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Bipartisan Experts Call for Strengthening US State Department

  • Cindy Saine

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department in Washington on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2017.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has pledged to carry out a major reorganization of the U.S. State Department, with the results set to be announced on September 15.

On Wednesday, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, was on hand as several former ambassadors and business leaders launched a report with recommendations for State Department reform at the Atlantic Council research institution. Royce said he has been clear that he does not support deep cuts to the State Department and the Agency for International Development, proposed by the Trump administration.

“When the administration first announced its proposed cuts of over 30 percent, I expressed my concerns and said we should be supporting, not slashing anti-terrorism, law enforcement, humanitarian programs given the growing threats that we face,” he said.

FILE - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.
FILE - House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Time to move quickly

Royce also called on Tillerson to move quickly to fill the many vacant senior positions, both at the State Department and at U.S. embassies across the world, since all but two of the department's 24 bureaus are still headed by acting assistant secretaries.

“The men and women of the department need an effective chain of command in order to implement administration policies and in order to carry out their crucial national security duties,” the secretary said.

Tillerson has come under criticism for supporting President Donald Trump's massive budget cuts to the State Department. Congress has rejected that level of cuts.

The high-ranking group of former ambassadors and business leaders assembled by the Atlantic Council concluded that is essential to bolster the State Department by reducing the number of bureaus and offices and making training for mid-level and senior staff mandatory. Former Ambassador Chester Crocker said the State Department maintains day-to-day relations between the U.S. and 180 countries around the world.

“We cannot afford a weakened State Department. We cannot afford an underfunded, poorly-led, inadequately trained and bureaucratically muscle-bound State Department. We need to strengthen it, restore it and empower it to do better,” he said.

WATCH: Atlantic Council Report

Security a must for department

The Atlantic Council report did not advocate for any certain budget. But a former senior financial officer at the State Department, Brad Higgins, said the main reason that the department's budget has increased in recent years is because diplomatic security costs have skyrocketed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We now spend more securing the State Department than we do running the State Department. That is a discussion we need to have,” Higgins said.

No matter the price tag, with security threats from North Korea, terrorism, and ongoing violence in Afghanistan and other places, the experts agreed that U.S. diplomacy is more crucial than ever in protecting Americans at home and keeping U.S. troops out of harm's way.

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