As part of his plan to restructure the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is pledging not to concentrate more power in his own hands — for now — according to new material obtained Friday by POLITICO.
In a briefing to congressional staffers from both parties Friday, State Department officials offered some broad outlines about what the department's redesign will include — and what it won't.
The overview comes amid deep concern among lawmakers and U.S. diplomats about President Donald Trump's proposal to severely slash the foreign affairs budget. Tillerson is due to report his restructuring ideas this week to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The redesign also covers the U.S. Agency for International Development.
According to a copy of the presentation shared with POLITICO, Tillerson envisions a system where State and USAID more closely coordinate their work and rely more on data analytics to drive their policy decisions.
Investing in upgrading the two institutions' information technology is a huge part of the plan, as is better prioritizing where the U.S. operates overseas and how it disburses foreign aid.
Overall, the presentation is very short on details about what will be done. But one slide, labeled “What Redesign Is Not” is more specific than the others:
“There is no intention by State or USAID to take the following actions at this time: moving consular affairs to [the Department of Homeland Security]; eliminating the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; dismantling State or USAID; concentrating power in the hands of the secretary; [and] forcing a preconceived organizational chart on the workforce,” the slide states.
The reference to the concentration of power comes amid frustration among U.S. diplomats that so many decisions at the State Department are being funneled through Tillerson's office. Tillerson also has yet to fill numerous leadership positions such as those of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, adding to the concerns.
The reference to not dismantling State or USAID suggests the latter won't be merged into the former, which would likely require congressional approval, although Tillerson makes it clear he wants the two to reduce duplicative efforts.
Overall, with the new investments in technology, Tillerson hopes State and USAID can save as much as $10 billion over five years, information he shared with employees in an email earlier this week.
The presentation Friday did not list any details on how many positions might be cut from both institutions as part of the restructuring. Tillerson already has severely slowed down hiring and is trying to eliminate more than 2,000 positions through buyouts and attrition.
The lack of specifics perturbed some of the people privy to Friday's presentation.
“It was tense in the room at times, with staff from both parties asking for specifics and warning the State Department officials that it would be difficult to defend this given the lack of specificity and the ongoing problems with early, consistent congressional consultation on a range of issues,” a congressional staffer said.
Some 75,000 people work for the State Department alone across the world. The State and USAID combined budget is roughly $51 billion a year, depending on how it is counted. Trump has said he wants to cut that by a third.
Last week, a Senate panel passed a budget that avoided Trump's proposed cuts, a rebuke to the president and Tillerson.
Nahal Toosi / Politico.com / Sept.15, 2017
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