Pompeo’s action, taken less than five hours after he walked in the building, was another example of the new secretary’s determination to show he is a different kind of leader than his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. It also is intended to show disheartened employees that the State Department can “get back its swagger.” Under Tillerson’s hiring freeze, the number of family members working at embassies and consulates dropped from 3,500 to fewer than 2,400 last year, and he insisted on personally approving every waiver. In contrast, Pompeo is leaving it up to the chiefs of mission.
“Ensuring that we have the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time to effectively carry out the Department’s foreign policy goals is crucial to our continued success,” he wrote in an email he signed just “Mike.”
“We must build our team. This, I hope, will provide a good first step towards that requirement.”
Pompeo made the contrast with Tillerson clear from the moment he arrived at the State Department shortly after lunch.
“The United States diplomatic corps needs to be in every corner, every stretch of the world, executing missions on behalf of this country, and it is my humble, noble undertaking to help you achieve that,” he said.
After Tillerson’s 14-month tenure left many employees feeling marginalized and forgotten due to his secretive and insular management style, Pompeo promised to spend “as little” of his time as possible in his office on the seventh floor. He said he would hold a town hall meeting for employees this week or next to lay out his expectations and aspirations.
He also debuted a new Twitter account, @SecPompeo.
Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, who filled the secretary’s job for six weeks after Tillerson was fired, introduced Pompeo by calling him “a cross between George Patton and Oliver Wendell Holmes,” referring to his background as an Army tank commander and as a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Pompeo was sworn in to office Thursday by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. He delayed his introductory remarks to State Department employees so he could fly to Brussels to attend a meeting of foreign ministers at NATO headquarters and make a Middle East swing to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan.
Pompeo repeatedly joked with the diplomats he met that he had come to see them before he went to his own office, and he won kudos along the way for the priority he gave to meeting key allies.
In every country he traveled to, Pompeo paid brief visits to the U.S. embassies for “meet and greet” receptions with staffers, a common activity for visiting secretaries of state. Tillerson initially skipped several meet-and-greets, stirring some resentment among employees who often put in their homes framed photographs of themselves and their children posing with the secretary. Tillerson later made the receptions a routine, but Pompeo’s willingness to attend from the start is another sign he intends to have a different relationship with the State Department staff.
“As a politician, much of that is second nature in a way that it wasn’t for Rex Tillerson,” said Jeff Rathke, a former Foreign Service officer and a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Pompeo’s sway with President Trump, with whom he has a strong rapport, is valued inside Foggy Bottom, where many diplomats have felt removed from a policy process mostly run in the White House.
“Having a secretary who once again is able to shape the U.S. policy approach is a welcome change for State,” Rathke said.
Pompeo returned from his overseas trip Monday night. Before digging in at Foggy Bottom, he went to the White House on Tuesday to watch Trump present a trophy to the U.S. Military Academy’s football team.
Pompeo is expected to put a priority on the security of U.S. officials posted abroad.
Ever since Islamist militants killed four Americans in 2012 at a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, Pompeo’s name has been associated with diplomatic security — but not always for positive reasons. Pompeo, as a member of Congress, was a leading critic of the Obama administration’s handling of an incident viewed by many in the department as tragic but overly politicized.
He fixated on the view that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for the deaths, including that of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But when a House committee found no fault with Clinton’s actions, Pompeo and another House member issued an addendum to the report saying the State Department was “seemingly more concerned with politics and Secretary Clinton’s legacy than with protecting its people in Benghazi.”
A State Department official said Pompeo invested himself in the Benghazi attack out of concern for the safety of U.S. diplomats and that he would remain committed to their security throughout his tenure as secretary of state.
A former ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, said members of the Foreign Service would not soon forget the role played by Pompeo in stoking unsubstantiated charges, including that the Obama administration failed to rush military assets to respond to the attack.
“For the people who were close to Chris Stevens and had our tragedy compounded by the gross conspiracies propagated by Pompeo and others, trust will have to be earned over time,” she said in an interview.