Diplomats Question Tactics of Tillerson, the Executive Turned Secretary of State

“The secretary of state has to focus on the president, his policies and the other heads of government that he deals with, which means he cannot possibly run the department operationally himself,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and an under secretary of state for President George W. Bush. “He has to delegate, and that’s what’s missing now.”

R. C. Hammond, Mr. Tillerson’s spokesman, said Mr. Tillerson was simply tackling the problems of an unwieldy bureaucracy that his predecessors had ignored. And the more he has learned about the department, according to Mr. Hammond, the more problems he has found.

“What we are discovering is that there are a series of problems that have been neglected and ignored,” Mr. Hammond said. “And they are causing larger problems that can be fixed if things are vetted properly and installed.”

Mr. Tillerson, 65, has made clear his assessment of not only the State Department but the federal government in general.

“It’s largely not a highly disciplined organization,,” he said in an interview last month while on a flight back from the Middle East, where he tried unsuccessfully to resolve a bitter feud between Qatar and four Arab nations. “Decision-making is fragmented, and sometimes people don’t want to take decisions. Coordination is difficult through the interagency — has been for every administration.”

Almost from the time of his arrival, Mr. Tillerson has said the department needed to be reorganized, and he has embarked on a wholesale rethinking of its structure. He has hired two consulting companies, undertaken a departmentwide survey and set up five committees to analyze different aspects of the department.

Mr. Tillerson has said the reorganization will be driven by suggestions from staff members, but before the survey process even began he proposed a 31 percent cut to the department’s budget and an 8 percent staff cut — suggesting to many that his mind was already made up. He must give Congress a hint of his plans by Sept. 15 but does not expect to have them fully formed until the end of the year.

There is widespread agreement within the department that some kind of reorganization is needed. In just one example, the department has more than 60 special envoys and offices dealing with such issues as climate change and human trafficking. These envoys and offices operate outside the usual chain of command, and proposals to trim…

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