Pompeo ends US diplomatic hiring freeze

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 11, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a joint press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC. Pompeo offered assurances on May 14, 2018, of Washington’s commitment to Middle East peace, without mentioning the deadly protests ignited by the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. “We remain committed to advancing a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said in a statement./ AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN

America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ended Tuesday a hiring freeze that contributed to the unpopularity of his dismissed predecessor.

Pompeo sent a message announcing the decision to his staff, with whom he was set to hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

“We’re tremendously happy in the building as a result of that today,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

She noted “how frustrating it was for many people who wanted to get jobs at the State Department who were told, ‘No, I’m sorry, we’re not hiring.'”

The State Department, which employs more than 70,000 people in Washington and at 250 foreign posts, will now be able to hire up to the level of its funding currently authorized by Congress.

The powerful American Foreign Service Association, which represents diplomatic employees, said it was “pleased to see the clear consensus between Congress and the administration that diplomacy is a vitally important part of America’s national security toolkit.”

Pompeo’s predecessor Rex Tillerson was a political newcomer who had led the oil giant ExxonMobil. He imposed the hiring freeze as part of a vast but unsuccessful effort to revamp the diplomatic agency.

Tillerson asked to slash nearly 30 percent of the agency’s budget to comply with President Donald Trump’s prioritization on military spending.

Congress, however, did not endorse such a large budget cut, considering it dangerous while US diplomats are dealing with several global crises.

Tillerson’s action was badly received within State, pushing the administration to admit to a morale problem.

At the same time, dozens of high-level positions or ambassadorial posts have remained unfilled during the first 16 months of Trump’s presidency.

Tillerson was frequently at odds with Trump, who fired him in March.

Trump enthusiastically backed Pompeo and, for the first time in his presidency, visited the State Department on May 2 for the new secretary of state’s swearing-in ceremony.

“I want the State Department to get its swagger back,” Pompeo, the former CIA director, told agency employees after taking the oath of office.