Trump State Department Among Most Diverse in History

Pompeo undertakes effort to promote diversity hires amid media criticism

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo / Getty Images
October 18, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is overseeing one of the most diverse State Departments in history, according to senior administration officials and internal statistics that show the administration has placed a priority on hiring a range of diverse voices for key positions.

Under the Trump administration the State Department and the U.S. diplomatic corps have been reshaped, according to senior administration officials who told the Washington Free Beacon that diversity is a top issue for the secretary.

The number of African American, Hispanic, and female hires in fiscal year 2017 are all higher than previous years, according to hiring information viewed by the Free Beacon that paints a vastly different portrait than that presented in the media in recent months.

While numerous media outlets have sought to portray Trump's State Department as mostly white and male—part of a larger narrative attempting to paint the administration as racist—hiring statistics show that this is not the full story. In many cases, the Trump administration has filled its ranks with a diverse team of voices that senior officials say is set to grow even further in the coming months.

Part of the delay is the fault of Democrats in Congress who have put a hold on the nominations at least five female assistant secretaries. With these positions still in political limbo, Pompeo's State Department is examining a range of options to continue filling the ranks with a range of diverse hires, sources said.

"There's been some unfair criticism," Kiron Skinner, a senior policy adviser to Pompeo and director of policy planning, told the Free Beacon in an interview.

"Give Secretary Pompeo some time," Skinner said. "What he will do will be phenomenal for America. He's still in the early phase of his tenure at State and he's building his team."

The effort to promote diversity hires first began under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and has kicked into high year under Pompeo and Skinner's stewardship.

"In the midst of all the stories about the Trump administration, there's been a significant jump in African Americans being selected into the Foreign Service officer corps. It's similar for Hispanics," Skinner said.

Nearly 22 percent of all Foreign Service Officer (FSO) hires were African American in fiscal year 2017, an increase of 9.6 percent from the previous fiscal year, according to hiring information viewed by the Free Beacon.

Another 11.4 percent of FSO hires were Hispanic in fiscal year 2017, an increase of 8.8 percent from the previous year.

The same goes with female hires; 47.7 percent of hires were female in fiscal year 2017, compared to 43.9 in 2016.

However, the raw numbers do not tell the entire story, according to Skinner, who was appointed to her post in August.

"Numbers do matter. But no matter what the political climate is like and the divisions in Washington and the rhetoric and noise, people of all stripes are selected into the diplomatic corps in the United States and the State Department is the place to be," Skinner said, addressing various criticisms in the media.

"It's been that way since Donald Trump was elected," she said. "With Secretary Pompeo, we see someone who is committed and passionate about making sure the Foreign Service is well represented in all aspects of what he does. He is concerned about making sure the Foreign Service and all those working at State—political, the civil service as well—represents the diversity of America. That's what I've seen so far."

Along with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, Skinner and other senior officials have been tasked with boosting efforts to raise the number of diversity hires.

A large portion of this effort focuses on retaining staff, a portion of whom will only use the State Department as a launching pad to other jobs outside of Foggy Bottom.

"Diversity really happens when you retain people, and really tells and advances the story of the State Department so even more people of color and more women are interested in joining the department," Skinner said. "I've seen nothing but openness about conversations about how we can undertake initiatives towards this end."

Congress must also play a role in paving the way for the State Department to bring in new voices.

As Democrats seek to obstruct the Trump administration's foreign policy priorities by enacting never-ending holds on key nominees, including five women, officials inside Foggy Bottom are forced to examine alternative routes.

"There are multiple factors for why State at the leadership level may not appear as diverse, but when you dig deeper into factors such as Senate confirmation, I think you see that the story of the criticism is not born out by the empirical record," Skinner said.

Currently, more than 60 nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation, prompting fierce criticism from Pompeo and Trump.

Despite this holdup, Skinner and others say they are continuing to make diversity a top priority.

"Diversity is not just race and gender: It's also region of the country; it's perspective; educational background; it's socio-economic considerations," she said. "What I can see in State, as I walk around and meet people, is that all of those things are represented."