The Secretary announces that President Obama has designated Ambassador D. Kathleen Stephens as the Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs pending the Senate’s confirmation of the President’s nominee, Tara Sonenshine. Ambassador Stephens will begin work on February 6, 2012, and will exercise all of the authorities of the office for the duration of this designation.
Tara's nomination remains in limbo as we wait for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to refer her to the floor. Maybe there will be a business meeting next week to move her to the next step, along with several Ambassadorial nominees. However, the real challenge is not the Committee but the floor of the Senate where the general sense is few if any confirmations will be allowed in the current less-than-bipartisan environment. Hence, the appointment of Stephens as Acting Under Secretary.
Amb. Stephens was most recently the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.
For more on the unencumbered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs), see "R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)." Unless there is some surprise in the Senate, perhaps a Valentine's Day gift (to both Tara to give her the office and Amb. Stephens to relieve her of it), this Under Secretary position will have been empty, or not encumbered by person confirmed by the Senate to the position, for 1 out of every 3 days since the position was established in 1999. The question will be how much more than 1/3 the time will the seat be vacant (no slight to Amb. Stephens intended)?
Note: Amb. Stephens's bio at state.gov hasn't been updated in a while. In fact, "outofdate" is actually in the current URL of her bio: http://www.state.gov/outofdate/bios/109797.htm