State Department
The State Department's headquarters in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Credit: Loren/Wikimedia Commons

Josh Rogin is reporting a huge story today.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.

In addition to Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary for Management (the number 2 job at State), the list of resignations include:

Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.

It is normal to expect a fair amount of turnover with an incoming administration (especially when it involves a president from another party), but this is not normal.

“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”

Several senior foreign service officers in the State Department’s regional bureaus have also left their posts or resigned since the election. But the emptying of leadership in the management bureaus is more disruptive because those offices need to be led by people who know the department and have experience running its complicated bureaucracies. There’s no easy way to replace that via the private sector, said Wade.

As a reminder, both the president and his nominee to be Sec. of State have spent their entire careers in the private sector with zero experience in government affairs. Not only does Tillerson face the prospect of having to hire an entire management team, he has to do so with no personal experience and no senior management to consult with on the hiring process.

Since the election, there has been a fair amount of speculation about whether or not long-time public servants will remain in their jobs during a Trump administration. There has also been an attempt to target many of them for removal based on tests of political ideology. It is very likely that this exodus from the State Department is just the beginning.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.