Two months into Secretary of State John Kerry's tenure, a large number of
senior State Department positions remain vacant, and the process to fill them
seems indefinitely stalled, officials inside the department tell The
When Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came into office, she negotiated for herself 100
percent control over State Department appointments and largely kept Obama
campaign officials at arms' length. Kerry has no such deal with the White
House, and his office is only one voice in a White House-managed appointment
process that is moving as slowly as molasses, several State Department
officials and insiders say.
As Kerry prepares to travel to East Asia next week,
his third major overseas adventure in his short time in Foggy Bottom, the most
glaring opening at State is the post of assistant secretary for East Asian and
Pacific affairs (EAP), which
was vacated by
Kurt Campbell in February. NSS Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel has been long assumed the
leading contender, but Kerry is said to prefer a non-White House staffer.
Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe
Yun has been running the EAP shop.
But the EAP is only one of nearly a dozen bureaus
that are working without politically appointed leaders and there are several
reports of angst that the vacancies are being left unfilled for so long.
report rising anxiety at senior policy levels at what players characterize as
virtual indifference by Sec. St. Kerry and his inner-circle to
moving on the Asst. Secretary appointments needed to properly run the
Department's many bureaus," reports Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, an insider's newsletter
on Asia policy.
All of the regional bureaus
are now being run by acting assistant secretaries or assistant secretaries that
come from the Foreign Service ranks, Nelson notes.
"In short, neither White House nor Kerry people are now
running the store," he writes. "The system isn't designed to work that way. No
matter what the White House may think, it and the NSC can't run everything...
Unsurprisingly, some folks now speculate this means Obama and his team are
determined to control it all."
Our State Department sources report that there is increasing concern that
Kerry is spending so much time out of the building (although his wife Teresa
Heinz Kerry has been spotted in the Truman Headquarters on several
occasions), leaving the day-to-day management to a select group of senior
The handful of people who are running the show at State these days is
largely limited to the very few senior staffers Kerry brought in with him:
Chief of Staff David Wade, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Danvers, Policy Planning Director
David McKean, and senior communications advisor Glen Johnson,
along with the few holdover senior officials who have regular direct
access to Kerry: Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Undersecretary for
Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Nuland especially is said to have risen in influence since Clinton, and
her longtime communications aide Philippe Reines, departed. A power
struggle inside the State Department's public affairs office between Nuland and
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, along with his
deputy Dana Smith, has largely been won by Nuland, several State
Department sources said.
Although Hammer is technically the head of the bureau, Nuland runs the
daily meetings, often travels with Kerry, takes the lead on forming the
messages and talking points, and has emerged victorious in several internal
battles, including a dispute over who would be on the plane with Kerry during
his first trip as secretary. Smith wanted her own people to travel but Nuland
insisted on choosing the traveling personnel and got her way.
Nuland, who was recently elevated to the status of career ambassador, the
highest rank in the Foreign Service, is expected to be nominated to replace Philip
Gordon as assistant secretary of state for Europe. Hammer is expected to be
given an ambassadorship soon. Smith is known to want Hammer's job, but the model
of having an assistant secretary who is not also the spokesperson is under
review, and incoming spokesperson Jen Psaki could be tapped for both
Psaki was a White House and Obama campaign staffer, but also has
longstanding ties to Kerry. Stephen Krupin, the head speechwriter for
Obama for America, has begun work as Kerry's chief speechwriter, and the rumor
is that the White House is seeking to place more Obama campaign hands at State
-- potentially bad news for the Kerry staffers left waiting over at the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, a host of State Department offices and bureaus are functioning
with temporary leadership.
In the Africa bureau, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson's last
day was March 29. He had been hoping to retire in January but was asked to stay
longer by Kerry's staff. That bureau is now being run by Acting Assistant
Secretary Don Yamamoto, a Foreign Service officer who has been an
ambassador three times. NSS Senior Director Gayle Smith is rumored to be
in the running for Carson's job.
The related special envoy for Sudan job is also vacant since Princeton
Lyman stepped down last December.There are some names being bandied
about, such as former Ambassadors Tim Carney and Cameron Hume,
although Sudan advocacy groups are warning the White House against choosing
Carney, whom they see as too cozy with Khartoum.
There's also no special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,
following the return of Amb. Marc Grossman to the private sector last December. Acting SRAP David Pearce is running
the office but there's no word on whether Kerry intends to replace Grossman or
The position of assistant secretary for Near Eastern
affairs has been filled in an acting capacity by Foreign Service officer Beth Jones ever since Jeff Feltman departed for the U.N. last
year. The rumor had been that Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson was in line for that job, but lately State
Department sources report that there are no firm indications of who might get it.
Gottemoeller is serving as acting undersecretary for
arms control and international security while also technically still serving as the assistant secretary
for arms control, verification, and compliance. She will have to be nominated
again for the undersecretary slot soon, but there's no schedule for what could be
a very contentious confirmation process in the Senate.
has left his job as assistant secretary of state for
democracy, leaving long time Foreign Service officer Uzra Zeya as acting head of that bureau. There's no word about his
replacement, although we hear rumors that Human Rights Watch's Washington director,
Tom Malinowski, may be in
The Diplomatic Security Bureau has been leaderless
since its top three officials were placed on paid administrative leave
following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Greg
Starr is the nominal official in charge.
Verveer, the ambassador at large for global women's issues,
left the department Feb. 8. Sharon
Weiner, a career Foreign Service officer, is acting ambassador, but the
White House has announced its intention to nominate Cathy Russell to replace Verveer.
There's no word on who will replace Deputy Secretary for Management Tom Nides, who left the department in February to return to Wall Street. There's also no assistant secretary for legislative affairs, which could be a disadvantage for State in the upcoming budget fights.
The State Department also does not have an inspector
general to oversee its operations, but that is not the fault of Kerry's team.
The last time the State Department had a full-time inspector general was
Feb. 6, 2008.
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