State Department senior ranks being depleted at ‘dizzying speed’: Ambassador

The U.S.’s ranks of diplomats are losing key leaders at a “dizzying speed” as the State Department struggles to recruit talent amid a hiring freeze and sinking morale in the Trump administration, according to a new essay from a top ambassador.

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Three of the agency’s five career ambassadors, the highest rank for diplomats, have retired or quit since January. Nearly half of career ministers — the next level down and equivalent to the military’s three-star generals — are gone too, down to 19 from 33. The next-level minister counselors have seen their numbers drop by 62 diplomats, to 369, since Labor Day “and are still falling,” writes Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association union.

Without these leaders, the U.S. could face a diminished role on the world stage, unable to keep up with the increasingly aggressive foreign policies of rising countries like China, she argues.

The State Department disputes some of the union’s numbers and argues that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is “fully committed to the success of our team, the professional development of the foreign service, and America’s global leadership.”

“There is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution — and to the global leadership that depends on us. There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed,” Stephenson, who has headed the AFSA since 2015, writes in a new essay in the group’s monthly publication.

The AFSA rarely makes forays into political issues, making Stephenson’s essay that much more surprising.

The State Department downplayed the significance of those senior-most officials’ departure, noting there have only been 58 people given the distinction since 1955 and the secretary…

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