Rice's Focused Style Creates Learning Curve at State

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice does not use e-mail. She is no fan of long memos and papers. She is focused on "a few key priorities," aides say, and her inner circle's motto is "no wasted motion."

For nearly four months, the State Department has been adapting to Miss Rice's management style, but many employees still are grappling with the new rules.

Her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, was an e-mail and Internet junkie, but Miss Rice prefers personal contact to the cold computer screen, aides say.

Mr. Powell had become a father figure to his "troops." He encouraged them to let him know when something was bothering them, they say, and he got involved in both policy and bureaucratic matters that most secretaries before him found immaterial.

Both political appointees and career department employees agreed in interviews over the past week that Miss Rice has given the State Department more weight in the interagency policy process, largely because of her close relationship with President Bush.

"There is more intellectual vigor here than ever before," said a senior career official, who, like most of those interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity so that he could be more candid.

But for some career officials, Miss Rice's concentration on the few areas that she deems most important means that their issues have to be resolved at lower levels.

Miss Rice's aides say that impression is wrong but acknowledge that she thinks she is more effective when her attention is directed at a few key issues.

"History shows that the best secretaries of state focus on a few key priorities," said Jim Wilkinson, a senior adviser to Miss Rice. "The president has given his foreign policy team its mission, and the secretary is focusing the department on achieving these priorities."

Access to the secretary is also an issue for many career officials. The most senior of them were only an e-mail away from Mr. Powell, who often replied within minutes. Now, they have to go through Miss Rice's chief of staff, Brian Gunderson, or Mr. Wilkinson if they want to speak with her.

"I knew how to tap into the seventh floor with Powell," one senior career official said, referring to the secretary's office. "I miss that sense now."

Miss Rice's aides said no assistant secretary has been denied access to her, although it is often up to Mr. Gunderson or Mr. Wilkinson to decide whether a request warrants immediate attention.

"There has to be some order and structure," a senior aide said.

Several senior officials - assistant secretaries or equivalent - have lost the only regular direct contact they had with the secretary. …