Foreign Policy

Rex Tillerson, astonished at the cost of housing diplomats, plans to fire a bunch of them

The State Department emptied out when President Trump took office, in what David Wade, the former chief of staff for Secretary of State John Kerry, called “the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember.”

It’s about to get emptier: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to ax 2,300 diplomat and civil service jobs, reducing the number of people employed by the State Department by about 9 percent worldwide, Bloomberg reports. The layoffs are part of the Trump administration’s plans to slash the department’s budget by about 30 percent.

The layoffs will likely take place over the course of two years, Bloomberg’s sources say. Some will get buyouts; some will simply be laid off. William Inglee, a former Lockheed Martin official and congressional advisor, is helping to oversee the restructuring of the department.

Since his confirmation Feb. 1, Tillerson has left almost all the Senate-confirmed positions at the State Department unfilled, and he appears to be in no rush to staff them.

The staff reductions come as part of a rethinking of the State Department, and reflect a widely held conservative belief that the department has become bloated and lost sight of its purpose. (Sources told Bloomberg that Tillerson was shocked about the amount of money the department was spending on housing diplomats abroad.)

The mission of the department, Tillerson told NPR in an interview, is “to provide the national security needs of the American people, and to advance America’s economic interest around the world.” He said, too, that Trump “has a different approach to how the administration wants to utilize the State Department,” while also emphasizing that they were in the “early days” of figuring out how, exactly, they would use it.

In that same interview, Tillerson told NPR that he was working closely with senior officials in the department. “I look forward to hearing their ideas,” he said, “because I know that there’s going to be opportunities to allow them to be more effective. Now, out of that, we’ll determine what the State Department should look like. There is no predisposed outcome, though.”

Trump’s cuts to agency and executive department budgets are in service of increasing defense spending by some $54 billion, moving the U.S. in the direction of a hawkish, military-based diplomacy. “We’re really getting in our own way with things that have been put into place in the past,” Tillerson said.

M-F 7:30PM HBO