How the State Department workforce changed under the Trump administration
The Partnership’s recent Fed Figures analysis found that the overall number of full-time civilian federal employees increased under the Trump administration—despite its stated intent to shrink the size of the federal workforce. However, one notable exception where this did not occur was at the State Department. In 2017, Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s first secretary of state, set a goal of reducing the agency’s combined civil service and Foreign Service workforce by 8%.
While the administration did not meet this ambitious goal, it nevertheless reduced the size of the agency’s overall workforce. From September 2016 to September 2020, this workforce—composed of Foreign Service, civil service and locally employed staff—decreased by an average of 0.2% each year, leading to a 0.7% total decrease over four years. By comparison, the State Department’s overall workforce grew by an average of 1.9% annually during the second term of the Obama administration.
The Foreign Service
These trends occurred in most of the workforce categories mentioned above. From September 2016 to September 2020, for example, State’s Foreign Service workforce decreased by an average of 0.4% annually and did not experience any years of growth. In contrast, this workforce grew by an average of 0.4% each year during the second term of the Obama administration.
This drop also coincided with a decrease in the number of people applying to join the Foreign Service during President Trump’s first term. Between October 2017 and October 2018, the number of people taking the Foreign Service Officer Test declined by 22% compared with the same period a year earlier.
The civil service
The State Department’s civil service workforce also declined during the Trump administration—by an average of 1.4% each year between September 2016 and September 2020. Declines were particularly noticeable between September 2016 and September 2018, when the civil service workforce shrank by 4.5% each year.
This dip corresponded with a hiring freeze at the department that lasted from January 2017 to May 2018. During President Obama’s second term, on the other hand, the agency’s civil service workforce grew by an average of 0.9% per year.
Locally employed staff
In contrast to these two workforce categories, the number of locally employed staff grew during the Trump administration, increasing by an average of 0.2% annually between September 2016 and September 2020. However, the number of locally employed staff still declined by 1.2% early in the president’s term—between September 2017 and September 2018.
Despite the overall increase of locally employed staff, however, State’s civil service and Foreign Service workforces declined by 6% and 1.7%, respectively, from September 2016 to September 2020. While not the 8% decrease envisioned by Secretary Tillerson, this decline left the State Department with less staff to carry out important work and fulfill the agency’s mission.
For more information of how the federal workforce changed during the Trump administration, read our latest Fed Figures analysis.