Center for Strategic Communication

by Joan Wadelton, Guest Contributor

The Department of State’s administrative misdeeds have become increasingly serious, much more commonplace and disturbingly costly.  The list of failures across the spectrum of management functions (by which I mean the operational side of the agency – such as security, personnel, procurement and embassy construction and maintenance) is growing and this trend shows no sign of abating.

Indeed, State’s own Office of Inspector General recently published reports that spotlight problems that have mired State’s operations.  Among these are the absence of documents accounting for the expenditure of six billion dollars of contracts in Iraq, irregularities associated with a billion dollar medical services contract in Iraq, and significant internal controls deficiencies in financial reporting, property and equipment management, budgetary accounting and information technology.  

These scandals and irregularities are embarrassing, unnecessary and damage the prestige and reputation of the United States at home and abroad.  They also undermine the implementation of US foreign policy and waste American taxpayer money.  Repairing the damage will require both replacement of the current cadre of senior career officials and extensive reform of the institution.

There are multiple causes for this troubling state of affairs.  WhirledView author Patricia Kushlis has written extensively on the corruption and incompetence that plague State’s personnel system.  She has also described in depth the longstanding absence of both internal and external oversight.  However, there is another problem that must be addressed:  the antiquated, bloated and irrational structure of management operations at State.  In this article I map out a new management structure that would address these and other problems.


The State Department’s administrative responsibilities are neither structured to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, nor to promote fiscal responsibility.  The current organizational chart groups the institution’s numerous and diverse management functions into a single bureaucratic unit (“the M family”), under a sole senior official (the Under Secretary for Management).

See State’s organization chart here:

The current make-up of the M family neither reflects the creation of new Bureaus in State in recent years, nor the importance of security and information technology in today’s world.  Functions of a more recent vintage — such as information technology – are located organizationally with longstanding and unrelated offices such as medical services.  More oddly, Consular Affairs – a non-management Bureau and once an independent entity – is included in the M family.

Grouping together such an enormous collection of unrelated, high-budget and critical functions ensures that no single person in the role of Under Secretary will have the expertise or time to administer everything competently.  Moreover,  placement of decision-making in the hands of a single individual impedes healthy  competition for resources among senior management staff, who should be obliged to defend their requests for funding and programs against the requests of other Bureaus and offices. 

Most seriously, the grouping of so many functions under one decision-maker leaves the door open to cronyism and corruption; closing off competing voices can too easily discourage or silence legitimate dissent.  This is a particular concern when duties involving the negotiation and implementation of contracts are not segregated from the funding of those same contracts.


(For proposed new organization chart see end of this article).

1) Replace the existing Under Secretary for Management with four new Under Secretaries who each oversee offices and bureaus grouped together by function

Because the M portfolio is too large and too diverse to be managed as one entity by one person, it should be broken up and reconfigured into more logical sub-elements.  The existing Under Secretary for Management title and portfolio would be eliminated and four new Under Secretaries created – each overseeing a portfolio of related functions in which he/she would have expertise.*  These four Under Secretaries would report to the Deputy Secretary for Management.

Such a management construct would encourage open and candid debate among the various Under Secretaries for finite resources, as each would need to justify his/her programmatic and funding requests to the Deputy Secretary. 

Separating the current M portfolio into four distinct units would serve as an anti-corruption mechanism by introducing four tracks of accountability – one for each Under Secretary.  Dividing up areas of management responsibilities would enable a more effective and precise identification of responsibility in the event of irregularities.    

2) Move the Consular Affairs Bureau out of the management realm

Both overseas and in Washington, consular work – visa issuance, assistance to American citizens and the processing of immigrants – is a critical element of US foreign and national security policy.  However, consular work is not a management function and consequently the Bureau of Consular Affairs has no place in the management world.  It should be relocated and placed under the existing Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, which oversees related issues.

3) Dismantle the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation and transfer its component parts elsewhere

The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation is a grab bag of unrelated functions which should be broken apart and transferred to other Bureaus and offices under the Deputy Secretary for Management:

  • move rightsizing activities to a new Under Secretary for Human Capital, as they largely involve management of personnel;
  • assign functions involving Embassy support to a new Under Secretary for Administration; and
  • shift the longer-term strategic and policy components to a new Office of Policy, Outreach and Oversight.

 4) Create a new Office of Policy, Outreach and Oversight

Create an Office of Policy, Outreach and Oversight that would report directly to the Deputy Secretary for ManagementThis new Office would acquire the responsibility for coordination with external entities such as the White House, OIG and GAO from the current Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation.  It would also advise the Deputy Secretary on cross-cutting issues and policy matters, and would track and analyze management best practices.  It would serve as a liaison to the press and Congress for the Deputy Secretary.  Finally, it would include an oversight function staffed by career employees and term-limited detailees from the GAO, OPM and Congress who would advise the Deputy Secretary on waste, fraud and mismanagement. 

5) Create an Under Secretary for Human Capital

This portfolio would include the Human Resources Bureau (HR), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the Office of Medical Services, the Foreign Service Institute and a new Office of Rightsizing.  All of these offices manage and/or directly affect State personnel.  Creation of this new Under Secretary would allow for better control and oversight of critical parts of the bureaucracy that have been allowed to deteriorate in recent time. 

State’s single most important resource is its people, yet the Human Resources Bureau has degenerated into a morass of incompetence, cronyism and corruption that requires immediate reform and close oversight.  A necessary restructuring inside HR would move the grievance process, mediation and similar mechanisms to the Office of the Legal Adviser, thereby mitigating the inherent conflicts of interest that arise when HR staff is involved in employee dispute resolution.**   

The Office of Civil Rights is equally in need of rigorous oversight.  State’s current EEO figures are so bad that OCR is classifying access to them (without a legal basis to do so).  Correction of this unacceptable state of affairs should be a priority of the new Under Secretary.*** 

For years, too much of the training of Foreign Service personnel beyond foreign language courses has been an afterthought.  Devoting more attention to this critical function and to State’s Foreign Service Institute would be beneficial.  Of particular value would be additional training in management for better administration of the
Department at various levels and at embassies overseas. 

Medical services are closely linked to assignments of Foreign Service personnel.   However, there often are disconnects between demands by the Bureau of Human Resources and the realities of the medical problems faced by employees and their families.  The failure to formulate and implement rational and consistent policies in this area should be addressed by the new Under Secretary.

Finally, rightsizing activities currently lodged in the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation fit logically under the Under Secretary for Human Capital.

6) Create an Under Secretary/Comptroller/Chief Financial Officer

This critical portfolio would include the current Offices of Budget and Planning and Global Financial Services.  This highly specialized area involves not only the tracking and disbursing of funds, but extensive contacts with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. 

As State’s budget and Congressionally-mandated tasks continue to grow and more of these functions are contracted out, the need for an independent fiscal office that imposes rigorous controls becomes increasingly important.  Walling off financial matters from other management duties prevents any one person or group of people from having simultaneous oversight over the negotiation, implementation and funding of contracts, thereby decreasing the risks of abuse.

7) Create an Under Secretary for Security Affairs

This portfolio would group together Diplomatic Security, Information Resources Management and Overseas Buildings Operations.

In years gone by, the State Department’s security concerns rested largely with threats to personnel and facilities overseas.  However, in today’s world, the globalization of terror and the growing ability of enemies of the United States to hack our most secure computers present new threats.

In the face of these broader challenges, it only makes sense to group together the safety of personnel and facilities, embassy construction (which is heavily dependent on security standards) and the protection of classified and unclassified information into one bureaucratic domain.  The cross-cutting use of security procedures and standards, threat assessments and other intelligence for these three functions would bring greater effectiveness.

8) Create an Under Secretary for Administration

This portfolio would include the functions currently residing in the Bureau of Administration which provides support to the State Department and US embassies and consulates and services to the public and other government agencies.

In addition, several components from the current Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation would be transferred to this new Under Secretary.  These would include the NSDD-38 and country clearance processes, questions relating to chief of mission authority, policy oversight of the central system data warehouse, the Post Administrative Software Suite and more.        


The Department of State’s organizational structure has not kept pace with a rapidly changing world.  Issues, inventions and circumstances in the 21st century – globalization, terrorism, information technology and cyber threats, climate change, energy security and more – require an institution that can respond rapidly to unanticipated challenges through innovative, pragmatic policies.

These new policies must be firmly rooted in a well-organized, well-run and nimble administrative bureaucracy.  Ending the parade of scandals of the last several years and providing the underpinnings for the conduct of an effective 21st century foreign policy can only be achieved with full-scale reform of the Department’s management structure.  Such reform is imperative – not only to comply with modern organizational practices and controls — but for the success of America’s foreign relations worldwide.




*  The existing Under Secretary for Management slot would serve as one of the four new Under Secretary slots – meaning a total of three new positions to be created. 

**  For further background on problems in HR and also the Foreign Service grievance process, see the Whirledview articles below:

***  For insights into the State Department’s EEO problems see Whirledview articles below: