

It’s not clear whether Obama will pick a career foreign service officer to replace Burns. Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken is widely seen as a top contender and would be a political appointment. Reached by email, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan declined to comment on prospects for Burns’s successor.

“It should be a career person. At least one of the top three at State should be a career person,” said Silverman. “That has been the tradition over many, many decades.”

Unlike the “ambassadonors,” though, it’s not primarily a question of shoehorning people who have shown they are supremely good at raising money into diplomatic posts for which they are questionably competent. The undersecretary of political affairs, Wendy Sherman, is a “political,” for instance, but has an impressive resume. She is the No. 3 at the State Department.

But Silverman said career diplomats understand the “machine” in Foggy Bottom and see how the parts fit together to make policy. He also noted that bringing in too much outside help damages morale among the career officials.


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