United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Hearing: State Department Reauthorization: An Opportunity to Strengthen and Streamline U.S. Diplomacy
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman
I want to thank Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom for your continued service to our country and for your testimony today.
As chairman one of my priorities has been to revive the State Department reauthorization process, and I want to thank Senator Menendez for beginning that.
I think it is a critical oversight tool and a healthy exercise to take an annual look at authorities that need updating.
We passed an authorization bill out of committee unanimously last year, for the first time in five years, and we hope to build upon that progress with another bipartisan bill for Fiscal Year 2017.
Like last year, our bill will focus on diplomacy programs and the nuts and bolts operations of the State Department. I know our staff have been having very productive discussions with you, and I thank you for creating that kind of tone about these programs and I thank you for your help with this process as I know your written testimony, as I read, will allude to.
One area we’ve been studying – which I know the ranking member is also interested in – is how the U.S. can use its influence to effect change at the U.N., particularly in the areas of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, and with regard to the peacekeeping budget in general.
Reports keep rolling in of U.N. peacekeepers and personnel abusing the very people they’re charged with protecting, which is truly horrifying and a blight on the good we’re trying to do in those countries –more than a blight I would say.
These bad apples operate with impunity because they know that there are no mechanisms in place to bring them to justice.
We need to use our influence at the U.N. to fight this impunity: to insist on onsite courts-martials, standing claims commissions for each peacekeeping operation, refusal to deploy peacekeepers from countries that do not take charges of abuse seriously, and whatever else it takes to root this abuse out.
The U.S. now pays close to 30 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, which is more than the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council combined. I would not call that burden sharing, and I think there’s consensus around here that we would like to look at that.
I know the State Department doesn’t enjoy being saddled with this bill [from the UN] either, but I would like to know what you are doing actively to create change. You know, we talk about these things, but we are concerned ourselves sometimes that there’s really not an active engagement trying to change the peacekeeping assessment formula such that it captures a country’s actual ability to contribute and eliminates bogus discounts that relieve certain countries of paying their fair share.
I am also concerned by the apparent systemic issues with improper handling of classified information at the State Department that have come to light recently.
If some of your cleared employees are struggling with the proper handling and safeguarding of classified information – which appears to be the case– we view it as our duty to set up the training and accountability systems necessary to fix this problem.
I am also interested in how you incentivize foreign service officers to serve at less desirable posts.
My impression is that the extra pays foreign service officers receive at these posts are determined by bureaucrats in Washington and do not reflect officers’ actual preferences about where they serve.
It seems to me that it would be more effective and transparent to combine the various extra pays into one rate for each post that takes into account the popularity of that post.
And finally, I hope you will address the confusing and potentially unsustainable consular fee structure, which essentially bets on continued growth of demand for U.S. visas to fund all other consular services.
I know you didn’t design the system this way – it was created ad hoc by statute – but we are looking at ways to redesign the system so that it is more efficient and transparent, and I hope you will work with us on that also.
I know you have some priorities that you’d like to see put in place. I look forward to hearing about those, so we can work constrictively toward a good authorization bill.
Thank you for your testimony, and now, I’ll turn to our distinguished ranking member, Senator Cardin.