The most disloyal department
In naming Condoleezza Rice as his pick for secretary of state, President Bush is sending his most loyal adviser to his most disloyal agency: The State Department. But no matter what changes she makes — and many are needed — the bureaucracy is entrenched almost to the point of being impenetrable, meaning real reform could well prove illusory.
Miss Rice will soon take the reins of a massive 47,000-person operation that is literally sprawled out across the world. It is an insular institution that operates in a remarkably similar way from one administration to the next, typically viewing presidents, as one Foreign Service officer puts it, as the "summer help."
But the State Department's rabid distaste for bold new ideas long precedes Mr. Powell, as does its worshiping at the altar of "stability," the doctrine that the world is safest when left unchanged.
The irony is that "stability" also defines the composition of the State Department, because outside of a small number of political appointees, almost all substantive positions must be held by careerists who have no particular loyalty to any president — least of all this one.
The secretary of state is in many ways a glorified cat herder. All hiring, firing, transferring and promoting is handled not by the secretary, but by panels comprised of members of the Foreign Service. The secretary of state isn't even able to fire a convicted felon — including when that felony is for defrauding the State Department.