(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted a State Department hiring freeze that had left hundreds of jobs unfilled, erasing one of the most unpopular legacies of his short-lived predecessor, Rex Tillerson.
Pompeo, who became secretary after President Donald Trump fired Tillerson by tweet in March after 13 months in office, sent a letter to staff Wednesday saying he was authorizing the department to hire foreign service officers and civil servants as funding allows.
“We need our men and women on the ground, executing American diplomacy with great vigor and energy, and representing our great nation,” wrote Pompeo, who previously ran the Central Intelligence Agency under Trump.
The decision is only the latest in a series of moves by Pompeo to undo initiatives by Tillerson that made the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive deeply unpopular with staff as well as lawmakers, who never understood why he didn’t want to spend the money they were appropriating for his agency.
Tillerson, who launched and later scaled back a sweeping reorganization of the State Department, argued that the agency had grown too big in recent years and that he had to impose the freeze as he worked to fill a White House mandate to cut spending by as much as 30 percent. He had also floated the idea of cutting about 8 percent of the workforce, mostly through attrition.
But Congress made clear from the start it would reject Trump’s proposed budget, and many lawmakers were mystified that Tillerson wasn’t arguing more strenuously to maintain funding levels. In the end, Congress passed a spending plan in March that called for only minimal cuts to the State Department’s funding.
In an apparent bid to get U.S. diplomats on his side, Pompeo has said repeatedly that one of his top priorities is to lift sunken morale and get the department’s “swagger back.”
“The State Department will be out in front in every corner of the world leading America’s diplomatic policy, achieving great outcomes on behalf of President Trump and America,” Pompeo told Fox News Sunday on May 13.
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