Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the OSCE Foreign Ministers in Vienna, Austria, on Dec. 7.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the OSCE Foreign Ministers in Vienna, Austria, on Dec. 7. Ronald Zak/AP

Tillerson Promises No Layoffs at State

Reducing staffing by 8 percent could prove difficult amid thousands of hiring freeze exceptions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed not to lay off any employees, saying Thursday the department will rely solely on attrition to cut its workforce.

Tillerson reiterated his goal to reduce the number of full-time staff by 8 percent, not including the 50,000 overseas employees. That would require a cut of about 2,000 workers, a target State plans to reach through a combination of separation incentives and not filling vacant positions.

To that end, State has continued the hiring freeze that President Trump imposed upon taking office but lifted on a governmentwide basis in April. Tillerson said on Thursday, however, he has authorized 2,400 exceptions, according to ABC News. State has authorized 641 buyouts for employees after estimating that 1,341 would quit or retire by September 2018. Those two figures taken together would enable the department to reach its 8 percent reduction target. It is unclear how the exceptions factor into those calculations. A department spokeswoman declined to comment. 

Trump proposed a 29 percent cut to the State Department’s budget for fiscal 2018, but lawmakers have rejected that proposal.

Tillerson’s comments come days after a bipartisan coalition of senators sent a letter to the secretary’s staff asking for an end to the hiring freeze. They said the 11-month hiring moratorium was “adversely affecting America’s Foreign Service and Civil Service professionals and putting our nation’s ability to carry out diplomacy at risk.” Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a follow-up letter to Tillerson, complaining that Congress had been left in the dark on the secretary’s plans for the department.

Congress must be a “full partner in the development of the department’s reorganization effort, budget and spending cuts, workforce changes and other significant plans,” the senators said.

State is one of several agencies to offer separation incentives to employees, following an executive order and subsequent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget instructing agencies to cut their workforces. So far, no agency has announced plans to lay off employees.

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