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.
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.
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 [Robert Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control], 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.
Mark Fitzpatrick, who was deputy assistant secretary for nonproliferation before leaving the department in October after 26 years, said, “I’ve heard about low morale and a number of people seeking to leave because they don’t find the atmosphere as rewarding as it had been when it was not so politicized.”
One particular office in the nonproliferation bureau, dealing mainly with the International Atomic Energy Agency, was especially targeted, numerous officials on both sides of the dispute said. Several top officials in the office were close to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and had privately objected to the administration’s public campaign to deny him a third term. A former office director who had been on loan to the IAEA asked for his job back — but was given a non-managerial position in another bureau; the acting office director also did not get the job.
Instead, a relatively junior Foreign Service officer, who is outranked by several officials in the bureau but who is considered skeptical of the IAEA, was named acting head of the office. Last year, two months before ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the official sent an e-mail to his colleagues ridiculing the idea. The subject line read: “A Nobel for the IAEA? Please.”