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Engel Remarks on State Department Reorganization

Sep 26, 2017
Press Release

- As Delivered – 

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a committee hearing at which Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan testified on the Trump Administration’s planned reorganization of the Department of State.

“Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for calling this hearing.

“And Mr. Deputy Secretary, welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you for your service and for your time this morning.

“I was grateful that you hosted the Chairman and myself at the State Department yesterday to discuss your reorganization effort. I’m going to raise some of the same concerns this morning that I mentioned to you yesterday.

“There’s no doubt that the State Department—and all our federal agencies—should be as effective as possible to address the challenges and to seize the opportunities we’re facing.  This Committee has taken some steps to modernize our foreign affairs agencies, including last year’s State Department authorities bill. There are plenty of good ideas that could bring the State Department, USAID, and our foreign policy into the 21st century. With the Department and Congress working in a bipartisan way, I believe we could get there.

“But I was troubled that the apparent first step in the reorganization process was the announcement of a 32 percent cut to our international affairs budget. I know we discussed it yesterday and I will try to ask you to repeat some of the things you said a bit more optimistic about that. In my view, I worry about starting with the budget and then finding the reforms is doing things in reverse. To me, it makes more sense to first lay out a vision for what modernization looks like; to set clear priorities; to bring in our diplomats, development professionals, and other experts; and then to determine the right budget to get the job done. So I hope in your testimony and afterwards, you’ll mention some of the things that you mentioned to use yesterday; you’ll clarify why the decision was made to start with the dollar figure and work backwards from there.

“I worry about the reorganization process. I want it to be more transparent and collaborative. I don’t think that goes against what anything you told us yesterday. The Department has called this an employee-driven process, and I have no doubt that the career employees involved in the exercise have totally honorable intentions. But I understand that those involved are not allowed to discuss the plans with their colleagues, and that the private-sector consultants brought on have kept tight control over documents related to the plan. The Administration committed to this Committee that there would consultation with Congress every step of the way. And obviously, we still have more questions. So I hope we can talk about some of that today.

“And overall, I must ask, what is the goal of the process? What’s the Trump Administration’s vision for American foreign policy, for America’s role in the world, for how the State Department fits into that vision, and for how this process will make the State Department more effective?

“The only consistent answer that we’ve gotten is that the Department is ‘finding efficiencies.’ And I worry that when this Administration talks about efficiency, that it’s just not a code for budget cuts.  Cost-savings that undermine effectiveness certainly aren’t efficient. In the long run, they make America less safe.

“And as the Department focuses on redesign, I worry the critical day-to-day work of diplomacy is suffering.

“Far too many senior positions—we talked about this again yesterday—remain vacant, depriving the Department of leadership and making it harder for allies and adversaries alike to know who to call—and who’s calling the shots—in Washington. So I wish you could explain some of that today.

“Overseas, our diplomats’ jobs are getting harder, because they can’t know if established American foreign policy will be reversed. Morale at the Department continues to suffer, as senior career officials flock to the exits. Reports continue to surface of an insular group surrounding the Secretary, uninterested in the input and expertise of our most seasoned professionals.

“Taken together, America’s credibility around the world is wobbling. Our leadership on the global stage seems to be waning. And, most importantly, without a strong, functional State Department with a clear foreign policy vision, our interests, values, and security are increasingly at risk.

“And let me be clear: I do support modernizing the State Department. I want to see it leading and directing American foreign policy. Civilian leadership at the center of national-security policy is integral to our democracy at home and to our leadership abroad.

“For years, Congress has sat on the sidelines when it comes to the State Department. And what do we have to show for it? Antiquated IT systems; personnel shortages that make it harder to address crises or allow for professional development; traditional responsibilities of the Department moving to other agencies like the Pentagon, distracting from its core diplomatic mission. I’m glad that the President sees the necessity for more funds for DoD, but we don’t want it at the expense of the State Department, the expense of diplomacy, the expense of making sure embassies are safe.

“In 2020, the Foreign Service Act will be 40 years old. It was written during the Cold War and the world has changed.  We do need to modernize the Department. That’s why I’ve instructed my staff to consult with former diplomats, civil servants, and other experts to begin thinking about what State should look like for the next 40 years. I would value the input of any member of this Committee as we move forward.

“And again, Mr. Deputy Secretary, I look forward to your testimony and I hope you can shed some additional light on this process.”

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