Tillerson 'offended' by claims of U.S. State Dept's hollowing out

WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday he was offended by claims that the State Department is being hollowed out, saying his agency is functioning well, contrary to scathing criticism from former diplomats.

In the latest salvo, two retired senior U.S. diplomats said the agency is being undermined by proposed budget cuts of about 30 percent and is being deliberately taken apart.

"President Trump's draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great Foreign Service," Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker wrote in the New York Times on Monday.

"This is not about belt tightening. It is a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service," Burns, a former No. 3 official at the agency, and Crocker, a six-time U.S. ambassador, added.

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Exxon Mobil Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson speaks at a news conference following the Exxon Mobil annual shareholders meeting in Dallas, Texas May 30, 2007. Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday that the construction of the Mackenzie pipeline project in Canada was not viable at current cost levels.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson look on at a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi August 30, 2011. Exxon and Russia's Rosneft signed a deal on Tuesday to develop oil and gas reserves in the Russian Arctic, opening up one of the last unconquered drilling frontiers to the global industry No.1.

(REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool)

Executives from six major oil companies are sworn in to testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the "Consolidation in the Oil and Gas Industry: Raising Prices?" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 14, 2006. The executives are (L-R) Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Corp., James Mulva, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, David O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp., Bill Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy Corp., John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company and Ross Pillari, President and CEO of BP America Inc.

(Jason Reed / Reuters)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex Tillerson watches a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club course in Pebble Beach, California, February 6, 2014.

(REUTERS/Michael Fiala)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil; John Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp.; James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co.; and Lamar McKay, president and chairman of BP America Inc.; are sworn in during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on their safety practices as oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig - operated by BP - exploded last month.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

WASHINGTON, DC - May 12: James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; and Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.; during the Senate Finance hearing on oil and gas tax incentives.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex W. Tillerson and Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attends the United Nations Foundation's global leadership dinner at The Pierre Hotel on November 8, 2011 in New York City.

(Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., left, speaks with Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates Inc., during the 2015 IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. CERAWeek 2015, in its 34th year, will provide new insights and critically-important dialogue with decision-makers in the oil and gas, electric power, coal, renewables, and nuclear sectors from around the world.

(Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Renda St. Clair and Rex Tillerson attend the reopening celebration at Ford's Theatre on February 11, 2009 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Abby Brack/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, listens during a meeting at the Department of the Interior September 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar hosted Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Gulf Oil Spill National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen (Ret.), representatives from the private sector and others to discus strengthening the containment abilities to deep water oil and gas well blowouts like the recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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The forcing out of many senior diplomats, the failure to nominate or to win Senate confirmation for officials to fill many major agency roles, and a perception that Tillerson is inaccessible have eroded morale, according to current officials.

Tillerson said, however, the department is running well and that the department budget had grown dramatically. The planned cuts would restore it to historical norms, he said.

He also praised officials serving as acting assistant secretaries of state, typically among the agency's key jobs, saying they have helped to devise approaches on issues from North Korea and Syria to Iran and Ukraine.

"There is no hollowing out," Tillerson said after a speech at a think tank. "I am offended on their behalf when people say, somehow, we don’t have a State Department that functions ... I can tell you, it’s functioning very well from my perspective."

Tillerson said the process of winning Senate confirmation of appointments has been "excruciatingly slow." However, the Trump administration has failed to nominate people to serve in many key agency slots, leaving the Senate unable to consider them.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confer during a working lunch with African leaders during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) attend a working dinner with Latin American leaders in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks toward President Donald Trump during the 9/11 observance at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) looks toward him during a working dinner with Latin American leaders in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) at his side, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a luncheon with Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US President Donald Trump (R) speaks to the press with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) on August 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump said Friday that he was considering options involving the US military as a response to the escalating political crisis in Venezuela. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) listens to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C) during a meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C), US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a bilateral meeting at a hotel in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Trump (C) sits with US Secretary of State Rewx Tillerson (R), Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (L) during a lunch meeting with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri at the White House in Washington, DC, April 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes off his glasses after delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. US President Donald Trump's administration has launched a review of the Iran nuclear deal, officials said April 18, branding it a 'failed approach' to the threat posed by the Tehran regime. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: (AFP OUT) US President Donald Trump greets Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin (C) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) on his way out after delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Trump's first address to Congress focused on national security, tax and regulatory reform, the economy, and healthcare. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo - Pool/Getty Images)
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According to a database compiled by the Washington Post newspaper and the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, there are no nominees for the assistant secretaries of state for African, East Asian, South and Central Asian, Near Eastern or Western Hemisphere affairs.

This means that the top diplomats for major regions do not enjoy status that comes from being chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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