Bipartisan senators express concerns about State Dept redesign

Story highlights

  • The senators wrote to request the department "reassess the assumptions"
  • Department is preparing to outline its proposal in a series of town hall meetings

(CNN)Two US senators on the Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to the State Department on Tuesday expressing "significant concerns" about the direction of the agency's structural redesign effort.

Sens. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, wrote to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan "to request that the Department of State reassess the assumptions guiding the reform effort, end its counterproductive hiring freeze, and strengthen America's diplomatic capabilities."
The letter comes as the State Department is preparing to outline its redesign proposal in a series of town hall meetings in the coming weeks.
    Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joked that "everyone seems to be an expert" on the effort and sought to reassure embassy staffers that all changes were employee-led.
    In his remarks, Tillerson outlined a two-pronged approach to develop talent within the agency and to modernize internal practices and technologies. He also told employees the redesign will include some "quick wins" which will be announced in the next couple of weeks.
    But in their letter, Cardin and Young say they are "deeply concerned" about the effect of recent changes on the staff and that the secretary's efforts are "putting our nation's ability to carry out diplomacy at risk."
    Aside from the reorganization, they cite the department's partial hiring freeze and planned budget cuts as troubling.
    The two senators also criticize Tillerson for a comment he made at a DC think tank last week. Asked about the budget cuts, Tillerson said the numbers reflect, in part, an expectation that certain global conflicts will be resolved.
    "There is no doubt our Department of State professionals have been working diligently to achieve progress," Cardin and Young write in their letter. "However, we see no evidence that there will be a decline in the need for our nation's diplomatic capabilities."
    "On the contrary-- in virtually every region of the world -- we see the need for capable and effective American leadership and diplomacy increasing," they continue. "If history teaches us anything, it should humble us in our confidence to predict what new challenges or crises will lie ahead for our nation."
    The senators go on to criticize the State Department as failing to adequately brief, saying the "few briefings that have occurred have provided little additional insights into the 'redesign' efforts and raised more questions than they have answered."
    Briefing reporters Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she didn't know whether Sullivan had read the letter yet but that the agency is committed to greater transparency on the redesign.