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 State Department authorization and strengthening U.S. diplomacy for the 21st century. The committee heard witness testimony from The Honorable Brian McKeon, deputy secretary of State for management and resources.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you Deputy Secretary McKeon for being here today.
“Like the chairman, I am proud of this committee’s work to see the first successful reauthorization of the State Department in nearly two decades – passed last December – after years of work.
“I think everyone is to be congratulated who worked on this and pushed it forward, but I think it would be unfair not to recognize clearly the leadership of the chairman of this committee in making this happen. Congratulations especially to you, Mr. Chairman.
“While the reauthorization was a success, the bill demonstrated the enormous amount of work to be done at the State Department in terms of management and operations. That’s probably one of the most significant accomplishments of the bill is to underscore these manners.
“The Department and this committee must examine the needs of 21st century diplomacy and move the State Department forward to advance our national interests while being effective stewards of taxpayer dollars.
“Before I get into that, I want to note that it is imperative for the State Department to reopen our embassy in Kyiv to better support Ukraine and send a strong message that the U.S. government stands with the Ukrainian people.
“I am equally concerned with the status of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. As the Russian government squeezes out U.S. diplomats, those who remain have gone above and beyond to keep the embassy up and running. They need our help. I look forward to hearing what you are doing to better support U.S. personnel in Moscow – realizing that this is an open setting and we cannot talk about all the details of that.
“When it comes to 21st century diplomacy, we must start with the basics: getting our diplomats outside of embassy walls and meeting with local populations, just like diplomats used to do.
“We need a State Department that is firing on all cylinders in order to compete with Chinese, Russian, and Iranian adversaries who don’t have the restrictions our diplomats do.
“To begin addressing this issue, I have a bill, recently passed out of committee, that updates how State investigates security incidents abroad in order to rebalance the State Department’s risk calculus. I would appreciate your thoughts on that legislation.
“I am also currently working on an update of security requirements for our embassies that makes it easier for our diplomats to access local populations, while also saving the U.S. taxpayer millions of dollars.
“While we make it easier for our diplomats to get out and about, we must make sure we are doing our best to protect them. Anomalous health incidents – or Havana Syndrome, as it’s also known – still needs to be addressed and quickly.
“Who is attacking our personnel? How do we keep them safe? How is the Department ensuring that those officers who have sustained long-term injuries are provided for? And how are we harmonizing care and access to treatment with interagency partners? Other Departments are taking this issue very seriously. I would appreciate you addressing these questions. The State Department needs to do this.
“Also, U.S. diplomats in China are spending time in “fever prisons.” The treatment of our personnel is deeply disturbing, and I want to know what State is doing about that.
“While the State Department is generally focused outward on foreign audiences, the Department also provides services directly to the American public. At the top of the list is passports. The huge backlog that accumulated because of COVID has made getting a passport take longer than it has in decades. This is an essential government service, and one that needs to function efficiently.
“Without passports, U.S. citizens can’t travel the world to promote American business. And without visa services, foreigners can’t come to America and spend money. The Idaho economy, and indeed the economy of all states, benefits enormously from tourism and foreign seasonal workers, and we need passport and visa systems functioning in order to continue benefitting. I hope you can provide us with an update on the Department’s efforts to achieve that.
“The enacted State Department authorization requires that starting in January, most special envoys will have to come before this committee. I look forward to this new process of greater congressional scrutiny of senior officials who are handling substantive and sensitive portfolios.
“After 18 years without an authorizing bill, the Department has a lot of catching-up to do. Last year’s bill was a good start, and I look forward to continuing our work to get the Department into shape to address 21st century threats.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.