The Cable

Jack Lew’s departure will leave huge shoes to fill at State

There’s no way to overstate the role that Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew plays at the State Department, which will have to replace him when he moves over the White House to be President Obama‘s next budget director. Lew is the State Department’s first deputy secretary of state for management and resources, a position ...

There’s no way to overstate the role that Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew plays at the State Department, which will have to replace him when he moves over the White House to be President Obama‘s next budget director.

Lew is the State Department’s first deputy secretary of state for management and resources, a position that has been on the books for years but was never filled until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought in Lew, who served as budget director for President Clinton from 1998 to 2001. Since his appointment, Lew has taken prominent roles on so many issues that the department is preparing to dole out his duties to half a dozen officials while still keeping him as engaged as possible until he is confirmed for the OMB gig.

"Jack was significantly engaged in a range of issues," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley told The Cable. "So [Undersecretary for Management] Patrick Kennedy, [Special Representative] Richard Holbrooke, [Deputy Secretary] Jim Steinberg, [Under Secretary] Bill Burns and others will have to shoulder pieces until a successor is nominated and confirmed."

Lew is the lead official for constructing, managing, and defending the State Department’s budget, which is under attack from Congress. He is one of the leaders of the effort to surge civilian forces to Afghanistan. He runs the building during the frequent periods Clinton is on travel. He often represents State at deputies-level and even principals-level White House meetings. He oversees the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and has a role in supervising USAID. He is intimately involved in the transfer of authorities from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom. His command over resource allocation makes him important in almost every major effort the State Department is involved in.

Crowley said that Clinton definitely intends to replace Lew, but it’s way too early to talk about names for his possible successor. He stressed that it could be months before Lew moves over to the Old Executive Office Building and that Clinton was looking for a seamless transition.

"It will depend on how quickly the president and secretary come up with a replacement," said Crowley. "If their confirmation processes go in tandem, that would speed up the process."

The right candidate would have to have both the management experience and the gravitas to be both a number cruncher and a diplomat.

Crowley admitted that Clinton was not thrilled to let Lew go, but ultimately she realized that the White House needed him more. "What leader wants to see an all-star leave his or her line-up?" he asked.

At least, one would think that State would benefit from having the guy who compiled its budget request now in a position to defend it at the highest level of government, right? Maybe so, maybe not.

"We would hope that he would have a soft spot for the State Department but we recognize that the OMB director is going to have a sharp knife," Crowley said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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