Union says career diplomats bolting; State Dept. fires back

The State Department has lost 60 percent of its career ambassadors since January, according to a letter penned by the head of the union that represents U.S. diplomats.

President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Ambassador Barbara Stephenson penned an open letter this week questioning Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to make staffing cuts to the Foreign Service. 

“There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers more than half,” Stephenson wrote in the letter.

Stephenson said career ministers are down from “33 to 19” and minister counselors have fallen from 431 after Labor Day to 369 in November and “are still falling.”

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she wrote. 

But according to a State Department spokesperson, the suggestions that “drastic cuts” to Foreign Service are taking place “are simply not accurate.”

The spokesperson said that the “60 percent reduction” to career ambassadors was a “misleading description,” noting that in January 2017, there were five career ambassadors serving, three of whom retired this year.

The spokesperson also said that Tillerson plans to nominate individuals to fill roles within the ranks.

Tillerson has said that the redesign effort is his highest priority for the department, which they say “reflects his care for every team member and his understanding that our indispensable career diplomats must have the tools they need to do their jobs for decades to come.”

The State spokesperson told Fox News that ASFA and other employee groups are “important partners” in their redesign effort.

“The freezes on hiring and promotions are only temporary while we study how to refine our organization,” the spokesperson said.

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.