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Engel Remarks on State Department Authorization

ENGEL REMARKS ON STATE DEPARTMENT AUTHORIZATION

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at a full Committee markup of the Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act of Fiscal Year 2016 (S.1635):

“[Thank you] Mr. Chairman, for holding this markup. This is perhaps the most significant markup since I’ve been Ranking Member of the Committee.  I want to second every word you just uttered.  I think your statement was very, hit it right on the head and I thank you for that statement.

“In the year 2002, in the wake of a horrific terrorist attack, the way our country looked at the world was quickly changing.  But no one could have predicted the way the next years would unfold. 

“A disastrous intervention in the Middle East that toppled a regime and paved the way for a group of extremists even worse than Al-Qaeda; the rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific that has drawn the focus of the Administration; the true extent of the threats of climate change coming into clear focus; the development of new technologies that connect people around the world in ways we’ve never known—for better or worse.

“In the last 14 years, the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century have come into definition.  Our policies, here and around the world, have done their best to keep pace.

“But 14 years ago—14 years ago—was also the last time a State Department authorization bill made it to the President’s desk.  It’s been 14 years since Congress made a top-to-bottom assessment of the way we carry out our diplomacy.  And without assigning blame as to why this hasn’t happened, one thing is sure: we are long overdue to move forward on this bill.

“We need to be taking constant stock of the way the State Department and other agencies are working to advance American leadership and interests around the world.  And we need to be diligent in looking for ways to enhance those efforts. 

“The Defense Department gets reauthorized every single year—the Defense Department—virtually without fail.  We should place no less importance on the agencies whose job it is to prevent conflict and defuse crises.

“As I have said before in this Committee, stopping an ongoing crisis is a much costlier business than preventing one—in terms of American dollars and often American lives.  Our diplomats are some of the most talented people we have working on the frontlines of national security.  If we fail to give diplomacy the tools and resources needed for success, we do so at our peril.

“Furthermore, in my view, if we don’t pass a bill—and this is what the Chairman said and he was so right—if we don’t pass a bill, we put the importance of this Committee at risk.  With great respect for our colleagues on the other Committees that deal with national security, by failing to act on our own oversight responsibilities, we open the door for other Committees to chip away at our jurisdiction.

“And again, this is something that the Chairman and I have worked together on.  We don’t want other Committees raiding our jurisdiction.  So if we pass things like we’re about to do, that shows a great deal of importance in what we’re doing and tells other Committees who might want to poach jurisdiction: go away.

“So I’m glad to support the measure we’re considering today.  I’m grateful to members and staff on both sides for all their hard work. 

“There are a few things in particular, particular I’d like to emphasize as we start this markup.  The first is to remind ourselves—excuse me—that at its core, diplomacy is about people.  Two days ago, the Foreign Service marked its 92nd anniversary.  For nearly a century, some of our most dedicated, courageous Americans have chosen this path of public service.  From consular officers to political counselors to career ambassadors, countless men and women have made their mark in every corner of the globe as our country’s face to the world and that’s a remarkable record.

“And if that century has taught us one thing, it’s that if we want to get our foreign policy right, we need to have the right people making that policy a reality.  We need to have them in the right places at the right times, and we need to make sure they can do their jobs with confidence in their security.

“Diplomacy can be a dangerous business, and we’ve, as we’ve seen too many times.  Our diplomats understand that.  But they also know that you cannot conduct diplomacy from inside a bunker.  If we’re serious about making progress on issues such as climate change, human rights, violent extremism, and public health, our diplomats need to do much more than just meet with government officials.  To deal with the complex issues that weave a modern foreign policy, we need to practice diplomacy from the bottom up, engaging with people and communities in a way that we wouldn’t have considered a generation ago. 

“That’s why this bill focuses on the security of our embassies and proper training of our personnel.  This bill allows the State Department to hire local protection for our embassies on the basis of best value rather than lowest cost.  In my view, if we’re hiring people who we’re sure will keep our diplomats safe, there’s a great deal of value in that, even if the dollars-and-cents cost is a little more.  I want to thank Representative Frankel for her work on this provision.

“The bill also authorizes funding to improve the security of so-called ‘soft targets’—not typical diplomatic facilities, but things like schools and school buses for the children of diplomats abroad.  So with this bill, we’re doing more to focus on the people who make up our State Department.

“And while we’re focused on people, we also want the State Department to reflect who we are as a country.  Our foreign service should look the way America looks: people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives.  America’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths.  And as our face to the world, our diplomatic corps should reflect that strength.

“Diversity is also more about, more than practicing what we preach.  Bringing together a diverse workforce means bringing together more ideas and different points of view when our leaders face tough decisions.  The challenges we face are too complex for us to lean on old ways of thinking or close our eyes to new approaches.

“So we’ve included in this bill a number of provisions to encourage the Department to recruit, train, and retain a diverse workforce.  We’ve seen a lot of reporting that the State Department has been slow to change in these areas, and hopefully these measures will speed the Department in the right direction.

“And lastly, I want to thank Chairman Royce for including my Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission legislation in this bill.  We’re facing an unprecedented heroin epidemic, so we need to make sure our drug policy is focused on saving lives.  On the domestic side, we need to do much more on prevention and treatment.  My provision will allow us to look outward and take stock of what has worked and what hasn’t when it comes to our drug policy in Latin America and the Caribbean.  So I’m grateful this measure is moving forward.

“And I’m grateful for all the creative and forward-looking ideas that have gone into this bill.  I look forward to continuing to work on it.  I’m very proud of this Committee—members on both sides of the aisle—in acting on this long do, overdue legislation.   I’m very proud of the bipartisanship that we’ve shown on this Committee.  I’m very proud of Chairman Royce’s leadership.  And I want to thank all the members on both sides of the aisle for their cooperation.  I thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I yield back.”

Background:

Last month, the Senate passed S.1635, the Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act.  Today, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved an amended version of this legislation.

The last time the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed an authorizing bill for the State Department was in 2013. The last time an authorizing bill for the State Department was signed into law was 2002.