State Dept. spokeswoman acknowledges 'morale issue'

State Dept. spokeswoman acknowledges 'morale issue'

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Friday acknowledged low morale among agency employees, while also praising Foreign Service officers and urging them to "hang in there" amid management concerns.

"It breaks my heart to hear that some feel like they aren't wanted or aren’t needed or aren’t appreciated," Nauert said at a department press briefing.

But she also defended Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonGary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE's efforts to redesign the State Department, saying that it's a work in progress and that reforms are coming from both political appointees and career officials.

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"It’s not coming from a brand new political appointee, like myself," she said, arguing that the size of the State Department under the Trump administration is, for the most part, on par with what it was in 2016. 

Nauert's comments came days after two lawmakers, Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' Cindy McCain: Trump allegedly calling war dead 'losers' was 'pretty much' last straw before Biden endorsement MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate Democrats introduce bill to sanction Russians over Taliban bounties Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP Senate primary to take on Shaheen Democratic senator urges Trump to respond to Russian aggression MORE (D-N.H.) sent a letter to Tillerson expressing concern with "recent management decisions at the Department of State that threaten to undermine the long-term health and effectiveness of American diplomacy."

In that letter, McCain and Shaheen urged Tillerson to lift a self-imposed hiring freeze, warning that a failure to do so will result in a lack of experienced personnel at the department.

Also this week, Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help MORE (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, blasted the State Department for staffing cuts and suggested that the agency's leadership does not actually have plan in place for Tillerson's much-touted reorganization.

"I don't think they are anywhere close to having a plan to present relative to the reforms that they want," Corker said on Tuesday during a committee meeting.

Reports of low morale among career officials have plagued the State Department under the Trump administration for months. Tillerson, for his part, has spoken enthusiastically about his efforts to redesign the department for the 21st century, describing his desire to create a leaner, more efficient operation.

Last week, Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the union representing U.S. Foreign Service workers, warned that the Trump administration was crippling American diplomacy by slashing senior positions at the State Department.

"The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight," she wrote in a column set to be published in the American Foreign Service Association's December journal.