Tillerson’s No. 2 Denies Turmoil at State Department

Tillerson’s No. 2 Denies Turmoil at State Department

In a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Monday evening, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan parried blows on the administration’s proposals to reorganize the State Department and gut the diplomacy and foreign aid budget.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) slammed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s proposed 31 percent cut to the $47 billion combined budget for State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), saying it would “very seriously compromise the ability of the United States to maintain its global leadership on diplomacy.”

Tillerson has coupled the budget cuts with a massive effort to reorganize the State Department, which also drew fire from Democrats. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) bashed the reorganization drive as “an ill defined process that thus far seems to be no more than an exercise in undermining and pushing out career diplomats.”

Most veteran diplomats and lawmakers agree the department is in sore need of reform. But the State Department’s skeleton crew of leaders, controversial reform ideas, and proposed cuts have unnerved rank-and-file diplomats in Foggy Bottom.

Sullivan, however, denied a decision had been made to fold USAID into the State Department. The proposal, first reported by Foreign Policy in April, is one of the most controversial reforms the administration has floated.

“There is no intention to fold [USAID] into State,” Sullivan said. “That has been proposed by people outside the department. It is something that could be considered,” he said, but only with “full input” from from USAID and State first.

Other proposed reforms include nixing a slew of “special envoy” posts that proliferated under previous administrations and closing several functional bureaus, including the State Department war crimes office, cybersecurity office, and Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

In response to reports the White House was mulling moving PRM into the Department of Homeland Security, 40 former top diplomats, officials, and human rights leaders signed an open letter urging Tillerson not to go forward with the plan. DHS “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,” the signatories wrote.

Tillerson kickstarted the reorganization process with a months-long “listening tour” of the department, which included an internal survey that some 35,000 employees filled out.

Sullivan is in charge of the next phase, which involves reviewing input from the listening tour. The State Department will submit a final assessment of how to reorganize itself to Congress by Sept. 15.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images