WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in U.S. diplomacy and development. The witnesses included The Honorable Gina K. Abercrombie-Winstanley, chief diversity and inclusion officer at State, and Ms. Neneh Diallo, chief diversity officer at USAID.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and kudos to you for pursuing this issue. I know you’ve been on the forefront of this and certainly deserve credit for the progress that’s been made, and I know you’ll keep up those efforts.
“I too am interested in diversity, though I come at it from a little different view point than you do. Diversity of all sorts is important in our agencies.
“Our foreign affairs agencies – and the Department of State in particular – have wrestled with issues of diversity in the civilian national security workforce for generations.
“For years, we have heard the Department say that its workforce was going to ‘look like America.’ However, its workforce still does not look like America. Employees from urban, and especially coastal areas, are still heavily overrepresented, while non-coastal, suburban, and especially rural areas and interior areas of America are barely represented.
“This is partially the result of the fact that the Department only offers the Foreign Service oral exams in Washington, D.C. dozens of times a year, and twice a year in San Francisco – both coastal cities and two of America’s most expensive.
“Let’s take my state Idaho, as an example. An Idahoan would have to buy an airline ticket to either of these cities, likely taking multiple legs each way, then pay for multiple nights at a hotel. A trip like this would cost more than a $1,000. For a professional already in the workforce, they would also need to take vacation days or find someone to watch their kids while they travel across the country, all for the privilege of applying for a job at the State Department. This burden comes only after they have already decided they want to try and join the Foreign Service.
“What about recruitment to join its special ranks? The Department uses ‘diplomats-in-residence’ scattered across the country to help highlight how great a career in diplomacy could be. Yet, only a handful of these people exist.
“There is only one diplomat-in-residence for all of Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Montana, and that person is based in Denver.
“So, if a University of Idaho student wanted to meet with the ‘local’ diplomat-in-residence, he or she would have to drive 17 hours to Denver. In fact, it would actually be faster to drive to the Pacific Northwest diplomat, who is based at Berkley. That drive is only 14 hours.
“The truth is State Department’s continued promise to develop a workforce that looks like America isn’t centered on representing all of America, based on things like geographic diversity. It seems devoted to representing the ideas and opinions of coastal views which does not highlight diversity of all of America.
“Similarly, at USAID, there are so many hiring mechanisms that the agency can’t even provide credible data on the success or failure of its own efforts to enhance diversity.
“Our foreign affairs agencies must be serious about all forms of diversity to include participation from our veterans. They have sacrificed a lot to protect our nation and freedom, and their perspective and experience brings diversity of thought to solving tough diplomatic challenges.
“We need more and better from the Department and USAID on these issues, and I look forward to hearing how the department intends to do a much better job at developing a work force that represents all of America – especially its interior.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.