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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Modernization and Management to Address 21st Century Challenges

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 modernization and management: building a department to Address 21st century challenges. Witnesses included The Honorable Richard R. Verma, deputy secretary of management and resources at the State Department.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Verma, one of the primary roles of the deputy secretary for management and resources is to keep track and keep the Department moving forward while staying on track. From here, it does not appear things are going well.

“I hope you can shed some light today on why things seem to be going so badly for an organization this committee has tried so hard to steer in the right direction. 

“As I have spent time as both the chairman and ranking member of this committee over the past five years, I have pushed the Department to re-balance its risk tolerance and be more forward leaning in its overseas engagements. You’ve heard me say over and over again, we aren’t going to outcompete China with our personnel sitting behind embassy walls – they need to get out.

“As part of this effort, I wrote and got enacted the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act to help the Department open new diplomatic spaces quicker and cheaper to advance our diplomatic interests. 

“More than 2 years later, SECCA hasn’t been implemented because the Department hasn’t issued final guidance. That failure to issue final guidance is in violation of the law. This means the Department can’t deliver on its ambitious agenda to open new embassies in places where we are directly contending with China, like in the Pacific Islands.

“If the Department is going to take the threat from Beijing seriously, the SECCA guidance needs to go out tomorrow.

“I’m tired of the Department slow-walking key reforms that would improve its efficiency and effectiveness. This administration constantly talks about its modernization agenda, but it is focusing on the wrong things if it can’t get this right. It appears to many of us that the Department, under President Biden, is more concerned with pursuing its own arbitrary DEI goals than results-focused efforts to modernize its operations and workforce.     

“Similarly, bureaucrats at Main State are micromanaging the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. Washington has put our ambassador there in a straitjacket by limiting the number of diplomats we can have on the ground and placing nonsensical travel restrictions on our own people there.

“Our experts on the ground should make these decisions, not folks sitting 5,000 miles away in Washington. These restrictions limit our effectiveness while also greatly reducing oversight of the assistance we send to the freedom fighters in Ukraine. This is not how you win a war. 

Most egregiously, the Rob Malley saga has spun wildly out of control. I have learned that Mr. Malley illegally transferred classified documents to his personal email. This is an exceptionally troubling allegation and one I found out aside from the State Department who we’ve been asking questions to for months.

“Your Department has failed to respond to months of repeated formal requests for information. We can’t help but conclude there is an orchestrated effort to obscure the facts from Congress.

“It’s not just me--some radical Republican--the chairman and I have done this side-by-side and have been incredibly frustrated with the response we’ve gotten. In fact, it was embarrassing in the closed hearing we had where we tried to extricate the information. These people, I think, could have withstood a torture session before they release the information – it was disgusting.

“We deserve to know whether Mr. Malley’s crimes impacted U.S.-Iran policy, influenced nuclear discussions, swayed the president’s decisions to unfreeze cash for wrongfully detained Americans, or more importantly misinformed us as we try to formulate foreign policy.

“We want answers to our questions about what he did, when he did it, and how much damage he caused U.S. national security. We also deserve to know why he hasn’t been prosecuted for mishandling classified documents. 

“Finally, I want to underscore my disagreement with the Department continually rewarding unqualified people with promotions and ambassadorial nominations.

“In November 2023, I sent the secretary a letter stating that I would not support moving any nominees complicit in the horrific treatment of U.S. diplomats in China during COVID-19. You’ve heard me preach about this over and over again on this committee about how badly China treated our diplomats during COVID and how the Department did not protect our employees there.

“Therefore, I sent this letter in November saying that I will not support anybody who is complicit, well low and behold somebody didn’t read the letter. Maybe nobody read the letter because embassy Beijing Charge and DCM David Meale was named in that letter. Last week, the president nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh.

“Now, I’m going to get beat up by my good friend here saying, ‘now how come you won’t let us have a hearing,’ I told you in November of 2023 to find somebody else for these positions.

“Mr. Meale presided over some of the worst abuses of our diplomats. In summer 2021, the Chinese government stepped up its unlawful detention of American diplomats and put diplomats not in hospitals, but in container units with barred windows in overgrown fields outside major cities. The embassy did not try to get these people out – they told U.S. diplomats to comply.

“No one who allowed a foreign adversary to treat U.S. diplomats this way should be a U.S. ambassador. 

“In short, it seems like the Department currently can’t get out of its own way and focus on what really matters, which is advancing U.S. national security and keeping Americans safe. 

“There are more than 75,000 State Department employees who are good, hardworking people. The vast majority who are doing really well are spread out across the globe giving their blood, sweat, and tears to support this country. They deserve our best.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on