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Ranking Member Menendez Publishes New Report Documenting Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department


WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff today published a new report documenting the Trump administration’s decimation of the State Department. Commissioned by Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the report is a comprehensive examination of the Trump administration’s assault on U.S. diplomacy. Through a review of ongoing senior-level vacancies plaguing the State Department, repeated nominee vetting failures, and attacks on career public servants, the report highlights the corrosive effect of the Trump administration’s mismanagement on U.S. foreign policy.


“Today the State Department is at a crossroads. President Trump and his administration, through neglect and corrosive leadership, have decimated our nation’s premier foreign policy agency dedicated to advancing American values,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “This is not just about an attack on one federal agency; it is a disgrace to American values and leadership, and puts our national security at risk.”

The report, Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department, finds the State Department hampered and staff demoralized, with career diplomats describing a “complete and utter disdain for [their] expertise” and even a “contempt” for career employees. It details the administration’s failure to nominate qualified candidates, an exodus of agency expertise, and plummeting morale among the State Department workforce. The report, released as the Department celebrates its 231st anniversary, also examines attacks on career employees, inappropriate politicization, and the pushing out of experienced civil servants and Foreign Service Officers, which has left gaping holes in our nation’s diplomatic and national security capabilities. 

“I am publishing this report because Congress has an obligation to confront the disturbing state in which the Trump administration has left the State Department: decimated and demoralized,” added Menendez. “Beyond documenting the damage done, this report outlines a path forward that the White House, Congress, and the State Department must take to rebuild the diplomatic corps, restore accountability, and reassert our values.”

At a virtual briefing to publish the report’s findings, Senator Menendez was joined by: Ambassador Thomas Shannon, former Under Secretary of State; Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, former American diplomat and former President of the American Foreign Service Association; Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the State Department; and Elizabeth Shackelford, former member of the Foreign Service. Margaret Taylor, former SFRC Chief Democratic Counsel and former lawyer at the Office of the Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State, moderated the discussion. 

“This report is a powerful and important indictment of behaviors that have undermined the State Department, of behaviors that have drained budgets, disrespected and ignored expertise, and sought to marginalize the Department in the shaping and implementation of American policy. The loser in all of this is the American people,” Ambassador Shannon said. “For me, the recommendations in this report are the beginning of a larger conversation about what needs to be done—in the executive branch and in the legislative branch—to ensure that the Department of State and its officers—Foreign Service and Civil Service—can conduct the analysis, the interagency work, the implementation and the diplomacy necessary to ensure the peace and prosperity of the United States. Nothing less is at stake and nothing more is at risk.”

“This report focuses on issues that have long been important but have become increasingly urgent. The Department of State and the Foreign Service in particular are not in good shape,” Ambassador Stephenson added. “We as Americans need these vital institutions performing at the top of their game as we face rapidly rising competition, competition for global leadership.”  

“There were a lot of things in [the report] that clearly [must] be fixed; it was also a reminder of the many things that the State Department does, things that are hidden that no one really understands or no one really knows,” Ambassador Jenkins added. “I really do recommend this report because I think people should be aware of the wonderful work that is being done that is behind the scenes, and it really reflects the type of individuals we have representing America both here and around the world.” 

“The State Department has long had personnel challenges…The difference under this administration, I felt while I was still in it, was that it seemed intended to undermine the effectiveness of the institution or at least of the activities of the career personnel involved,” Shackelford added. “I cannot overstate the importance that knowing what you are doing matters and is being respected, and what effect that has on your ability to do your job in very challenging situations. Right now, I feel like the people who are at the State Department do not feel that respect or that support and I think that is incredibly detrimental to their morale and their ability to do their jobs.”

Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department is the latest installment in a series of Committee Democratic staff investigations into today’s most pressing foreign policy challenges and the Trump administration’s failed foreign policy agenda.

The full report may be found HERE.

The Senator’s remarks as delivered may be found HERE.


Key Highlights & Findings

  • Through two Secretaries of State, and despite numerous commitments to fill key positions, vacancies and acting officials at the Department have persisted.
    • Three and a half years into the administration, 11 Assistant Secretary or Undersecretary posts—more than one-third of the total—are vacant or filled by acting officials.
  • The Department has witnessed an alarming number of departures from the most experienced career personnel to early-and mid-career staff and a stunning loss of expertise. 
    • Many former officials have called the loss the “most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations.”
  • Vacancies and staffing gaps at the Department translates to a lack of U.S. leadership on the global stage. 
    • The lack of Senate-confirmed officials hampers our ability to engage with counterparts, contributing to a “slow degradation of America’s global leadership.”
  • Unqualified and unfit nominee choices have exacerbated vacancies and leadership failures at the Department.
    • Trump administration nominees have misrepresented their experience, misled the Committee about critical information, and engaged in conduct that would have disqualified them for a senior diplomatic post under previous administrations.
  • Mistreatment of and attacks on career employees have been met with little or no accountability from Secretary Pompeo.
    • Despite State Department Inspector General (IG) findings that Administration appointees politically targeted and retaliated against career employees, those responsible escaped official accountability, without suffering any career consequences.
    • Secretary Pompeo’s push to remove the Inspector General during the IG’s active investigation into Pompeo’s conduct only reinforced a culture of zero accountability.
  • As a result, employees report that their morale, and their confidence in their senior leaders, have dropped precipitously.
    • After ranking as one of the top 5 large federal government agencies to work at since 2012, the Department fell from a ranking of 4 in 2016 to 8 in 2017, and to 14 in 2018.
    • According to employee workforce surveys, there have been steep increases in the percentage of employees who reported that the Department’s senior leaders did not maintain high standards of honesty and integrity. Many are far more fearful today than three years ago to report a violation of law, and that they will be subject to reprisal for doing so.
  • The administration’s response to racial injustice and racism has led to further drops in morale.
    • Even before 2020, many employees reported declining effectiveness of leadership’s approach to diversity. The Trump administration’s belittling responses to racial injustice have left employees feeling dejected and contemplating leaving the State Department completely.