The State Department’s third highest-ranking official and top career diplomat is stepping down, another blow to a depleted foreign service.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, informed agency staffers on Thursday that he will retire as soon as a successor is confirmed by the Senate.
The 60-year-old has served under six Presidents since joining the U.S. Foreign Service in 1984.
Shannon, who holds the rank of “career ambassador” — the highest in the Foreign Service — told the Associated Press he was retiring for personal and not political reasons.
“I decided it was an important moment to take a step back and to determine what next I can do in my life,” he said. The death of his mother late last year and his own 60th birthday last week contributed to his decision, he added.
Shannon’s retirement bookends a rough year for the State Department, where poor morale has become rampant under the Trump administration.
Last summer, a top ambassador noted that the State Department was in disarray and losing essential leaders at a “dizzying speed” under Trump.
Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the Foreign Service officers’ union, said that there was “simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution.”
“There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed,” Stephenson, the former ambassador to Panama, wrote in an essay included in the American Foreign Service Association’s monthly publication.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised Shannon, inviting him back should he change his mind.
“There will always be a place for Tom Shannon at the State Department,” Tillerson said, adding he would miss Shannon’s “encyclopedic” knowledge of the Foreign Service and U.S. diplomatic history. “He is the senior statesman.”