Kerry’s deputy sees ‘reduced accountability’ of career employees

The recent problems with accountability and responsibility at the State Department are rooted in an “inflation” of high-level political positions, which has reduced significantly accountability among lower-level career employees, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns says on this week’s episode of “Conversations with Nicholas Kralev.”

“One of the structural things that’s happened in the State Department over the course of the last 20 years or so has been a kind of inflation in the number of positions on the 7th floor at the State Department, where a lot of the undersecretaries, the deputy secretary, the secretary and their staffs sit. As the number of positions has increased, it’s tended to open up more and more opportunities for non-career appointees,” Burns says.

That “tends to reduce the sense of accountability and responsibility at lower levels,” he adds. “I think that’s something we have to work harder at, because you want an individual desk officer — the career officer who is responsible, for example, for managing relations with Jordan — to have a sense of personal responsibility about the quality of what she or he writes, or the quality of the ideas they are putting forward.”

Burns, whom I recently profiled in The Atlantic, has been a career diplomat since 1982 and has held top positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations, including ambassador to Russia and Jordan, and undersecretary of state for political affairs. On the program, he also examines how the Foreign Service has changed since September 11, 2001, and talks about what makes a good diplomat today.

The State Department has been criticized in recent months over failing to assign full responsibility and seek proper accountability following last year’s Benghazi attack. New accusations of misbehavior by employees appeared in a CBS News report earlier this month.

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