WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following opening remarks Monday at a Committee hearing on State Department reauthorization legislation, and reorganization planning by the Trump Administration:
“This is an extremely important hearing, the review of the State Department reauthorization bill for FY 2018 as well as the State Department’s reorganization plans.
“Chairman Corker has laid out what both of us feel very passionately about, and that is Congress has a responsibility to authorize the programs at the State Department, and it’s the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that needs to do that work. We watch what the Armed Services Committee does with the National Defense Authorization Act, which is a very important bill, and we recognize that a lot of issues that should come through this Committee, we need to look at the NDAA bill in order to try and get a vehicle to get those issues into statute.
We should have our own opportunity to do that, and under Chairman Corker’s leadership we were able to get an important bill done in the last Congress, and we look forward to your help in establishing that principle.
“So, the draft legislation we’re looking at deals with the organization of the Department of State. It deals with embassy construction, it deals with personnel issues, diversity, information security, public diplomacy, anti-corruption, and other related issues. It’s more ambitious than the bill we had the last time, and it keeps building on what we believe is the appropriate role, but we do need your help.
“Now, it is complicated because there is a new Administration, and there is also a listening tour going on, and a reorganization going on. So you have committed to us, Congress, this Committee, that we will be a part of that consultation as you look at the reorganization of the Department of State. How we handle the State authorization needs to be consistent with Congressional input into the reorganization. So that presents an additional challenge.
“When we had the hearing on this year’s TIP report, I went over the fact that there had been press reports that Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration were being considered for transfer to the Department of Homeland Security, or being abolished, and raised serious questions as to whether that was advisable.
“We also know there is the discussion of whether USAID would maintain its quasi-independence. These are issues that obviously this Committee has great interest in, and as we look at State authorization and reorganization, it’s important that we understand how these issues are being contemplated.
“And then we have an area that has be greatly concerned, the reduction of the workforce by attrition. To me, that is a non-strategic way to reduce the numbers at the State Department based upon who retires, and could very well compromise the ability of the State Department to carry out its mission.
“I’m not going to labor the point, we all know about the budget that was submitted by the Trump Administration, that would very seriously compromise the ability of the United States to maintain its global leadership on diplomacy. I do mention there is, in that budget, the elimination of development assistance at USAID, the elimination of economic support, and putting it into a new category of development assistance and economic support but at 40 percent lower funds. So as we’re looking at authorization it’s important that we understand what’s going on here because it doesn’t seem to add up to what we think are important issues.
“Lastly, let me mention the area of diversity. Diversity is a matter that is critically important for the State Department to carry out its mission. If you don’t have a diversified, talented workforce, it’s virtually impossible for America to have maximum impact around all parts of the world. So we want to help you on that effort, but when you look at what happened with the Pickering and Rangel fellows, that causes us some concern as to what is the commitment in the State Department to maintain that flow of talent in a diversified workforce. So yes, we will deal with that in State Department authorization, but we would like to work with you to make sure that we in fact have that type of talented workforce at the Department of State.
“I look forward to your testimony and I look forward to our discussion.”