Letter By Appropriations Vice Chair Patrick Leahy And Other Senators To Secretary Of State Tillerson, Warning About Effects Of Slashing Cuts To The State Department
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
Your thoughtful opening remarks to Department of State personnel on February 2, and extensive executive experience gave hope that you would effectively lead the Department and its many talented professionals through this otherwise turbulent transition amid a host of pressing international challenges. However, we write today out of concern that the Department of State is experiencing significant management challenges, being cut out of important Administration foreign policy decisions, and facing potentially devastating budget cuts that would severely undermine U.S. diplomatic leadership and weaken national security.
Every day we see a Department whose proper functioning is critical to safeguarding our national security, but which appears unable to respond to the myriad foreign policy challenges facing our nation. Just last week we noted with dismay that you did not participate in the release of the Department's annual Human Rights Report - a critically important document that expresses core American values and gives hope to those struggling for freedom and democracy around the world.
Furthermore, as of today, the Senate is still waiting to receive the nominations for all of the State
Department's senior management or policy officials. Indeed, there instead appears to be an
effort to reduce personnel without a plan to replace or reorganize the Department in the context
of such changes. For example, while the senior management staff seems to have been summarily
dismissed, more cuts reportedly are in the works and we are not aware of a plan or replacements
to adjust to the loss of these employees.
We are also deeply concerned that President Trump's proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget will
severely hamper the ability of the Department of State to carry out its mission and undercut U.S.
leadership around the world. The entire State and Foreign Operations budget, within which the
Department is funded, is only 1.5 percent of the federal budget. Yet it funds our key diplomatic
operations around the world, helping to promote American interests and values, prevent conflict,
maintain critical awareness of ongoing international events, strengthen our economy, and support
Americans working, studying, traveling, and serving abroad. As retired General Colin Powell
told the Senate during his tenure as Secretary of State, "State Department and Related Agencies
programs and initiatives are critical to the conduct of America's foreign policy .. .. As a soldier, I
can tell you that such [State Department staff] high morale, combined with superb training and
adequate resources, is the key to a first-class offense-and that is what our men and women are,
the first line of offense for America."
Finally, the State Department is the world's premier diplomatic agency, with an unmatched
depth of expertise, and yet today it is difficult to discern what role it is playing in our nation's
foreign policy. For example, the Department has reportedly been excluded from calls and
meetings with key foreign leaders, and critical policy discussions are occurring without
meaningful input from the Department of State.
We are deeply concerned that without active remediation the situation at the Department could
soon reach a "tipping point," after which the Department's ability to function effectively will be
severely eroded, with long-term consequences for America's role in the world. We trust that you
would agree that such a situation would represent a grave setback to the ability of the United
States to effectively safeguard its national security interests in a turbulent world, and would
create real risks for the American people. We stand ready to work with you to address the
challenges you face, and to ensure the Department of State has the resources and support it needs
to carry out its vital mission.
Richard J. Durbin
David Carle: 202-224-3693
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