Administration Critics Chafe at State Dept. Shuffle

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is seen as trying to smooth relations with departments that were at odds with her predecessor.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is seen as trying to smooth relations with departments that were at odds with her predecessor. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A State Department reorganization of analysts involved in preventing the spread of deadly weapons has spawned internal turmoil, with more than half a dozen career employees alleging in interviews that political appointees sought to punish long-term employees whose views they considered suspect.

Senior State Department officials deny that and say an investigation has found that the proper personnel practices were followed. But three officials involved in the reorganization, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, acknowledge that a merger of two bureaus reduced the influence of employees who were viewed by some political appointees as disloyal to the administration's policies.

"There are a number of disgruntled employees who feel they have been shoved aside for political purposes. That's true," said one of these officials. "But there was rank insubordination on the part of these officers."

About a dozen top experts on nonproliferation have left the department in recent months, with many citing the reorganization as a reason.

The dispute has thrown a spotlight on the tensions that often exist between longtime career employees and the political appointees who come and go with successive administrations. It is also being closely watched within the State Department as another sign that, under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's leadership, the department will no longer be at war with the rest of the administration.

Rice and her top aides have sought to heal the damaging rifts that existed with the Pentagon and other agencies. Some State Department officials privately acknowledge that they used to be thrilled by the department's reputation as a renegade in President Bush's first term, but they say the message has become clear in the past year that such attitudes are no longer acceptable.

Few people would speak about the controversy for the record, either because they fear retaliation or because they must continue to work with State Department officials in their new jobs.

"The suspicion is we would undermine the policy," said one of the officials who have felt sidelined. "That is what all of us find most offensive. We are here to serve any administration."

Robert Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control, who oversaw the reorganization, and Henrietta H. Fore, the undersecretary for management, said in interviews that political motives were not a factor, adding that any change is going to cause distress. Fore said she has listened to employee concerns, reviewed the implementation and determined that "all steps were taken according to the law."

"None of these allegations stand up," Joseph said. "You have got a small group of individuals who are resisting the changes. I am not surprised by that. Change is difficult, but change is absolutely necessary."

The employees who say that they have been targeted once had a back channel to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, who they said would on occasion ask them to bypass their superior, John R. Bolton, now the ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, with backing from allies in the Pentagon and the vice president's office, frequently battled the rest of the State Department on policy issues.

But Joseph, who worked for Rice at the White House, is an ideological soul mate of Bolton's and retained much of Bolton's staff -- and now officials say the policy disputes that characterized Powell's State Department have largely faded under Rice's tenure. The back channel that these employees used to alert senior management to their problems with Bolton no longer exists, the career officials said.

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