Tillerson warns there will be fewer promotions at State Department

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on August 1, 2017, at the briefing room of the US State Department in Washington, D.C. 

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State Department employees are dreading Friday. They may be heading into a long Labor Day weekend, but it’s also the day when the list of promotions comes out and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already issued a warning.

“There will be fewer promotions this year relative to last year,” Tillerson wrote in a cable to all consular and diplomatic posts this week.

Tillerson sought to defend against an alarming response.

“Employees need to understand that promotion rates normally go through cycles and that this year’s numbers, while lower than last year’s, are largely within historical range,” he writes.

Tillerson puts the blame for the diminished promotion numbers on the department’s hiring surges from 2001-2004 and from 2009-2012.

“In short, there are generally more people competing for fewer promotion opportunities,” he writes.

The fear is that the department is being handicapped from the top and, now, from the middle where talent should be nurtured and maintained. Many State Department employees who are not promoted are expected to search for other opportunities outside of the building.  

“This will make it as hard as possible for people who want to stay. They are tightening the noose, and white not illegal, they are running afoul of many regulations,” says Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat who was the Director of Global Engagement under former President Obama. “It’s clear they are trying to force people out through various mischievous ways.”

Congress sets the budget and the hiring numbers for the department but, in general, foreign service officers must be promoted to keep their job. Each grade has a certain amount of time allotted before a promotion is required.

When morale is already low, this further contributes to State Department employees feeling undervalued. Some began calling this the “non-promotion list.” Others are worried about the future of diplomacy.

“This is their latest effort to marginalize us,” said one State Department employee. “And it is working. I just don’t care anymore. I’m going to be retiring soon. But I am not sure the department will ever recover.”

And while Tillerson says the department is ballooning with too many people to fill too few jobs, the State Department is facing the opposite problem in terms of leadership. Most of the bureaus are now run by an Acting Assistant Secretary and even some of the acting officials have stepped down — before their replacement has been confirmed, or before their replacement has even been named. For example, Friday will be the last day on the job for Acting Assistance Tracey Ann Jacobson and there has not been any announcement of her replacement.

Tillerson has consistently warned department employees that changes were on the horizon – and has acknowledged that they wouldn’t be easy to digest.

“I know change like this is really stressful for a lot of people,” Tillerson said to employees at the department in May. “All I can offer you on the other side of that equation is an opportunity to shape the future way in which we will deliver on mission, and I can almost promise you – because I have never been through one of these exercises where it wasn’t true – that I can promise you that when this is all done.”

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Source: CBS News – Politics

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