Photograph by Austin Kirk
Dear Mr. President,
I was struck by a particularly powerful letter from one of your employees, David Rank, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. Here is his description of why he chose to leave your administration:
“This month, I resigned from the State Department’s Foreign Service, stepping down as the senior U.S. diplomat in China and ending a 27-year career. I served five presidents — three Republicans and two Democrats — and, like my colleagues throughout the Foreign Service, took pride in the tradition of loyal, nonpartisan service…When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision…Many of [my] colleagues, some with decades of contributions ahead of them, share my dismay not just at the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement but also at the unraveling of 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy that has made the world and the United States safer and more prosperous.”
Mr. Rank represents perhaps your greatest challenge as well as someone who could’ve been one of your most powerful allies. He, and those countless thousands like him who serve our country, were not hired because they are Democrats or Republicans; they were hired because of their desire to engage in “loyal, nonpartisan service.” They love our country. Even Mr. Rank, who has strong feelings about your eroding of our partnerships around the world, leaves with nothing but love for our country.
“Some people have asked if I am upset or angry about how my career came to an end. But the primary emotion I feel in leaving is gratitude. Gratitude to the colleagues who served with me and who went through similar experiences…Gratitude to partners from around the world who have worked with the United States for so many years to advance our common goals. And primarily, gratitude to the people of the United States, who gave me the honor to serve them and the country I love for so many years.”
These are the people you want to alienate, fire and/or force out? Those who have given their lives to our country?
“Over my career, I had close calls with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, but also knew colleagues who were less fortunate. I watched from my window as a crowd surrounding our embassy howled for vengeance after an accidental U.S. airstrike. My father died while I was in Taiwan, my mother while I was in Afghanistan. I missed the birth of my first child and my only son’s senior year in high school.”
Many have decried your efforts for treating our country as a business. While this may be true for policy discussions, you are in fact the boss-in-chief for the millions of employees of the federal government. And here’s the problem. Your leadership style is completely de-motivating. How does losing Mr. Rank make business sense?
These employees are potential allies because they are bound to the administration through their career. They can’t choose to only work when the president they voted for is in office.
But now I ask you: Why would the David Ranks, those who so wholeheartedly love this country, work hard to support your efforts? Because they believe in your vision? It changes every week! Because of their job security? You want to slash budgets and are willing to fire at will.
Now you may be thinking – good riddance Rank! Resign so we can thin the ranks. Here’s the problem with that strategy: who resigns when leadership goes to pieces? The high performers. They are the best positioned to go get other jobs outside of government. So you’ll be left with agencies that are under-performing across the board. Is that the legacy you want to leave behind? As a bad CEO?
We can look, though, to Mr. Rank for a path forward.
“Rather than encourage [my colleagues] to follow my example, I hope my departure will send a message on their behalf so that they can continue to work within the system to make things a little bit better, a little bit at a time. That work will always be honorable work and, I suspect, will be more important than ever in the coming years.”
Try supporting instead of chastising. Listen instead of tweeting. Take the long-time high performers out for a round of golf! Learn what our government does well instead of falling victim to the dogma that big government is universally bad. You might regain those allies yet.