President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had yet to be confirmed when four top State Department officials “unexpectedly” submitted their resignations on 25 January 2017, the Washington Post reported.
Those four officials, all career foreign service officers under both Republican and Democratic administrations, were: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith.
The announcement came on the heels of the 20 January 2017 retirements of two other senior State Department officials, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr and Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations Lydia Muniz. A former official in the Obama administration well-versed in State Department operations said the departing personnel would be difficult to replace:
“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.”
Though it was unclear at the outset whether the resignations were forced or voluntary, a senior State Department official confirmed to CNN that they had been removed from their posts:
“Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”
In a statement quoted by Reuters, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the departures were routine:
The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that the outgoing administration in coordination with the incoming one had requested “all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation” as is standard practice.
“Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service,” a statement by acting State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said.
Rex Tillerson’s appointment as Secretary of State was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 23 January 2017. Despite Democratic opposition, he is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-majority full Senate next week.