May 03, 2022

Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing: “State Department Authorization: Strengthening U.S. Diplomacy for the 21st Century”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s Committee hearing: “State Department Authorization: Strengthening U.S. Diplomacy for the 21st Century.” Testifying before the Committee was the Honorable Brian McKeon, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

“The Department of State has come a long way from its humble beginnings when Thomas Jefferson had a staff of six and only two diplomatic posts. And when the Department of State lives up to its aspirations – and the aspirations of the American people – it sets a standard other U.S. government agencies and departments must strive to meet as well,” Chairman Menendez said. “As recent world events have reminded us, we need our diplomats and development professionals on the ground to advance our national interests, to counter Russia and China, to support threatened democracies, and to strengthen alliances. These are not abstract priorities. They matter. When we have a strong presence in place, the U.S., and the world, are better for it.”

The Chairman also commended the public servants bringing the Department up-to-date to face the challenges of the twenty-first century and the Biden administration’s push to modernize and increase diversity, for which he has long advocated.

“From the shores of Alaska and New Jersey, to the ranches of Idaho and the border town of Detroit – we must draw on America’s extraordinary range of backgrounds and perspectives to advance our nation’s interests abroad. Naming the first ever Chief Diversity?and Inclusion Officer was a good start,” Chairman Menendez added. “But it is not enough to simply recruit an incredible workforce; we must also retain it with professional training, expanding incentives, and modernizing the promotion process. … The American people, and our nation’s foreign policy, benefit when we can work together.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today.

Before we get to the regular work of the Committee, I want to take a moment to recognize an important day in history. It is a day on which we are blessed to have Senator Risch in our lives. It is his birthday.

[Sings ‘Happy Birthday.’]

It is refreshing to have the Department’s engagement and partnership as we look forward toward putting together this year’s State Department Authorization bill.

As you know, last December, Congress passed the first State Authorization bill in nearly two decades. It was not an easy task.

And I want to commend the Ranking Member, and his staff, for partnering in that process.

It was a truly bipartisan accomplishment, supported by nearly every member on the Committee. And I look forward to replicating that this year.

The American people, and our nation’s foreign policy, benefit when we can work together.

As we have discussed before, when Secretary Blinken, you, and other senior officials took your positions last year, you inherited a damaged, neglected, and underfunded Department.

Morale was low. The expertise needed for successful, effective diplomacy was leaving. The pipeline of new Foreign Service Officers was languishing. Critical bureaus had been gutted.

Our ability to promote and to protect our interests and our values had been decimated.

As recent world events have reminded us, we need our diplomats and development professionals on the ground to advance our national interests, to counter Russia and China, to support threatened democracies, and to strengthen alliances.

These are not abstract priorities. They matter. When we have a strong presence in place, the U.S., and the world, are better for it.

So, I very much appreciate the efforts now underway to address years of under-investment.

Restoring and rebuilding critical bureaus. Creating new offices like the Cyber Bureau.

I want to commend the incredible public servants bringing the Department up-to-date to face the challenges of the twenty-first century. Even during the trying times of a global pandemic.

In particular, I want to applaud the Department’s push to modernize and increase diversity – something I have long advocated for.

From the shores of Alaska and New Jersey, to the ranches of Idaho and the border town of Detroit – we must draw on America’s extraordinary range of backgrounds and perspectives to advance our nation’s interests abroad.

Naming the first ever Chief Diversity?and Inclusion Officer was a good start.

All Americans should have the opportunity to serve and represent our country on the global stage. A disability should not be an obstacle in accessing or working at our embassies. 

Adding as many as two-hundred paid internships beginning this fall semester is another positive step that will remove barriers for students who might not be able to afford working in an unpaid position.

I also support the Department’s forward-looking Equity Plans, including the announcement of a Special Representative focused on Racial Equity.

I support Consular Affairs officers offering passports with inclusive gender markers. And I support diplomats engaging with underrepresented communities worldwide.

It is also vital that the Department modernize its recruitment process to attract a talented, top-notch workforce.

So it is heartening that after years in which applications were declining under your leadership, the Department is now on pace for the largest annual hiring of Foreign Service Officers in a decade.

But it is not enough to simply recruit an incredible workforce; we must also retain it with professional training, expanding incentives, and modernizing the promotion process.

So today I hope to hear from you on what additional authorities or resources you think the Department needs to continue these rebuilding and modernization efforts.

I can’t promise we will deliver on all your asks. There may be some where we have different views.

But I know that the Ranking Member and I, and all Members of this Committee, are committed to working with you in a constructive manner as we put together – and pass into law – this year’s State Department Authorization bill.

Let me close by saying that the Department of State has come a long way from its humble beginnings when Thomas Jefferson had a staff of six and only two diplomatic posts.

And when the Department of State lives up to its aspirations – and the aspirations of the American people – it sets a standard other U.S. government agencies and departments must strive to meet as well.

This is a time for action to make sure that the Department of State is aiming for excellence.

The Administration has been in office for over a year now. The clock is ticking. We can’t wait any longer. Congress, and this Committee, are standing by to work with you as a constructive partner.

We want to see results. The American people want results. I believe the future of United States foreign policy depends on it.

Finally, as Russia’s unprovoked war rages in Ukraine and the Administration is requesting billions of dollars more in assistance, which I support, I look forward to hearing some of the details about our plan going forward, including plans to reopen our diplomatic posts there.

With that let me turn to our distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch for his opening statement.”

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon