WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. foreign service has seen its top ranks shrink under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to a letter written by the head of the union representing U.S. diplomats and seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The number of career ambassadors, the foreign service’s highest personal rank granted to only a handful of U.S. diplomats, has dropped by 60 percent, according to the letter by American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) President Barbara Stephenson.
The number of career ambassadors declined to two from five with this year’s retirement of William Brownfield, Kristie Kenney and Victoria Nuland, who held top State Department jobs.
The next rung down, with the rank of “career minister,’ has shrunk to 19 from 33, the letter said, and the one beneath, of “minister-counselor,” has dropped to 369 from 431 in early September and continues to decline.
“These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry,” Stephenson said in the letter to members of the union.
Since taking office on Feb. 1, Tillerson has embraced the White House’s proposal – rejected by key members of Congress – to cut the State Department budget by about 30 percent and imposed a hiring freeze while analyzing the agency’s operations and deciding how to reorganize them.
The State Department did not dispute the numbers cited in the letter, but an agency spokesman who declined to be identified said that “suggestions that drastic cuts to our foreign service ranks are taking place are simply not accurate