Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been talking about reorganizing the State Department since day one.
This week, he wrote a letter to Congress outlining his intentions to eliminate or downgrade some 36 State Department envoy positions. The department currently has nearly 70 such positions.
“I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” wrote Tillerson, “and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.”
Envoy positions that will be eliminated include:
• Climate change
• Sudan and South Sudan
• The Arctic
• Iran nuclear deal
• Guantanamo Bay
• Northern Ireland
Some of these duties will be absorbed into existing bureaus; for example, functions and staff dealing with climate change and the Arctic will fall under the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs.
Positions to be maintained or expanded include the offices dealing with HIV/AIDS, religious freedom, LGBT rights, Holocaust issues, and fighting anti-Semitism.
The overhaul will “eliminate redundancies that dilute the ability of a bureau to deliver on its primary functions,” explains Tillerson. These changes will advance our national security interests and help “counter the influence of US adversaries and competitors.”
Washington think tanks and policy groups have long advocated for a review of State Department envoy positions. Three years ago, the American Foreign Service Association claimed that the number of special envoys in the State Department had “increased substantially, diluting the brand and reducing effectiveness.”
“Through the years, numbers of special envoys have accumulated at the State Department, and in many cases, their creation has done more harm than good by creating an environment in which people work around the normal diplomatic processes in lieu of streamlining them,” said Senator Bob Corker (R-TN).
Alongside the overhaul are plans to dramatically cut the State Department’s budget and to reduce America’s involvement in worldwide diplomacy.
The United States will leave a “toe-print, not a footprint” at the September UN General Assembly in New York, said Tillerson’s aides.
Officials from nearly 200 countries will attend the General Assembly. The meeting is an “especially ideal setting to build good will with smaller countries who normally don’t get much high-level US attention but whose support on a variety of issues may one day prove critical,” reports Politico.
The United States regularly sends over 1,000 representatives General Assemblies. That presence is expected to shrink by several hundred this year.
“The US delegation alone is a blob consuming the seats in a meeting,” complains UN expert Brett Schaefer. “You can accomplish as much with fewer people. Who is going to be at the table matters more than how many people are backing them up.”
President Trump plans to spend three full days at the meeting.
Editor’s note: The State Department structure should reflect the priorities of the Trump Administration, so it is not surprising that the envoys representing Obama’s priorities are gone. If Tillerson needs his issues represented he will hire new envoys.