SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mr. President, Ranking Member Risch, thank you. It’s great to be with you, to be with all the members of this committee today. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you the administration’s proposed budget for the Department of State.
And as you both noted, I just returned from Kyiv with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, where together we demonstrated the commitment of the United States to the government and people of Ukraine. I must tell you that the trip left an indelible impression. We had the opportunity to talk about it a bit before the hearing.
As we took the train across the border and drove west into Ukraine, we saw mile after mile of the Ukrainian countryside, territory that only a few months ago the Russian government thought could be seized within weeks. – today, firmly Ukraine. In Kyiv, we saw the signs of a vibrant city coming back to life: people eating outside, sitting on benches, walking around. It was right in front of us. The Ukrainians won the battle for Kyiv, and despite all the suffering they endured, despite all the carnage that Russia’s brutal invasion continues to inflict, Ukraine was and will continue to be a free and independent.
It is impossible not to be moved by what Ukrainians have achieved. It is also impossible not to believe that they will continue to be successful, because they know what they are fighting for. Seeing this, I must tell you that I felt a certain pride in what the United States has done to support the Ukrainian government and its people, and an even stronger conviction that we must not let go.
Moscow’s war of aggression against Ukraine underscored the power and purpose of American diplomacy. Our diplomacy is rallying allies and partners around the world to join us in supporting Ukraine with security, economic and humanitarian assistance; impose enormous costs on the Kremlin; strengthen our collective security and defence; dealing with the growing global consequences of war, including the refugee and food crises to which you both alluded.
We will, we must continue to advance this diplomacy, to seize what I consider to be strategic opportunities, as well as to address the risks presented by Russia’s overreach as countries reconsider their policies, their priorities, their relationships. The budget request before you predates this crisis, but its full funding is essential in my view to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine is a strategic failure for the Kremlin and serves as a powerful lesson to those who might consider to follow his path.
As we focus intensely on this urgent crisis, the State Department continues to carry out missions traditionally associated with diplomacy, such as responsibly managing great power competition with China, facilitating the cessation of fighting in Yemen and Ethiopia, fending off the rising tide of authoritarianism and the threat it poses to human rights.
We also face ever-changing challenges that require us to develop new capabilities, such as the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, an accelerating climate crisis and, of course, a digital revolution that harbors times of enormous promise but also certain perils.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to establish a modernization agenda for the department and for American diplomacy to meet these complex demands. Thanks in large part to the FY22 budget approved by Congress, we have been able to make real progress on this program, although there is still a long way to go.
To cite just a few examples, we have strengthened our ability to shape the ongoing technological revolution so that it truly protects our interests, strengthens our competitiveness and defends our values. With bipartisan support and encouragement from Congress, we recently launched a new Office for Cyberspace and Digital Policy, with 60 team members to start. And I’m grateful to Congress, to this committee, for long supporting this effort, for the ideas that you’ve shared on how best to do this.
We are also making progress in ensuring that our diplomats reflect America’s remarkable diversity, which is one of our greatest strengths, including in our diplomacy. As the President noted, we have our first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Officer, who is leading an effort to analyze and address barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from joining and advancing at State. We have expanded the Pickering and Rangel scholarships and created, for the first time – with the support of Congress and this committee – paid in-state internships, and strong congressional input and support for all of these efforts.
And we show results. We recently welcomed a new cohort of 179 outstanding foreign service professionals. This puts our department on track for its largest annual inflow in a decade.
My first 15 months in this position have only reinforced my own conviction that these and other reforms are not only worthwhile; they are essential to our national security and to the benefit of the people we represent.
Today’s meeting marks, by our calculations, the 100th time I have had the opportunity to brief Congress, which is one of the ways I have worked to deliver on the commitment I have taken in my confirmation before this committee to restore the role of Congress as a partner both in shaping our foreign policy and in revitalizing the Department of State.
Ensuring we can deliver on the agenda will require sustained funding, new authorities, and perhaps most important of all, congressional partnership. Therefore, I am grateful for the President and Senior Member’s request to establish a formal dialogue on State Department clearance, a request we have complied with and look forward to working with you in detail. as the authorization process progresses. forward.
If we want to deepen our capabilities in key areas like climate, like pandemic preparedness, like multilateral diplomacy; if we want to develop Secretary Powell’s vision of a Foreign Service training float; and equipping our workforce with the training, tools, technology we need to meet today’s challenges – we need additional resources, and those are in the budget.
If we’re going to be able to quickly mount new missions, deploy diplomats when and where they’re needed – and I totally agree with the ranking member on this – and make those decisions based on risk management rather than risk aversion – we need to reform the law on the construction of state embassies and the fight against terrorism and the statute of the accountability review committee. It’s planned too.
If we are to grow rapidly in response to crises such as refugee influxes and disease outbreaks while avoiding costly overhead, we need more flexible national recruitment authorities.
It’s not about advancing the goals of any particular administration or any particular party. It’s about refocusing our mission and focus on the forces that really affect the lives of our people – their livelihoods, their security – for decades to come.
So I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak today about why this matters, and I look forward to continuing to make this committee, and Congress as a whole, a full partner in these efforts.