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After Key Departure, Kerry Reorganizes Leadership Team
Following the departure of his top aide, Secretary of State John Kerry is overhauling his leadership team amid concerns about who is running Foggy Bottom while he embarks on another year of high stakes diplomacy and grueling globetrotting, senior State Department officials told Foreign Policy.
Following the departure of his top aide, Secretary of State John Kerry is overhauling his leadership team amid concerns about who is running Foggy Bottom while he embarks on another year of high stakes diplomacy and grueling globetrotting, a senior State Department official told Foreign Policy.
The void left by David Wade — Kerry’s longtime chief of staff and the driving force behind the department’s day-to-day operations — will be significant. As Kerry crisscrossed the globe to various diplomatic hotspots during the first two years of his tenure, Wade rarely left Washington and instead consumed himself with the personnel and management decisions that go along with running a massive bureaucracy.
Wade’s successor, Jonathan Finer, will continue to travel with the secretary, albeit less frequently than in his previous role as deputy chief of staff, according to a State Department official. That’s raised concerns among some rank-and-file diplomats that no single point person will fully fill the role of Wade, leaving Foggy Bottom without a stay-at-home dad to make important decisions while Kerry’s abroad.
“If Finer’s stepping into the Wade role, he has to be here and run the State Department,” Bob Silverman, a senior foreign service officer and president of the American Foreign Service Association, told FP. “You need someone back here with the authority of the secretary running the personnel side and making sure the right people get into the right jobs.”
Two years into his tenure, Kerry has already clocked in a jaw-dropping 766,412 travel miles — a figure that is fast approaching the 956,733 miles traveled by Hillary Clinton during her four-year tenure. (Clinton broke the record for most countries traveled as secretary of state.) Kerry’s intrepid travel schedule largely reflects his pursuit of bold diplomatic challenges involving lots of one-on-one time with foreign leaders. His failed effort to broker a Middle East peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians last summer and his ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program both demanded long trips away from Washington.
But while officials speaking to FP didn’t begrudge Kerry for taking on ambitious world problems — in fact, they praised his bravery compared with Clinton’s perceived risk-averseness — they expressed concerns that day-to-day management has suffered as a result.
A particularly controversial development is the proliferation of special envoys that, in some cases, duplicate existing missions and are widely seen as a political patronage tool. A report this month, co-chaired by diplomatic veterans Thomas Pickering and Marc Grossman in the American Academy of Diplomacy, skewered the State Department for allowing the growth of an unprecedented number of special envoys and representatives to take the lead on everything from cyber security to Burma to the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.
These special envoys “often bring numbers of staff from outside the department, operate in a closed loop with other non-career staff, and pursue their issues without integrating the larger national interests that must inform responsible foreign policy decisions and implementation,” the report found.
Often hand-picked by the White House, it’s typically up to the secretary of state to oppose the nomination of these envoys, a turf battle that critics say Kerry has sometimes been absent from due to his demanding travel schedule.
It’s unclear if Kerry’s new leadership changes will ease or heighten the problem.
A new key change, which hasn’t been previously reported, is Kerry’s appointment of two deputy chiefs of staff to assist Finer at home and abroad.
Tom Sullivan, the younger brother of Hillary Clinton’s loyal foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan, became the new deputy chief of staff for policy this month. Formerly serving as a liaison between the State Department and Congress, Sullivan will advise Kerry on policy and join him on most of his foreign travel. That will allow Finer to remain in Washington more often.
Still, Finer, unlike Wade, will still play a significant role in traveling with the secretary and aiding his policy decisions — including on a trip this week to Africa and South Asia, according to one official.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Stout, formerly the chief of staff to the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, has been named deputy chief of staff for management. In that role, Stout will assist Finer in his day-to-day management issues in Washington.
“We felt that two deputy chiefs of staff was the best way to structure our front office to meet the big challenges and opportunities of the last two years, and to advance the secretary’s priorities on the road and in the building,” said a senior State Department official.
For some State Department insiders, the change is welcome.
“Smart move in my view,” said Ilan Goldenberg, who recently left the State Department as a member of the Israel-Palestine negotiating team.
Traditionally, Goldenberg said, the deputy chief of staff has traveled with the secretary and been a key policy advisor. Meanwhile, the chief of staff runs the politics, messaging, and internal management of the department, he said.
The new set-up, Goldenberg said, will delegate much of the internal dealings to the deputy. That will free the chief of staff to “do more big picture policy instead of constantly being forced to deal with tough management questions,” he added.
Whether the combined efforts of Sullivan and Stout can help Finer fill the shoes of Wade, a powerful hands-on force in the department, is unclear. But both young and over-achieving aides have been praised as energetic and highly amicable, and the new management model provides “depth and versatility,” said the senior State Department official.
The changes also come after State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki moved to the White House as communications director to be replaced by Rear Adm. John Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman.