For the inside baseball crowd: Our current Charge in Beijing, Dan Piccuta, has let it be known he will retire from the Foreign Service this summer, for family reasons. This is a big loss for the State Dept.

I had mentioned in a previous post (Ambassador) my high regard for Dan. One of the major problems with the State Dept. is that management officers (ie, those overseeing personnel, budgets, etc.) have developed a culture in which they believe they “own” the resources they control. As a result, they establish systems and attitudes designed around their convenience and prerogatives.

In the private sector and the military, I think administrative or logistics officers have more of a sense that the focus of their efforts is to provide the organization’s resources in the most effective, efficient, and flexible (within the law) way to support the central mission of the organization (making money for the private sector; warfighting for the military). This does not make them less important than others in their organizations. They remain critical to carrying out the organization’s mission. It is just that they have a more appropriate sense of how their efforts fit into the overall picture.

Dan has been one of the rare exceptions in the management area at State. I served with him Beijing in the early ‘90s, when he was a relatively junior officer. Even then it was clear he had a practical, flexible, goal and team-oriented approach. As DCM in Beijing (before Amb. Randt’s departure), he was a breath of fresh air and arguably the best DCM ever at that post.

As Charge he has risen well above the management area to effectively represent the US on the broad range of interests at stake with China. I am certain he could have gone on to hold a string of Ambassadorial posts. I am sorry to see him leaving the Foreign Service.

And of course, Dan’s announcement comes against the backdrop of the continuing silence regarding a new US Ambassador in Beijing. I have no special insights on the substance or process on this issue. However, I continue to believe that while there are a number of fabulous China hands with interest in the job, the best model to guide the selection is Howard Baker in Tokyo, i.e., someone smart, open to learning about the host country and to working well with the career experts; and highly respected in the White House and the Congress. Our relationship with China merits this kind of appointment. In any event, whoever gets appointed will be in place for several years. So this is one of those areas where getting it right is more important than getting it done quickly.

And maybe if we are lucky, Dan will agree to postpone retirement until the new Ambassador is in place for a few months, to ensure a smooth transition.

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