In his first detailed speech to State Department employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday said the agency’s written geo-political analyses were highly valued by the White House and invited staff to consider his efforts to modernize the department a voyage on a ship “we’re all on.”
Tillerson made no mention of March’s budget document that called for a 28 percent spending cut at State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Nor did he address the 200 or so unfilled appointee vacancies at the department’s senior levels, though he praised the work of acting deputies and undersecretaries, particularly Deputy Secretary Tom Shannon.
“The National Security Council really values the work that we provide in the interagency process,” Tillerson said, encouraging employees who send him memos to continue. “And I would share with you I hear that from them all the time, that the stuff that comes over from the State Department, we’ve done our homework….It’s useful, we can use it, and that’s not always the case from all of the other agencies.”
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
The reason State needs to change for the 21st century, the secretary said, is that the world has gotten “more complicated” since the bi-polar Cold War and because it needs to translate President Trump’s “America First” theme into a foreign policy that pursues “national security and economic prosperity, and that doesn’t mean it comes at the expense of others.”
After reviewing changes in engagement toward such countries as North Korea, China and Russia, Tillerson discussed his ongoing “listening exercise” to garner employee ideas for reorganization, noting that besides an online employee survey, 300 individuals are being invited for face-to-face interviews on proposed changes. What “I’m inviting all of you to do is to approach this effort that we’re going to undertake with no constraints to your thinking,” he said. “Most people like to start with the boxes and then try to design it,” Tillerson said. “I do it the other way around. How do we get the work done? We’ll then put the organizational structure in place to support that.”
Tillerson acknowledged that “change like this is really stressful for a lot of people. There’s nothing easy about it, and I don’t want to diminish in any way the challenges I know this presents for individuals, it presents to families, it presents to organizations.”
But when the process is complete, he promised the employees, “You’re going to have a much more satisfying, fulfilling career, because you’re going to feel better about what you’re doing because of the impact of what you are doing.”
He then likened the reorganization to a voyage on a ship—“I’m not going to call it a cruise; it’s not – may not be that much fun,” he said. “But we’re all on this ship, on this voyage together. … We don’t intend to leave anybody out.”