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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the House of Representatives on the conference report to accompany S. 2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017:                               

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding to me.  I support the Defense Authorization bill.  Our men and women in uniform are the greatest fighting force in the world, and they deserve our unwavering support.  And I thank Chairman Thornberry and Ranking Member Smith for their hard work on this year’s effort.

“But I oppose the rule because this bill could be made better—not by expanding it, but by taking out parts that don’t belong there in the first place.

“Year after year, Congress has placed more and more diplomatic prerogatives under the military’s purview.  There are 80 provisions from the House and Senate bills in the conference report that cross into the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  As that Committee’s Ranking Member, I’m grateful to my friend Mr. Smith of Washington.  We’ve worked together to improve these parts of the bill.

“But different agencies have different responsibilities and capabilities.  That’s why different committees oversee these issues.

“We would never ask a group of Foreign Service Officers to carry out a targeted strike on an enemy.  That’s not their job.  So why would we assign diplomatic functions to those who are already handling the tall order of protecting and defending us?

“Take the Asia Maritime Security Initiative, a program seeking greater collaboration among our Asian partners to solve maritime disputes peacefully.  This is the sort of effort that our diplomats are trained to deal with.  It takes time and precision and patience to develop interest among governments and ramp up capacity.  But the Pentagon moved ahead without the State Department, and DOD’s approach was like performing surgery with a hacksaw. 

“The Philippines and Vietnam were slow to come onboard.  That’s where, I believe, careful diplomacy would have paid off.  Instead, DOD threw money at the problem.  The Philippines didn’t want the money, and they weren’t ready to absorb it.  So the effort fell apart, and now, in a difficult time in American-Philippines relations, we have a gaping hole in our maritime security strategy.

“This should be a lesson learned.  But instead, this bill will put even more diplomatic responsibility in military hands. 

“For instance, this bill diverts Defense Department dollars to the Global Engagement Center—the GEC.  It’s a State Department program focused on countering violent extremist propaganda overseas.  The goal of this provision is worthwhile, but the way it’s written ignores overwhelming advice from experts in the field and our public diplomacy officials already hard at work in Foggy Bottom. Instead of building on what we already know from years of countering propaganda, it says DOD should decide how much money to give to a State Department program. 

“Mr. Speaker, that’s just bad policy.  And that example just scratches the surface.

“So I support the underlying bill because it’s good for our military.  But I don’t support this rule and I did not sign the conference report because I have deep concerns that the line between our military and diplomatic efforts is blurring.  We’ll be back here in a year, and I hope at that time we’ll pass a Defense Authorization that deals just with defense.

“I yield back and again I thank the gentleman for yielding to me.”