David McKean writes: Imagine holding the job of representing the most important country on the planet, facing an exploding array of crises around the world, and focusing not on diplomacy but on fiddling around with your org chart and mundane tasks like fixing the email system.
Yet that’s what Rex Tillerson has done in his bizarre and disappointing 10 months as America’s secretary of state—a position held by such giants as Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger and James Baker. Unlike his predecessors, who generally left the day-to-day management of the State Department to others, Tillerson has reportedly immersed himself in a mysterious, corporate-inflected overhaul of Foggy Bottom’s bureaucracy.
The staff of the State Department has not taken kindly to Tillerson’s ministrations: Experienced and talented diplomats are fleeing; top posts have inexplicably gone unfilled; and those left behind are demoralized and adrift. Applications for the foreign service are down by half. As the head of the Foreign Service Association, an alumni group, recently pointed out, the number of career ministers—the diplomatic equivalent of three-star generals—is down from 33 to 19, while minister counselors—equal to two stars—has fallen from 431 to 369.
Like any bureaucracy, the State Department tends to resist change; past secretaries have made attempts at reform with mixed success. But what’s happening to the department under Tillerson looks to many not like reform but sheer incompetence, if not deliberate sabotage. And what’s especially strange about his focus on management issues is that, for a former CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations—ExxonMobil—he doesn’t seem very good at it. [Continue reading…]