Last month, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General issued a blistering report about the political leadership of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, in particular Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley and his adviser Mari Stull. After interviewing Foreign Service officers, civil service employees and the top leaders at State, the inspector general found that “the leadership of IO failed to meet the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles,” specifically, “Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff.” The inspector general recommended disciplinary action. The State Department, in its response, did not contest the findings of the report.

Given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s oft-repeated claim that he is bringing the swagger back to the State Department, and his stated aim to “create a culture and an environment where the best and brightest from all across America want to come” to the State Department, one would think that he would wish to take action against Moley (Stull left the State Department in January). After all, he fired Kiron Skinner, his director of policy planning, for a similar pattern of behavior. Nonetheless, Moley remains at his job.

Why? In response to the inspector general investigation, Moley wrote a rebuttal that contradicted what his superiors said had happened in various instances. David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, wrote to the inspector general to say that “further discipline will be considered following the OIG’s assessment of [Moley’s] response to the draft OIG report.” In its final report, the inspector general responded by saying, “OIG stands by the conclusions set forth in this report,” which is a polite way of saying that Moley is full of it.

Moley remains at his job, however, a fact that has managed to lower morale at State even further, which I did not think was possible in this administration. Nonetheless, Hale and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan promised a closed-door town hall meeting with State employees to discuss what happened.

Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer found out what went down at that meeting. The good news is that Sullivan and Hale were contrite in their acknowledgment of poor management and did not defend Moley in the slightest:

“I will be the first to admit the failure on my part to have done more to address the situation,” Sullivan told the gathering, according to an account of the meeting relayed to Foreign Policy.
Hale encouraged staffers whose careers were damaged as a result of political retaliation to come to him to seek some sort of professional remedy or, if they preferred, to pursue a formal grievance against the department.
“I’d like to help; I’d also like people to know they can come to me,” Hale said. He pledged to take their case to the undersecretary of state for management, the director general, or human resources “to make amends.”
“There’s absolutely no doubt that what was going on was completely unacceptable,” Hale said. “Misconduct is a soft word, frankly, to use for what has occurred.”

The bad news is that according to Lynch and Gramer, Sullivan also claimed that Pompeo could not just fire Moley the way he fired Skinner: “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, so it adds a layer of complexity there. It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it easier to tolerate, but know that the experience we’ve had with this situation has sensitized, I know.”

This seems like a good time to ask Pompeo and his communications team some open questions. In a traditional administration, this could be done at the daily State Department briefing. There has not been such a briefing in two weeks, however, and Pompeo is sidelining the media on his latest European trip. So why don’t I just use the Spoiler Alerts platform to ask the secretary some questions about this matter:

  1. Secretary Pompeo, your subordinates claim you cannot just fire an assistant secretary appointed by the president. Surely, however, you can ask the president to do it. You are reputed to have a close relationship with President Trump; he would be likely to listen to your advice on your own department. Have you asked President Trump to fire Kevin Moley? If not, why?
  2. Secretary Pompeo, even if Trump refuses to fire Moley, surely there are administrative steps that could be taken to sideline his supervisory role. Do you at least plan on taking such steps?
  3. Secretary Pompeo, your subordinates acknowledged Moley’s mismanagement and encouraged Foreign Service officers whose careers were harmed by Moley and Stull to seek redress. Given that Moley remains in his position, however, how much do you think Foreign Service officers will trust your team to do what is right? Wouldn’t they fear retribution from a political appointee who has not paid any price for past abuses?
  4. Secretary Pompeo, you claim that you want your diplomats to have swagger, and feel that they are joining an organization that promotes the best and the brightest. How persuasive will these claims be if you cannot remove an official who your own team acknowledges has behaved badly?
  5. Secretary Pompeo, your deputy secretary is expected to be nominated the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. What assurances can you give that this personnel matter will not fall between the cracks of Sullivan’s departure and whatever acting deputy secretary will serve for the next several months until the president nominates a permanent successor?

I do not expect answers to these questions.

In their story, Lynch and Gramer quoted a State Department attendee who said that the “general vibe after the meeting was a mix of bitter disappointment and depression.” That is probably because Trump has managed to replace the worst secretary of state in living memory with the second worst.