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Kerry blames White House for State Department vacancies

Kerry blames White House for State Department vacancies

The White House vetting process is to blame for all the senior-level vacancies around the State Department, but nominations for some of those positions should be coming soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday.

At a Wednesday hearing, Kerry’s first since taking up his new post, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) pressed the secretary to explain why the State Department hasn’t had a full-time inspector general (IG) for more than five years. Kerry said that the logjam wasn’t on his end of the equation but rather at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where his selections for multiple positions have not be able to get through the bureaucracy.

"We’re trying to fill a number of positions right now, the IG among them. The greatest difficulty I’m finding — now that I’m on the other side of the fence — is, frankly, the vetting process," Kerry testified. "And I’ve got some folks that I selected way back in February, when I first came in, and we’re now April, and I’m still waiting for the vetting to move."

Kerry didn’t mention any of the other major open positions at the State Department, which include deputy secretary for management, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, special envoy for Sudan, assistant secretary for Africa, assistant secretary for Europe, assistant secretary for Asia, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, assistant secretary for legislative affairs, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, and as of next week, assistant secretary for political military affairs.

Kerry indicated that nominations could be forthcoming soon from the president.

"I’ve talked to the White House. They’re totally on board. They’re trying to get it moved. So I hope that within a very short span of time, you’re going to see these slots filled," Kerry said. "They need to be, and that’s just the bottom line. It’s important, and I commit to you we will."

Royce was skeptical and asked Kerry to talk to the president about the vacancies.

"I don’t need to talk to the president. We’re going to get this done. We know it, and we’re trying to get the right people," Kerry said. "Matching person to task and also clearing all the other hurdles is, I’m finding, not as easy as one always thinks, but we’ll get it done."

In the past week, criticism of the vacancies in Foggy Bottom, as well as Kerry’s absence from the State Department during his multiple and extended trips abroad, has come from both the right and the left.

"Selecting, nominating, and confirming his own people should be a top priority for Secretary Kerry — more important than some of the trips he is taking," former NSC and State Department official Elliott Abrams wrote on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website. "The task of managing the department cannot be left to anyone else and is not a minor aspect of his role. It’s time to adjust priorities and get a nominee announced for every one of these policy-level vacancies."

"The mordant joke I’ve heard from within the State Department during the past couple of months has been ‘John Kerry phone home,’" wrote FP CEO David Rothkopf. "What it means is that there’s no place for one-man diplomacy in this increasingly complex world. Just as the president must empower his cabinet more in this second term to achieve legacy goals, so too must Kerry put in place senior leaders who can work the issues he has started to explore."