The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Who’s in charge of the State Department today?

The man in charge? Are you a State Department employee looking for a good day to take a long lunch, or perhaps cut out of work a few minutes early? Well, today could be your chance. Almost every member of the senior leadership of the department is away on travel today. We were told that ...

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The man in charge?

Are you a State Department employee looking for a good day to take a long lunch, or perhaps cut out of work a few minutes early? Well, today could be your chance.

Almost every member of the senior leadership of the department is away on travel today. We were told that Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg was "here running the department" while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was away on her Asia tour. She's on the way home now, but Steinberg left for Copenhagen, Denmark, last night to attend the Arctic Council Deputy Ministerial Meeting today and tomorrow.

The man in charge?

Are you a State Department employee looking for a good day to take a long lunch, or perhaps cut out of work a few minutes early? Well, today could be your chance.

Almost every member of the senior leadership of the department is away on travel today. We were told that Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg was “here running the department” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was away on her Asia tour. She’s on the way home now, but Steinberg left for Copenhagen, Denmark, last night to attend the Arctic Council Deputy Ministerial Meeting today and tomorrow.

Now, we’re not saying Arctic policy isn’t important — quite the contrary. And we’re not saying that Steinberg’s staying in D.C. Monday and Tuesday wasn’t useful. We understand he attended a super-important NSC meeting Tuesday on the North Korea crisis in Clinton’s stead.  But with him gone, who’s at the controls in Foggy Bottom?

Deputy Secretary for Management Jack Lew is in Kano, Nigeria, on his way to France later today. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Bill Burns is in India through Thursday. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats is on his way to Calgary, Canada, for a preparatory meeting for the upcoming G-8 Summit. Undersecretary for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is in New York for the NPT Review Conference. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale is on the Beijing trip. Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in Abuja, Nigeria.

This State Department org chart also places USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, U.N. Representative Susan Rice, and Counselor Cheryl Mills at the top of the food chain. But Shah is in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Rice is in New York; and Mills is in Haiti.

At the White House, the order of succession is clear: president, vice president, speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, and on down the line. The Obama administration has even recently updated the orders of succession for the Defense Department and the Department of Agriculture.

But the most recent guidance for how this works at the State Department was from early in the Bush years. According to this 2001 executive order, Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy is the guy in charge today. So if you need something done, go to him. And Undersecretary Kennedy — today is your day to shine.

“Undersecretary Kennedy is the senior officer physically here today,” said State Deparmtnet spokesman P.J. Crowley, but he cautioned, “Given the virtues of modern technology, the secretary is always in touch and always in charge.”

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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