Pompeo rallies State Department workforce on ‘professional ethos’ as agency turns 230

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised to bring “swagger” back to the agency last year, and with the agency celebrating its 230th anniversary this year, Pompeo has unveiled a new mission statement: “one team, one mission, one future.”

“There is no other federal agency that can do this around the world like the United States Department of State. None,” Pompeo said Monday at the agency’s headquarters “Ours is a very special mission, and today’s anniversary is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to it.”

The State Department’s top brass launched a series on new initiatives during the daylong celebration, including an upcoming “One Team Award” and a new mandatory training program for new hires.

Many of the initiatives launched Monday tie back to the “professional ethos” that Pompeo launched in April, which aims to unify the disparate elements of the 75,000-employee workforce behind a shared goal of “professionalism and integrity.”

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“The ethos simply lays out commitments that unite every single person who is working on behalf of the State Department,” Pompeo said. “This should happen across administrations and generations and, indeed, jobs and roles. It includes, of course, a commitment to our Constitution, to protecting the American people, to serving with, and to taking responsibility for each and every action that each of us takes.”

Director of Human Resources Carol Perez, who also served as director-general of the Foreign Service, briefed employees about the award and training programs.

Pompeo said he expects all new State Department hires to go through the new training course, and current employees will engage in workshops “in the coming weeks and months” on the new training. He also told employees to submit colleagues’ names for consideration, starting today, for the newly launched award program.

“Please give your full attention to ensure that the people who best exemplify what it is we’re trying to do, what our ethos shall be, are recognized in this process,” Pompeo said.

Monday’s celebration of the State Department’s mission comes at a time of transformation for the agency. Earlier this year, the department reported that nearly half of its employees in the Senior Executive Service and nearly a quarter of its GS-15 employees are eligible to retire.

The department also seeks to reverse course from the policies of former Secretary Rex Tillerson, who early in the Trump administration oversaw an agency-wide hiring freeze and sought to cut the department’s funding by as much as a third.

Earlier this month, Perez, a former ambassador to Chile, outlined her plans to recruit and diversify the next generation of diplomats to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Those plans include a digital overhaul of the Foreign Service’s paper-based exit survey, expanded fellowship opportunities and a rethinking of the department’s “up-or-out” promotion system for technical specialists who work in support roles like information technology and cybersecurity.

Agency employees also heard from David Hale, undersecretary of political affairs, and Keith Krach undersecretary of economic growth, energy and the environment, who led a discussion on executing on the department’s mission. Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulato spoke to employees about a “field-first focus” for the department’s mission,

Pompeo also paid tribute to the work of previous generations of diplomats: rank-and-file employees, he said, “who have not been recorded so much in history.”

Those include Stephen Pleasonton, a State Department clerk who, during the War of 1812, smuggled the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to safety as British troops set fire to the White House.

Pompeo also recounted the important role of Foreign Service family members, like Kitty Herrick, the wife of the Ambassador to France Myron Herrick, who helped launch the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris during World War I.

“Our future diplomats will look back on us like we look back on our forefathers,” Pompeo said. “They’ll consider our deeds and tell our stories.”

However, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said projecting that ethos of American values abroad comes amid a challenging moment in international relations.

“I do not know a comparable period in which so many parts of the world were changing simultaneously and were in contact with each other in a way that was never conceivable … The role of this department in defining the challenges and helping guide us has never been more essential,” Kissinger said.

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