Print

Engel Remarks on State Department Authorization

ENGEL REMARKS ON STATE DEPARTMENT AUTHORIZATION

- As Delivered - Click Here for Video

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today released the following statement in support of the Department of State Authorities Act (House Amendment to S.1635) on the House floor:

“Mr. Speaker, I, I rise in support of this bill and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  Let me start by thanking my friend and our chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce of California.  He and I and our staffs have been working on this bill for most of the 114th Congress.  This may be the last Foreign Affairs bill the House will deal with this year, and it’s an appropriate capstone for this Committee’s work.

“Authorizing and overseeing the State Department is one of our Committee’s most important responsibilities.  As the Obama Administration comes to an end and we deal with the uncertainties of a transition in power, it’s important that Congress help to set the tone for the future of our foreign policy.  We need to do all we can to ensure the future of America’s leadership role in the world.

“This bill is also long, long overdue as the chairman pointed out.  The last time the President signed a State Department authorization was in the year 2002.  So much has changed since then, from the invasion of Iraq and subsequent rise of ISIS, to the ascendance of the Asia-Pacific in our foreign policy, to the growing threat of climate change.

“Think about the way terrorist groups use social media to recruit fighters and spread, spread propaganda.  This has become a major foreign-policy concern.  Yet the last time we passed a State Department authorization, Twitter and Facebook were still a few years from coming online.  Imagine that.  That’s just one example. 

“In nearly 15 years, countless issues have cropped up as new foreign-policy concerns, and traditional areas of diplomacy and development have evolved.  This bill will help the State Department keep pace with the changes.

“I’d like to underscore a few provisions in this bill that I think are especially important.  The main thing I want to talk about is the heart and soul of American diplomacy—our diplomats.  Our diplomats are at the core of this bill.  We want them to have the tools and resources for success.

“These men and women pursue a path of public service unlike any other, going to work—sometimes in dangerous places—as America’s face to the world.  Diplomats are our front line of international engagement, advancing our interests and building bridges of friendship and understanding.  This is incredibly important work.  It requires the right people for the job, people with the skill, training, and confidence to carry out their work.

“We need to do all we can to, all we can to enable our diplomats to carry out diplomacy.  They need to be able to get out from behind a desk and engage directly with cultures and communities, from government officials to civil society groups to everyday people on the street.

“So we’ve included provisions in this bill focused on the security of our embassies and proper training of our personnel. 

“We need the best possible security for our embassies and diplomats abroad, and good security doesn’t always come cheap.  This bill says that when the State Department hires local personnel to protect our diplomatic facilities and staff, they shouldn’t be constrained only to take the lowest cost bid. 

“After all, the rule is generally true that you get what you pay for, and when it comes to the safety of our diplomats, we should be focused on quality, in addition to cost.  So we’ve included a provision that calls for the best value security, rather than the lowest cost.  There’s a lot of value in keeping our diplomats safe, and I want to thank Representative Lois Frankel for her work on this provision.

“With this bill, we’re also focused on improving the security of what we call ‘soft targets’—not typical diplomatic facilities, but things like schools and school buses for the children of diplomats, diplomats abroad.

“It’s also important that the State Department reflect who we are as a country.  America is made up of people from all different backgrounds and perspectives.  Our diversity is one of our strengths.  Our foreign service should benefit from that strength and reflect it back to the world.

“We also need to incorporate that strength into our foreign policy.  A diverse workforce means a diversity of views and experiences to aid our leaders when they face tough decisions.  Old ways of thinking and worn-out approaches aren’t well suited to the modern challenges, modern range of challenges, our diplomats face.

“So this bill will push the Department to recruit, train, and retain a diverse workforce.  Reports tell us that the State Department has been slow to change in these areas, and so we want to give those efforts a shot in the arm.

“Additionally, I want to thank Chairman Royce for including my Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission legislation in this bill.  The heroin epidemic in this country is getting worse and worse.  We need to make sure that our drug policy is focused on saving lives.  Here at home, that means doing more on prevention and treatment.

“Looking abroad, we need to take stock of what has worked and what hasn’t when it comes to our drug policy in Latin America and the Caribbean.  That’s what this Commission will do, and I’m grateful this measure is moving forward.

“That idea—taking stock of our successes and failures—brings me to a final, a few final thoughts on this bill.  Even though Congress has a role in foreign policy, we’re outside the day-to-day decision-making structures. 

“That outside perspective gives us, gives us a chance to step back and ask, ‘What can we be doing better?  Where can we cut away dead wood?  What changes going on in the world require us to change our approach?’

“Our State Department personnel may have great new ideas about the way to advance our interests, but they’re constrained by existing law or bogged down in the constant hard work demanded of them.  And let’s be honest, by their nature, bureaucracies tend not to change on their own.

“That’s when Congress needs to step in and say, ‘We can help to solve this problem.  We can make it easier for our diplomats to do their jobs.’

“The thing is: we have to actually do that.  We should try to pass a bill like this every year.  It should become the way we do business, just like the Defense Authorization.

“Because when we don’t, we’re letting our diplomats down.  We’re also ceding their work to other jurisdictions.  And, we’re missing opportunities to bolster American diplomacy and national security.

“Last week, we voted on the Defense Authorization Act.  It included 80 provisions that fell, at least in part, under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee when it landed on the President’s desk. 

“I respect our friends on the Armed Services Committee a great deal, and I hear the message loud and clear that if we don’t act in our own jurisdiction, someone else will.

“So I’m encouraged that we’ve made it this far on this bill.  I hope it becomes a regular part of our Committee’s work and that a year from now we’re back here debating more good ideas about improving American diplomacy.

“For now, I thank the chairman again.  I’m glad to support this bill.  I urge all my colleagues to do the same.  And I reserve the balance of my time.”