Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
HT-2 The Capitol
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much, Chairwoman Lee. It’s great to see you. Ranking Member Rogers, Ranking Member Granger, thank you for being here today as well. It’s very good to be with you, and I’m really grateful for this opportunity to speak to you about the administration’s proposed budget for the State Department.
As you know, I recently returned from Kyiv with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, where we sought to demonstrate, by our presence as well as by our actions, the United States commitment to Ukraine and its people.
This brutal war of aggression being committed by Russia against Ukraine has brought into sharp focus the power and purpose of American diplomacy. Our diplomacy is rallying allies and partners around the world to join us in supporting Ukraine militarily, economically, and with humanitarian assistance to impose massive costs on the Kremlin for its aggression, while strengthening our collective security and defense, and addressing the war’s mounting global consequences, including the refugee and food crises that you’ve alluded to.
We have to continue to drive that diplomacy forward to also seize the strategic opportunities and address the risks presented by Russia’s overreach, as countries are reconsidering their policies, their priorities, and their relationships.
The budget request that you have before you actually predates the crisis, but fully funding it is critical to ensuring that Russia’s war in Ukraine is a strategic failure for the Kremlin and also serves as a powerful lesson for those who might consider following the same path.
As we’re focused on this urgent crisis, the State Department continues to carry out the missions traditionally associated with diplomacy, particularly responsibly managing great power competition with China, also facilitating a halt to fighting in places like Yemen and Ethiopia, pushing back against the rising tide of authoritarianism and the threat that it poses to democracy and human rights.
We also face evolving challenges that require us to develop new capabilities: the emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease, an accelerated climate crisis, and a digital revolution that holds both enormous promise but also peril if not managed correctly.
A few months ago, in the fall, I had a chance to set out a modernization agenda for the State Department and for U.S. diplomacy to respond to all of these demands and all of these needs.
And in no small part thanks to the significant FY22 budget that was approved by Congress, we’ve been able to make real progress on this agenda, but much remains to be done.
Just to give you a few quick examples, we’ve strengthened our capacity to shape the ongoing technological revolution so that it protects our interests, it boosts our competitiveness, it upholds our values. With bipartisan congressional support and encouragement, we recently launched a new Bureau for Cyberspace and Digital Policy, with 60 team members to start. And this is something that was done very much in collaboration with and with the counsel of Congress.
We’re also making headway on ensuring our diplomats reflect America’s remarkable diversity, which is one of our greatest strengths. As the Chairwoman said, our department’s first ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, has spearheaded an effort to analyze and address the obstacles that prevent under-represented groups from joining and advancing at the department. We’ve expanded the Pickering and Rangel fellowship programs, and we have paid internships at State – again, strong congressional input and support for these initiatives.
We recently welcomed a new cohort of 179 exceptional Foreign Service professionals. That puts us on track for our largest annual intake in a decade.
These first 15 months on the job for me have only strengthened my conviction that these and other reforms are not just worthwhile, they’re essential to delivering for the American people.
Today’s meeting, by our count, marks the 103rd time that I’ve had the opportunity to brief Congress in one way or another – meetings, calls – which is one of the ways that I’ve worked to meet the commitment I made in my confirmation, to ensure that Congress’s role as a partner, both in our foreign policymaking and in modernizing the State Department, is realized.
Ensuring that we can deliver on this agenda requires sustained funding, requires some new authorities – most importantly, it requires our partnership.
If we want to deepen our capability in areas like climate, like public health, like multilateral diplomacy; if we want to expand on Secretary Powell’s vision of a Foreign Service training float; if we want to strengthen global health security to prevent, detect, and respond to future outbreaks – we need these additional resources.
If we want to be able to swiftly stand up new missions, to deploy diplomats when and where they are needed, and make these decisions based on risk management rather than risk aversion – we need to reform the security – the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act and the Accountability Review Board statute.
If we want to rapidly scale up the response to crises like refugee surges and epidemics, while also avoiding costly overhead, we need more flexible domestic hiring authorities.
These are just a few examples, and I just want to stress in closing: This is not about advancing the goals of any one administration or any one party. It’s about refocusing our mission and our purpose on the forces that are affecting the lives of all of our fellow citizens – their livelihoods, their security – for decades to come.
So I really appreciate the opportunity to speak today about why this matters, and look forward to working with this committee, the subcommittee, Congress as a whole, as a partner in these efforts.
Thank you very much.