Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

A decimated State Department needs a reboot

| Nov. 22, 2020

The Biden administration needs to reimagine the foreign service and revitalize America’s influence abroad.

The US State Department today looks like one befitting of a nation down on its luck and with its back to the world.

Decimated by departures of foreign service officers around the world, beset by budget cuts, and disparaged by a president whose idea of diplomacy is to berate allies and coddle dictators, this nation's oldest cabinet-level department is badly in need of renovation. Not just a rebuilding, although that is essential, but also a rethinking by the incoming Biden administration of who should serve as a diplomat and what that means.

"The foreign service today faces one of the greatest crises in its history," said former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns at a recent remote conference sponsored by the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School. "It faces a crisis in lack of support, it faces a crisis in lack of leadership in some cases."

The brain drain at the State Department, especially of experienced staff, voluntary and otherwise, began before Donald Trump took the oath of office. Between December 2016 and September 2017, more than 16 percent of civilian employees with 25 or more years of experience, were out the door - most never to be replaced, under a hiring freeze imposed by Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. (Tillerson also proposed a 28 percent budget cut during his first and only year on the job.)

"Morale is at an all-time low," Burns told a recent meeting of the World Affairs Council.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:A decimated State Department needs a reboot.” The Boston Globe, November 22, 2020.


Nicholas Burns