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Tillerson On US Government: ‘Not A Highly Disciplined Organization’

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s previous career as an oil executive prepared him for the high-pressure negotiations with foreign leaders that he routinely leads as the nation’s top diplomat.

But the former ExxonMobil CEO has found that his experience hasn’t been much help when it comes to working within the sprawling bureaucracy that is the U.S. government.

In a candid interview with reporters while flying home from a “shuttle diplomacy” tour of the Middle East, Tillerson admitted he has had difficulty adjusting to the glacial pace of government decision-making, a big change from the days when he called the shots atop the world’s largest non-state oil company.

“You own it, you make the decision, and I had a very different organization around me,” Tillerson said of his days at ExxonMobil, according to the Los Angeles Times. “One that I spent my whole life with, people knew me very well and they knew what to expect.”

“We had very long-standing, disciplined processes and decision-making — I mean, highly structured — that allows you to accomplish a lot, to accomplish a lot in a very efficient way,” he added.

Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of state came as something of a surprise to the Washington foreign policy establishment. Though the 65-year-old Texan had extensive experience negotiating oil and gas development deals in just about every corner of the globe, many doubted if he would be an effective manager at the State Department, a job that requires a certain tolerance for bureaucratic inertia.

In an honest assessment of the job differences, Tillerson said that, in his experience as secretary of state, the government is “largely not a highly disciplined organization.”

“Decision-making is fragmented, and sometimes people don’t want to take decisions,” he said. “Coordination is difficult through the interagency [process].”

Tillerson has had to adjust for his new role while working for an administration that prefers to concentrate foreign policy decisions in the hands of a few trusted advisers in the president’s inner circle. The arrangement has, at times, left him scrambling to explain White House positions at odds with his own public statements.

Then there is the perception at State that Tillerson is playing second fiddle to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has taken the lead on key negotiations in Iraq, Israel and Mexico. In private meetings, Tillerson has reportedly expressed frustration that he has been excluded from important policy discussions and accused the White House of micromanaging his personnel decisions.

Still, Tillerson’s value as a negotiator has not been lost on on his boss. When it came time to send an envoy to mediate the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors, Trump called on the experienced oilman at Foggy Bottom.

“Engagement with the rest of the world is actually very easy for me,” Tillerson said. “None of it is new to me. It is more difficult [as Secretary of State], it is more difficult, because of just the elements we talked about.”

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