Mike Pompeo appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing Thursday.

Mike Pompeo appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing Thursday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Trump's New Pick to Lead State Promises to Fill 'Demoralizing' Vacancies

Pompeo says he will help department "find its swagger" by making employees feel "relevant."

President Trump’s nominee to lead the State Department promised on Thursday to fill job vacancies that are “demoralizing for the workforce.”

Mike Pompeo, currently the CIA director, pledged to reduce the growing number of vacancies departmentwide if he is confirmed as secretary of State. He made his comments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Vacancies at State have piled up during the Trump administration, with former Secretary Rex Tillerson instituting a hiring freeze that remains in place. In the first eight months since Trump took office, State’s workforce declined by 6 percent. Employees on the foreign affairs rolls dropped by 12 percent. State has over time loosened the hiring freeze to allow an array of exceptions, but has yet to publicly announce a full lift. Pompeo said he was unclear on the exact status of the freeze, but said he would end it if confirmed. 

“In a recent series of department briefings with team members at State, they all, to a person, expressed a hope to be empowered in their roles, and to have a clear understanding of the president’s mission,” Pompeo said. “That will be my first priority. They also shared how demoralizing it is to have so many vacancies and, frankly, not to feel relevant.”

The CIA director also said he would fill political appointments remaining vacant, but told the senators he would need their help. Pompeo called himself a “talent hawk” in promising to find candidates for the ambassador to South Korea and other diplomatic posts. In Cuba, for example, Pompeo vowed to boost what Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called a “skeletal staff.” Pompeo said his leadership will help improve morale around the department.

“I will work every day to provide dedicated leadership and convey my faith in their work,” Pompeo said, “just as I have done with my workforce at the CIA.”

He said that, as he did at CIA, he would would support employees who took risks, even if they did not always pay off. He noted he has a good relationship with Trump and would not hesitate to ask him for more resources for State. That could mark a welcome change for department employees after Tillerson proposed massive cuts of more than 25 percent of State’s budget in each of the last two years.

“No one will ever take calculated, lawful risks to reach greatness if they feel it could end their career,” Pompeo said. “And, when our team needed extra resources, I never hesitated to ask the president—and so long as he found value in the task, he never hesitated to provide them. I will, with your help, do the same at the Department of State.”

Pompeo promised to bring diversity to State, despite facing criticism for his handling of that issue at CIA. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference coalition urged senators to reject Pompeo for the State Department job, citing his record and comments on civil rights issues.

“The State Department’s workforce must, by necessity, be diverse in every sense of the word—in terms of race, religion, background and more,” Pompeo said. “I’ll work to achieve that diversity, just as I have successfully done at CIA, by focusing on mission and demanding that every team member be treated equally and with dignity and respect.”

Facing heated questions from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., about controversial comments Pompeo has made regarding Muslims, the nominee said, “My record on this is unambiguous.” He said gay couples should not be permitted to marry and declined to say whether he found homosexuality “perverse,” but said he would treat all employees equally.

He explained that by listening more to employees, leveraging differences, and unleashing talent and teamwork into State’s culture, the department will find “its swagger once again.”