MIL-OSI USA: SFRC Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on State of the State Department and State Department Authorization

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US Senate News:

Source: United States Senator for New Jersey Bob Menendez
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing on the state of the State Department and State Department authorization. Testifying before the Committee was the Honorable Brian McKeon, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. 

“Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today. As this Committee continues to seek to restore its position of conducting robust oversight, we greatly appreciate your willingness, like that of Secretary Blinken, to come before us for hearings,” Chairman Menendez said. “I think there is now broad and bipartisan consensus that we have reached a crisis point, and there is a bipartisan desire to address the core structural and resource issues that have too long plagued the Department. With the Department being led by people such as yourself who have dedicated so much of their careers to government service, I have been hoping to see a necessary effort to undertake a systematic reform and modernization effort.”

 
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Chairman Menendez also expressed his interest in hearing testimony about the Department’s reported plans to create a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy and appoint a Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology.
 
“As you well know, we are facing a new era of international cooperation and competition on cyber and technology issues,” Chairman Menendez added. “Real systematic change in how the United States responds to digital innovation will require swift institutional adaptation, and I believe these new structures are the right first steps.”
 
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
 
“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
 
Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today. As this Committee continues to seek to restore its position of conducting robust oversight, we greatly appreciate your willingness, like that of Secretary Blinken, to come before us for hearings. That is refreshing.
 
Let me also acknowledge that you and Secretary Blinken inherited a damaged and depleted State Department. As I documented in a Committee Report last year – Diplomacy in Crisis – the last Administration’s repeated assault on State Department personnel, management, and resources were, in my view, unconscionable, and dangerous for long term U.S. foreign policy interests. When you assumed your position, morale was at its lowest point in decades. Confidence in leadership had decayed. Key bureaus had been gutted.
 
In fairness, however, the institutional, budgetary, and morale problems of the Department are the result of many years, multiple administrations, and, yes, congressional action and inaction as well. 
 
I think there is now broad and bipartisan consensus that we have reached a crisis point, and there is a bipartisan desire to address the core structural and resource issues that have too long plagued the Department.
 
With the Department being led by people such as yourself who have dedicated so much of their careers to government service, I have been hoping to see a necessary effort to undertake a systematic reform and modernization effort.  
 
So today I look forward to hearing specifics: What is your thinking about reforming and modernizing the Department? Where do you see opportunities to ensure that resources are aligned with the Department’s mission? What are you doing to address the morale crisis, and stem the loss of talented Foreign Service and civil service officers? As the Administration continues to deemphasize our military presence around the world, where is the necessary diplomatic counterweight? 
 
There are a number of other specific issues that I hope you will address today.
 
First, I hope you will address State’s role in the Afghanistan evacuation. There is no doubt that Department personnel performed heroically, but, arguably had the Department been better positioned and structured to get ahead of some of the issues– particularly processing Afghan SIVs, P1s and P2s – the heroism wouldn’t have been necessary.
 
Much like in the early days of the COVID pandemic when tens of thousands of American citizens were stranded around the world, while State Department personnel ultimately performed herculean tasks to launch a successful repatriation effort, it took weeks of heavy lifting and congressional pressure, and suggests the Department needs to fundamentally alter institutional structures to deal with emergency contingencies, planning, and operations.
 
I would also like to hear your plans to address a longstanding priority of mine: significantly expanding diversity at the Department, including long-overdue improvements in recruitment and retention. Study after study has shown that a more diverse workforce leads to better decisions and outcomes for institutions. It is essential for the State Department as an institution that represents our country to the world that we represent our values as a nation in celebrating all Americans. 
 
I would also like to hear your thinking on how the United States can best position ourselves to counter China in the conduct of diplomacy around the globe. China now has more diplomats, more missions, more concerted public diplomacy, and more money for its diplomacy than we do. In parts of Africa and Latin America we are being badly out-lapped. And the holdup of confirming Ambassadors by this body is certainly also hampering U.S. foreign policy objectives to be competitive with China. 
 
Relatedly, I also hope you will also address staffing and resource shortages that hamper our diplomacy. For example, a recent State Department Inspector General report found that the Africa Bureau has faced persistent staffing shortages, and that the Department has not appropriately prioritized the Bureau’s needs. Critical posts such as our embassy in Niger lacked a political and economic officer for months.
 
And I look forward to hearing about the Department’s plans to create a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy and a Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology. As you well know, we are facing a new era of international cooperation and competition on cyber and technology issues. Real systematic change in how the United States responds to digital innovation will require swift institutional adaptation, and I believe these new structures are the right first steps. 
 
Finally, I would like to hear from you on the Department’s response to so-called anomalous health incidents, or what some of us call ‘Havana Syndrome.’ For years, the Department did not take this seriously, stigmatizing those who reported incidents, and failed to get those affected prompt treatment. I appreciate that you and the Secretary have prioritized this issue and I know you are committed to protecting our personnel, but the Department’s response continues to fall short of what we owe our personnel and their families. We look forward to hearing specifics.
 
It is a broad agenda, but that is the nature of the undertaking that you have.
 
With that, Mr. Secretary, let me turn things over to the Ranking Member for his statement.”

MIL OSI USA News