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Career Diplomats Leave State Department As Trump Presidency Begins


The State Department is seeing a lot of turnover this week. That's always the case when a new president comes to office, but this time, even career diplomats in management jobs are retiring early or being nudged out. That means whenever President Donald Trump's secretary of state is confirmed, he will have lots of vacancies to fill, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The undersecretary of state for management, Patrick Kennedy, told his staff he's leaving. So, too, did the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, Michelle Bond. The head of Diplomatic Security retired earlier this month, and those are just a few of the departures. A former State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, says some of this is to be expected, though he was surprised to see such quick changes among career diplomats in management positions. Boucher sums up the mood at the department this way.

RICHARD BOUCHER: Nobody's quite sure where the policy's going to go. Nobody's quite sure if the president and the new secretary know how to use the diplomatic apparatus that they've inherited.

KELEMEN: And Boucher, who's now with Brown University, says there's a lot of concern that the National Security Council at the White House is being staffed mostly by military and intelligence officials, not diplomats. He jokes that he should be the last one to complain about that, having been spokesman for Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired general.

BOUCHER: The military uses terms - probably the ones that appeal to the president. You know, we're going to dominate the situation. We're going to conquer this problem. We're going to eradicate the bad things. And diplomats don't do that. Diplomats have to sort of deal with the messiness of the world and manage it.

KELEMEN: Boucher says the new secretary will have to depend on career diplomats who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations - the kind of people that have been retiring this month.

BOUCHER: To lose a chunk of them at the transition and not have a new team ready to go is troublesome.

KELEMEN: The Trump administration has not yet filled many posts, from deputy secretary of state on down. Most of the career diplomats who are leaving are close to retirement age. A thirty-nine-year-old diplomatic security agent was a rare younger official who decided to quit for what he calls moral reasons. T.J. Lunardi sees some of Trump's views as against the U.S. Constitution, which he took an oath to support.

T J LUNARDI: I think the type of resistance that this administration is already proving itself to require and, in my opinion, before it even started, would require is not the kind of thing you can or frankly should do from inside the government.

KELEMEN: Lunardi is still in Kiev, Ukraine, where he was serving as a diplomatic security officer. He doesn't know what's next for him career-wise.

LUNARDI: This wasn't a career choice. It was a matter of principle and conscience, so I'm now just trying to find something that will keep me, my husband and our two dogs in dog food and vodka for a little while longer until we figure out what we're going to do.

KELEMEN: Lunardi says he got a lot of positive feedback when he posted his resignation letter on Facebook. He says he hopes he will be proven wrong and that Trump will govern wisely and lawfully, but he didn't want to be in a position where he'd have to carry out Trump's foreign policy. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.