US State Department has “ground to a halt” under President Trump

Posted May 24, 2017

  • There are 2,300 vacant jobs at the U.S. State Department

The U.S. federal department tasked with leading the nation’s foreign policy is so badly resourced that it has effectively “ground to a halt”, according to Professor Robert K. Brigham of Vassar College.

With 2,300 vacant jobs at the U.S. State Department, current staff were struggling to do their work. The reason for the vacancies was partly ideological, Professor Brigham said. “Steve Bannon and Donald Trump believe the deep state must be dismantled.”

He was speaking at Trump’s America, a conference hosted by UCD Clinton Institute this month. More than 60 experts spoke on subjects that examined the political and cultural impact of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.

Professor Brigham said the organisational shift from Obama to Trump was the “worst transition probably in the history of the Republic as far as foreign affairs.”

Once a candidate is elected, a transition team from the incoming president usually liaises with staff that worked under the outgoing president to make the transition as manageable as possible. “None of that happened,” Professor Brigham said.

Instead, staff at the U.S. State Department were left waiting for members of Trump’s team to contact them so that information could be shared.

“There was not one single meeting that took place between election and inauguration. There wasn’t one single transfer of knowledge or papers passed. This was just a really horrible, horrible mistake.”

Professor Brigham said professionals at both the State Department and National Security Council (NSC) were “marginalised very early in the process.”

“To this day most people who are lifers inside State and NSC don’t have a clear direction of where the policy is going or even if they have a job.”

At the time of speaking, there were two hundred Assistant Secretary positions in the State Department that remained unfilled. Responsibilities in the U.S. State Department are divided geographically and Assistant Secretaries head each of these areas.

Candidates for these positions require Senate confirmation following a selection process that can take several months. “There is no-one in the pipeline,” Professor Brigham said.

Without the relevant Assistant Secretaries in place, “staff can’t produce policy papers and can’t move forward on policy initiatives. It’s really ground to a halt.”

Professor Robert K. Brigham is Shirley Ecker Boskey Professor of History and International Relations at Vassar College in New York. He is a specialist on U.S. foreign policy and has taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations