The Wrecking of the State Department Hasn’t Ended
Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch report on the latest Trump administration’s proposal to slash funding for the State Department and USAID:
It was less than a year ago that new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke of restoring America’s diplomatic “swagger” and projecting the U.S. presence “in every corner, every stretch of the world.”
But on Monday, he presented a White House budget proposal calling for steep cuts to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development that would undercut U.S. diplomatic clout and foreign aid worldwide, according to Democratic lawmakers, former officials, and experts.
The White House has proposed a 23% cut in international affairs funding at the same time that it is throwing even more money at the already bloated military budget. Congress won’t support these draconian cuts to the department, but once again the president has made clear that he places no value on diplomacy or diplomats. U.S. foreign policy is far too militarized as it is, and if the president had his way it would become even more so. If a budget is a statement of an administration’s priorities, the latest White House proposal confirms that the president considers diplomacy to be one of the very lowest. The report notes the huge and growing disparity between the proposed military funding and funding for international affairs:
All told, Trump is proposing almost 19 times as much money for national defense—$750 billion—as he is for diplomacy and foreign aid—$40 billion.
Pompeo’s predecessor presided over much of the wrecking of the State Department. When Tillerson was fired, there was a lot of unfounded hope that the wrecking would stop, but it is clear now that very little has changed since Pompeo took over. Just like Tillerson, Pompeo is willing to acquiesce in the proposed gutting of his own department. No amount of empty boasting and talk of “swagger” can conceal Pompeo’s obvious disdain for the diplomatic work that the people serving under him do.
The push to slash funding has been paired with the failure to staff the department properly. More than halfway through Trump’s term, the State Department continues to be like the “ghost ship” that it was under Tillerson. Among other things, the ongoing neglect and abuse of the department under this administration have undermined U.S. policies and contributed to increased risk for American diplomats serving abroad:
Hundreds of long-standing vacancies in State Department posts worldwide are undercutting U.S. foreign policy and increasing security risks to diplomats, but the Trump administration has not addressed the issue, a detailed new government study warns.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new congressionally mandated report on Wednesday evening concluding that chronic vacancies overstretch U.S. diplomats and hamper morale while hamstringing U.S. foreign-policy initiatives on issues from nuclear nonproliferation to anti-fraud efforts.
The State Department, according to GAO, “doesn’t have a plan to address this issue.”
The report describes a State Department hampered by budget cuts, recruitment problems, and bureaucratic hurdles to quickly fill vacancies, exacerbated by a hiring freeze the Trump administration imposed from January 2017 to May 2018.
The cumulative damage that is being done to U.S. diplomacy is considerable and will be with us after Trump and Pompeo are gone.