As President Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, prepares to face lawmakers for his second major confirmation hearing as a Trump nominee, scores of former diplomats are urging lawmakers to "focus public attention on the urgent need to restore the power and influence of American diplomacy."
In an open letter to Sens. Bob Corker and Robert Menendez -- the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively -- over 200 retired US diplomats pleaded for a congressional effort to ensure the State Department has the personnel and resources it needs to carry out its mission.
"Our great country faces challenges both today and in the future which require that we have a diplomatic force ready to keep America safe in partnership with the brave men and women of our armed forces," the authors wrote.
Among the letter's signatories are senior diplomats who've served under Republican and Democratic presidents in posts around the world. The majority were career officials, and all served as either ambassadors, assistant secretaries of state, or under secretaries of state. One of the authors, Amb. Bill Burns, attained the rank of deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.
The letter was posted online by the non-partisan advocacy group Foreign Policy for America, which recently launched a "#DefendDiplomacy" campaign to draw attention to widespread vacancies in the State Department's upper ranks.
The Washington Post was first to report on the letter, which comes as Pompeo, who currently heads the CIA, is preparing to replace recently-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Pompeo visited the State Department Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with senior officials and prepare for his confirmation hearing. He'll face questions from Corker and Menendez, as well as the rest of the Foreign Relations Committee.
He went through a nomination hearing with a different Senate committee last year when he was tapped to head the CIA, and was ultimately confirmed by the full Senate with a vote of 66 to 32.
Corker, who met with Pompeo for the first time earlier this month, said his committee would consider Pompeo's nomination "as expeditiously as possible."
Two senior State Department officials recently told CNN that Trump personally asked Pompeo to take the lead in preparing for his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which the White House says will take place in May.
Morale at the State Department suffered under Tillerson, who initiated a controversial organizational redesign effort, as well as dramatic cuts to the agency's budget and staff.
The department has also suffered from a dearth of permanent leaders in its senior tiers. Compared to his predecessors, Trump has been slow to nominate ambassadors, assistant secretaries, and undersecretaries, for the agency, leaving critical posts vacant for over a year.