How President Trump’s State Department is Sabotaging America’s Future Leadership
Stephen K. Bannon pledged to destroy the American “administrative state.” Russian President Vladimir Putin is devoted to ending America’s global leadership. One of their most enthusiastic, and unexpected, allies? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The State Department’s decision to halt participation in the Presidential Management Fellows program is the latest baffling personnel move that will have lasting consequences for our government’s ability to protect and advance U.S. national interests. So far, the State Department is the only agency that has formally stopped recruiting fellows, but others also appear to be slowing this initiative. This is, one commenter put it, akin to “a Major League Baseball team giving up all draft picks, & ending minor league & scouting.”
It’s hard to find a rationale for this other than concluding that it is a deliberate sabotage of the most critical functions of government. Government jobs typically require candidates to navigate a cumbersome and nonintuitive application process (combined with security clearance for national security positions) that is not known for elevating talent. As a result, the best and the brightest often have incentives to look to the private sector, particularly where open, more lucrative positions are easily identifiable. The Presidential Management Intern, now Fellow, program was established in 1977 to help overcome this problem by attracting the best postgraduate professionals into public service through a streamlined process. The program has been a recruitment tool for some of the government’s top leaders, with alumni rising to deputy chief of staff of the White House, NASA administrator, a number of assistant secretary roles and running the Social Security and General Services Administration, as well as members of Congress.
At the State Department, fellows and alumni work on the thorniest national security challenges we face, from North Korea to Iran. With classes of at most around 70 fellows, PMFs make up only a small portion of annual hires at the State Department, but they’re often given significant responsibility. These dedicated civil servants are the backbone of the infrastructure we all depend on to keep us safe, regardless of which party is in power. Their institutional expertise allows those who come and go through different administrations to do their jobs effectively. And they serve as true experts on a range of critical issues. As veterans of the program, we are dismayed that America’s most in-demand talent are being told that they are not wanted for public service.