Key Political Appointments Remain Unfilled at the State Department

Helle Dale / Seth McKinnis /



Despite John Kerry being confirmed as the Secretary of State for President Obama’s second term two months ago, numerous senior State Department positions remain unfilled with no plans to fill them in sight.

Instead, the White House process for political appointees is moving as “slowly as molasses,” according to State Department officials. Yet, the White House and Secretary of State Kerry seem to be at a stalemate. With positions vacant, the State Department’s appointment struggles indicate a lack of leadership guiding the relationship between the State Department and the Obama White House.

In contrast, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a deal with the Obama White House that gave Clinton complete control over the State Department appointment process. Secretary of State Kerry made no such deal, and now it seems the Administration and the National Security Council want increased control and influence over State.

Numerous spots remain open including the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, which oversees Department of State security programs to protect department facilities and personnel from attack. This position has been vacant since officials were placed on leave following the Benghazi, Libya, attacks on September 11, 2012. Temporary leadership is currently running all of the State Department’s Foreign Bureaus.

In light of the recent developments with North Korean belligerence, perhaps the most notable vacancy is assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs (EAP). This department is responsible for U.S. foreign policy and relations with the countries in the Asia–Pacific region.

Yet, not all of the open positions are so integral to State’s mission. With sequestration’s tightened financial budgets, perhaps some vacant positions could be restructured more efficiently or even be eliminated entirely as the State Department refocuses on classic diplomacy, strategic planning, and strengthening alliances.

According to Foreign Policy, officials within the State Department are concerned. Movement on the vacant positions seems to be stuck in the quagmire of political gridlock. With Kerry’s recent trips to the Middle East and Europe and an upcoming trip to Turkey and East Asia next week, some question whether the White House and Kerry himself have placed the issue on the back burner.

With nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran and North Korea, labored relationships with key allies, and the continuing political and humanitarian crisis in Syria, the White House and Kerry should put aside political bickering and appoint experienced diplomats to fill the key vacant positions.

Seth McKinnis is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.