The latest in a series of high-level reports and recommendations for revamping the State Department proposes expanding the size and mission of the U.S. Agency for International Development to encompass all U.S. assistance now spread across dozens of diplomatic, civilian and military agencies.
The report, by 10 former senior officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations, was requested last year by Congress and compiled under the auspices of the Atlantic Council. It is to be formally released Wednesday.
Drawing a sharp distinction between the policy and diplomatic functions of the State Department and the operational tasks of USAID, the report calls for maintaining the aid agency as an independent body that will integrate and coordinate all U.S. foreign assistance, including that increasingly undertaken by the military outside of direct combat operations.
“Every presidential administration since the 1970s has attempted to reorganize the U.S. government’s foreign assistance capabilities,” but the result has been diffused responsibility for aid, the report says. “The result is more than 25 federal agencies engaged in foreign assistance with no single point of integration, no mechanism to hold them accountable, and no evidence of improved performance.”
Among proposals currently under consideration by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are some calling for fully integrating USAID within the State Department. Others include transferring some of State’s functions to other departments, such as moving State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to the Department of Homeland Security.
The Atlantic Council report suggests it and other functions across the government be placed within an expanded USAID, which would remain an independent entity under State’s authority.
Tillerson has been sharply criticized by some lawmakers and others in the foreign policy community for his acceptance of Trump’s proposal to cut State’s overall budget by one-third at a time of increased global peril, and for the slow pace of the reforms he promised when he took over the department in January.
Many senior jobs remain unfilled, including all but two of the department’s 24 regional and issues bureaus that are still headed by acting assistant secretaries. An initial administration hiring freeze, lifted by Trump in April, remains in place at State, and most internal promotions and transfers have been frozen. Tillerson has told Congress he does not expect to begin implementing a reorganization still under study until next year.
In addition to maintaining USAID’s position as an independent agency and establishing a separate new agency for public diplomacy, the Atlantic Council report proposes ways to reorganize State’s structure to make it more efficient and transparent. The report calls for paring down the number of bureaus, without eliminating functions, by combining those with similar or complementary mandates.
It outlines a more efficient budgetary process and the elimination of a number of “special” envoy and representative offices established over the years to deal with specific issues, many of them overlapping existing offices. Some, initially established by Congress, would require legislative approval to do away with.
The report also recommends increased training and educational programs for both the foreign and civil service, and encourages temporary assignments in other agencies and departments.
“None of State’s personnel systems encourage service outside the department,” it notes. “None encourage much training. . . . None have, until recently, expended much effort on teaching leadership or management.”
While the report takes no position on specific budget cuts, it calls for “a balance . . . that enables the department to meet its lead mission responsibilities of diplomacy and development.” It notes that operating budget increases since 2001 have come overwhelmingly from diplomatic security requirements and embassy security upgrades and suggests that “it is time to acknowledge that security can no longer be all-consuming.”
Compilation of the report was led by former senior diplomats Chester Crocker, Thomas Pickering and David C. Miller.