State official seeks to allay concerns over agency overhaul


The State Department's second in command, John Sullivan, sought Monday to allay fears that a plan to reorganize the agency will lead to an upheaval of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that major decisions, such as transferring key operations to the Department of Homeland Security, have not been made.

But Democrats on the committee remained skeptical given the drastic cuts to the budgets of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development that the Trump administration has proposed. The reductions, which Congress has yet to approve, have stoked concerns that a far-reaching overhaul, involving job cuts, program eliminations and the expected consolidation of many offices in the agency's sprawling bureaucracy are a foregone conclusion.

But Sullivan gamely argued otherwise. He said there is no intention of folding the independent U.S. Agency for International Development into the State Department. He told members of the committee that USAID is well represented in internal department discussions on the reorganization and that he understands and respects USAID's different mission, culture and skill sets.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he found the possibility of making USAID part of the State Department alarming.

He called the reorganization effort an "ill defined" process that "thus far seems to be no more than an exercise in undermining and pushing out career diplomats."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she would oppose any attempt to move the State Department's bureaus for refugee admissions programs and consular affairs to Homeland Security. Sullivan said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "does not have at present that intention." But Sullivan also said if those moves are raised during the reorganization review, "we would consider" them.

More than three dozen former diplomats and national security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations have urged Tillerson to retain the department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. They said they were reacting to a leaked proposal from the White House Domestic Policy Council to shift the office to Homeland Security.

Homeland Security, the former officials told Tillerson in a letter released Monday, "has neither the international staffing infrastructure nor the expertise to identify refugee groups in need of protection or resettlement, nor to understand the diplomatic consequences or opportunities to leverage resettlement for U.S. foreign policy interests."

Among those who signed the July 16 letter were William Burns, who served as deputy secretary of state and envoy to Russia during the Obama administration, and William H. Taft IV, who held high ranking posts at the State and Defense departments during the George W. Bush administration. Leaders of 18 humanitarian organizations also signed the letter.

"We are convinced that the elimination of PRM's assistance functions would have profound and negative implications for the Secretary of State's capacity to influence policy issues of key concern to the United States," they wrote. "It would also be ironic, as this is one of the bureaus at State that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over many years."

A survey commissioned by the State Department also recommended moving State's responsibilities for issuing passports, visas, and other travel documents to Homeland Security. Those duties are currently handled by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, one of the largest parts of the State Department.

The survey, conducted by a private consulting firm, was ordered in late April by Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO. Tillerson was brought into Trump's administration in part due to his experience running a massive organization, and he was given a mission to reorganize the State Department.

Tillerson has largely accepted the administration's plans to slash diplomatic and development funding, although he faces intense bipartisan opposition in Congress, which will likely reverse at least some of his proposed 31-percent cut in funding.

Trump wanted to cut almost $17 billion from the foreign aid budget, but House Republicans countered last week with a reduction of $10 billion. The $47 billion foreign aid measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee spared Israel and Egypt and exempted the budget for protecting U.S. embassies overseas.

___

Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Bill could cut defense jobs around Ohio; not Wright-Patt, Turner says
Bill could cut defense jobs around Ohio; not Wright-Patt, Turner says

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said Wednesday a House Republican measure that could threaten civilian defense jobs in other parts of the state won’t impact Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “None of the agencies impacted” are headquartered at the state’s largest single-site employer, Turner said. Central Ohio civic and business...
Solutions from local opioid forums presented to state leaders
Solutions from local opioid forums presented to state leaders

Proposed solutions to Ohio’s addiction crisis that grew out of a collaboration between journalists and local communities will be presented to Gov. John Kasich’s office. Through a series of community forums, including five in southwest Ohio in February, journalists with Your Voice Ohio heard from an estimated 500 individuals who have been...
What is State Issue 1 on the May ballot?
What is State Issue 1 on the May ballot?

On May 8, Ohio voters will decide on major changes to how Ohio draws district lines for members of Congress. The issue, put on the ballot by the General Assembly by a bi-partisan vote of 83-10 in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate, is supposed to create a fairer process. After every census, Ohio lawmakers change the state’s congressional...
Gov. Kasich orders review of Ohio gun background check program
Gov. Kasich orders review of Ohio gun background check program

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order Monday to get an update on weaknesses in the state’s gun background-check system. Failure by local courts and law enforcement to send timely data to the state, which forwards it to National Instant Criminal Background Check System, could mean guns are being purchased by people who are ineligible...
Guns, minimum wage top issues in Democratic governor primary
Guns, minimum wage top issues in Democratic governor primary

Four years ago, Ohio Democrats pushed hard for a gubernatorial candidate who looked good on paper and found one: Ed FitzGerald. The campaign was soon run aground by scandal — including news reports that he had been questioned by police after they found him in a parked car in the early morning hours with a woman who was not his wife — and...
More Stories