Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2013:
Madam Chairman, I want to start by thanking you and your staff, especially Yleem Poblete and Doug Anderson, for working closely with us to ensure that this mark-up produces a consensus bill. The State Department authorization bill is one of the most fundamental legislative responsibilities of this Committee, and provides the basis for our embassies to function and our diplomats to promote U.S. national interests around the world.
Our national security rests on three pillars: Diplomacy, Development and Defense. Every year the Armed Services Committee manages to report its bill providing authorities and resources for the Pentagon. The longer we go without providing the authorities and resources our State Department needs to promote international cooperation, the greater the temptation for other committees and other departments to step in. With this bill, this Committee is once again asserting jurisdiction over the funding and operations of the State Department. This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the capacity to work together to get things done and to promote our national interests.
I hope we can all agree that the military ought to be our last line of defense – the option to which we resort after all other avenues have been closed off. Yet by ignoring and shortchanging our diplomats, we only increase the likelihood of armed confrontation. Whether in Afghanistan, where a strengthened diplomatic presence is needed to enable a military withdrawal, or in the Sahel, where terrorist groups are making new gains, our Foreign Service officers are at the front lines of protecting U.S. national security. This bill gives them the tools they need to be successful. We owe the brave men and women who put their lives on the line – military and civilian alike -- no less.
That said, this is by no means a perfect or comprehensive bill. It contains certain provisions that I would prefer to see removed, and it leaves out a long list of provisions I would like to see added. By and large, the numbers are well below the FY13 request levels and lower than what I think is proper to exert strong and effective international leadership. But the Chairman has worked with us over the past weeks to make the changes necessary to arrive at a text that has the best shot of moving forward.
This bill contains no funding for foreign assistance programs, nor does it include any proposals for foreign aid reform. Those topics should also be high priorities for this Committee, and I look forward to working with the Chairman on provisions to address our how our foreign aid dollars are spent. Accounting for just 1 percent of the overall budget, foreign assistance is a small but wise investment in a better, safer world. Our job is to ensure that it is spent in the most efficient and effective way.
The bill also does not contain any country-specific provisions, or any findings or Sense of the Congress language. While no doubt all of us have pressing things we want to say about U.S. policy toward a wide range of countries and problems, I respect the Chairman’s view that progress on asserting our jurisdiction is paramount and that there will be other business meetings and other markups where those kinds of proposals can be considered on their merits. If we want our Committee to be taken seriously, so that our jurisdiction is protected and our views carry weight with other committees, then we need to report legislation that at the very least can be passed by the full House.
Let me describe a few of the bill’s key provisions in greater detail.
It includes a number of provisions to better protect our men and women serving abroad as well as their families. It allows the State Department to award local guard contracts in high risk areas on the basis of best value rather than on who had the lowest bid. In the past, lowest bids had sometimes resulted in poorly trained security forces that endangered the safety of our diplomats and development experts. This bill also better protects the children of U.S. employees who attend school overseas by improving physical security at these locations.
Importantly, by allowing the secretary to transfer authorities to the recently created Counterterrorism, Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and Energy Resources Bureaus, this Act reflects the organizational changes that have taken place at the department as a result of what I hope to be the first of regular Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Reviews.
This bill also incorporates most of H.R. 3288, the “Safeguarding United States Satellite Leadership and Security Act”, a bill that I introduced with Don Manzullo and Gerry Connolly last November, which was cosponsored by Mr. Royce and 16 others. It was also adopted as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. This bipartisan provision would help restore America’s global competitiveness in high-tech satellite technology and protect vital U.S. national security interests.
Madam Chairman, you and your staff have produced a good and fair piece of legislation. Equally important, you have taken our views into account. I would urge my colleagues to approve this legislation not only on its merits, but also as an expression of support for enhancing comity and bipartisanship in our Committee. I thank the Chair.