State to States: How Former State Department Officials Lead Congress By Global

August 21, 2023 By Emily Shiels

All international experiences — a vacation, study abroad program, service or work trip, a leap-of-faith move across the world — are valuable. Experience abroad can force you out of your comfort zone, enhance problem-solving skills, increase self-confidence, and help expand and broaden your world view by learning about different cultures, values, and ideas. In a period of rapid globalization, global citizens are critical to strengthen America’s global leadership.

Globally minded Members of Congress are key to upholding effective foreign policy, and Representative Andy Kim (D-NJ) and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) are prime examples of this. One serves in the House, one serves in the Senate. One represents Alaska, 4000 miles from Washington D.C. and one represents New Jersey, 140 miles from Washington D.C. One is the son of immigrants, and one is the son of well-connected parents. While Senator Sullivan and Representative Kim bring diverse backgrounds and experiences to the floors of Congress, they both understand well the importance of international experience in being well-equipped to tackle today’s toughest issues on the world stage.

Representative Andy Kim (D-NJ)

Congressman Andy Kim has represented New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District since 2019, serving on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, as well as the new Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. The only current Member of Congress to serve in a career capacity at the State Department, Rep. Kim had a successful career as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Iraq Office and then as a civilian advisor to Generals David Petraeus and John R. Allen in Afghanistan.

At USGLC’s 2023 Global Impact Forum, Rep. Kim emphasized how his strong international background – working for State, USAID, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council – has informed his foreign policy work.

“I was able to see those three Ds of our foreign policy, the Development, the Diplomacy, and the Defense to see how they work together to understand what it means in this day and age to have a comprehensive approach to the biggest challenges that we face. And those lessons were unbelievably important to be able to see across the board and see how they all come together and to see what we can do with the full strength of the United States government and all of our tools at our disposal.”

Representative Kim continues to engage globally through his travels on number Congressional Delegations (CODEL) around the world. In August 2022, Rep. Kim joined former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on a CODEL to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan to discuss how the U.S. can continue to engage in the Indo-Pacific region. Rep. Kim leveraged these experiences to continue to engage with diplomatic officers of these countries in the United States.

Congressman Kim further reinforces his support of global leadership by championing the Peace Corps as a member of the Congressional Peace Corps Caucus. At the conclusion of Peace Corps week in March 2022, Rep. Kim introduced a legislative package to supercharge national service, including provisions for increased returned Peace Corps volunteers. Later that same year, Rep. Kim voted to reauthorize the Peace Corps for the first time in over two decades. While Congressman Kim has never participated in Peace Corps, he understands the importance of providing the opportunity to American citizens to serve this country abroad.

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK)

Senator Dan Sullivan has served as the junior Senator for Alaska since 2015 and sits on the Senate Armed Services, Commerce, Environment, and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Senator Sullivan served as a non-career appointee at the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs during the George W. Bush administration. He also served multiple tours as a Marine in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, worked as a Director in the International Economics Directorate of the National Security Council, and is the chairman of the International Republican Institute.

Senator Sullivan’s experience as a Marine in the Taiwan Strait, in the State Department, and as a member of various CODELs ignited his passion for security in the Indo-Pacific region. Senator Sullivan is a strong proponent of CODELs to cement alliances and encourage teamwork between officials of many nations on issues of shared importance. In June, Senator Sullivan traveled to Japan and South Korea to meet with officials to discuss national security in the region.

“The bilateral alliances between the United States and Japan and the United States and Korea are very strong. This fact was reinforced by polling shared with me during my visit that demonstrated the public’s strong support of their nations’ respective alliances with the U.S., especially among young people.”

Just a month before this CODEL, Senator Sullivan introduced S. 1720, the Indo-Pacific Strategic Energy Initiative Act, to promote the financing and development of new energy infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region. Sullivan utilizes CODELs to enhance his relationship with key officials in the region and acknowledges the importance of robust global engagement in his legislative efforts.

As a service member, Senator Sullivan acknowledges the role of diplomatic personnel around the globe. In conjunction with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senator Sullivan convened the Senate Foreign Service Caucus to make sure Foreign Service Officers have all the resources they could need, stating, “They are every bit as patriotic and service-oriented as members of our military, often facing similar challenges in dangerous corners of the globe.” His foreign experience makes him especially receptive to these issues.

Future Global Engagement

This is a critical moment in United States history, and we need to make sure Congress is full of leaders who understand the importance of global engagement in development and diplomacy to stave off increasing tensions. Congressional delegations to other countries can continue to aid the formation of U.S. foreign policy and build partnerships to solve global challenges. CODELs can bring an increased sense of global awareness to the Members of Congress who did not get a chance to spend time, whether in school or a career, abroad.