On Jan. 26, President Donald Trump's administration abruptly released the four most senior members of State Department management. The departing officials have worked in the foreign service for a combined 150 years and all of them had worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, CNN reports.
Their release marks a break from previous administrations, when top State Department staff have usually stayed on for several months until suitable replacements are found and confirmed.
Among those let go are Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, and Office of Foreign Missions Director Gentry O. Smith.
Kennedy is set to retire by the end of January, while the other officials will remain working in foreign service.
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Sources familiar with the situation described the action as part of an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to "clean house."
Kennedy and his peers all submitted letters of resignation on Jan. 20, following tradition of previous transfers of power, but their swift dismissal reportedly came as a surprise.
The Washington Post initially reported the departures as a mass resignation, with indications that the officials did not want to serve under Trump.
One anonymous State Department official pushed back on that reporting, stating: "Any implication that these four people quit is wrong. These people are loyal to the secretary, the president and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house."
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David Wade, a former State Department chief of staff, warned that the Trump administration may struggle to find replacements to manage the department.
"Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector ... The muscle memory is critical," Wade said. "These ... are a big loss. They leave a void. These are very difficult people to replace."
Another anonymous official asserted that the wheels of the State Department will continue to spin despite the sudden departure of key officials.
"The department will not collapse," the official said, adding: "It's a huge institutional loss, but the department has excellent subordinates and the career people will step up."
Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was reportedly at State Department headquarters when the senior team was released, familiarizing himself with office duties.
Tillerson's confirmation had previously appeared shaky due to skepticism from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, who had expressed concerns about the oil executive's friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Jan. 22, Tillerson's confirmation became more likely after both McCain and Rubio announced that they would vote for him despite their reservations, Mic reports.