December 8, 2017

Congress Passes Two-Week CR & Sounds the Alarm About Personnel Vacancies at State

1. Congress Passes Two-Week CR, Buys Time for Budget Deal Negotiations

With just one day to spare until funding for the federal government was set to run out, on Thursday Congress voted to extend FY17 funding levels for another two weeks – fending off a government shutdown and buying additional time for Congress to reach a budget deal and finalize FY18 spending bills. The President signed the Continuing Resolution (CR) today.

President Trump hosted Congressional leaders at the White House on Thursday in an effort to make progress on a bipartisan budget deal that would lift the caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending. However, with a packed legislative agenda and disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over funding levels for defense and non-defense spending and unrelated policy issues, a deal is still elusive. Even if Congress reaches a budget deal before the new CR expires on December 22, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will need time to revise their FY18 spending bills accordingly. Therefore, another short-term CR extending FY17 funding levels into January appears likely to allow time for Appropriators to complete their work.

As noted previously, a budget deal that raises cap on non-defense discretionary spending is critical to ensure America’s development and diplomacy programs are properly funded in FY18. At USGLC’s annual Tribute Dinner on Tuesday, Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations (SFOPS) Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) struck a hopeful tone, predicting that, “when this is all over, we’re gonna have more money for foreign assistance, not less.”

2. Lawmakers Sound the Alarm about Personnel Vacancies at State

Concern has been mounting in Congress about the large number of unfilled positions at the State Department. There is broad, bipartisan recognition that such vacancies – which include both political appointees and career officers at the senior and working levels – undercut America’s ability to effectively and efficiently implement foreign policy.

The USGLC recently released a fact sheet on the impact of these vacancies on America’s ability to advance our foreign policy and national security interests, finding that:

  • Although the federal hiring freeze was lifted in April, the State Department has kept the hiring freeze in place. This freeze is affecting all levels of the Department along with USAID, cutting off the next generation of diplomats and development professionals.
  • A slow nominations process has created leadership vacuums for the most senior positions and left critical countries without ambassadors as well as essential foreign policy agencies like the Millennium Challenge Corporation without senior political leadership.
  • Proposed buyouts, retirements and fewer promotions have decimated the top ranks of senior
    personnel and created a diplomatic brain drain of talent and skill.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a flurry of bipartisan criticism from Capitol Hill directed at the State Department. Just this week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan asking that the Department improve transparency with Congress, end the hiring freeze, and review the assumptions guiding the redesign effort. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also recently sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson urging greater transparency with Congress and a reevaluation of personnel policies undermining U.S. diplomatic capacity.

Secretary Tillerson recently defended his management policies, stating “So there is no hollowing out. These numbers that people are throwing around are just false; they’re wrong.”