Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked department employees through his plans to reorganize the agency on Wednesday, echoing many of the Trump administration’s talking points about its larger goal of reducing the federal workforce.
Last week, Tillerson proposed eliminating as many as 2,300 jobs at the State Department and reducing as much as 26 percent of its budget by reducing the number of new diplomats being hired and consolidating some functions with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Speaking at State Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, Tillerson told employees to look at the agency reorganization as an opportunity to reward top performers and improve workplace morale.
“I know change like this is really stressful for a lot of people. There’s nothing easy about it. … All I can offer you on the other side of that equation is an opportunity to shape the future way in which we will deliver on mission,” Tillerson said. “When this is all done, you’re going to have a much more satisfying, fulfilling career, because you’re going to feel better about what you’re doing, because of the impact of what you’re doing. You will know exactly how what you do every day contributes to our delivery on mission.”
Tillerson’s justification for an agency shakeup echoed what Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said after releasing a memo on how to reorganize and restructure the federal government with a smaller workforce on April 12.
The proposed staffing cuts would equal a 3 percent reduction in the State Department’s overall workforce of 75,000 employees. Tillerson told workers that while the cuts may be painful to some, those still standing would serve a vital role in modernizing the agency.
“I want to condition you to be ready to participate in the next phase, because that’s when it’ll become more challenging. But we’re all on this boat, on this voyage — I’m not going to call it a cruise, it may not be that much fun — but we’re all on this ship, this voyage together,” he said.
For all its history and prestige, Tillerson said the State Department remains stuck in its Cold War-era ways. The department leadership is currently engaged in a listening tour, and will interview more than 300 current State employees for their feedback.
“We need a lot of creative thinking, we need to hear from you. This is going to inform how this turns out. I want to emphasize to you, we didn’t have any preconceived notions on the outcome. I didn’t come with a solution in a box when I showed up. I came with a commitment to look at it and see if we can’t improve it,” Tillerson said. “We want to collect all this input and your thoughts and ideas, both here and at USAID, and that is going to guide how we approach both our organizational structure, but more importantly, our work process design — how do we actually deliver on mission? That’s the real key. … How do we get the work done, we’ll then put the organization structure in place to support that.”
In the drive to improve employee morale, the State Department has already set the bar high. In 2016, it ranked as the fourth best large agency, according to the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work rankings.