Washington—Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the Biden Administration’s priorities for U.S. foreign policy:
"I want to Thank you, Secretary Blinken for joining us this early in your tenure. I think all of us on the dais appreciate this opportunity for dialogue. Your testimony today will no doubt expand on this administration’s foreign policy strategic priorities, its views of the global landscape, and how those views inform its diplomacy-forward approach. It’s also a chance for you to hear our views and concerns, as part of the integral role that this Committee plays in supporting successful U.S. diplomacy around the world—and I I trust you appreciate.
"From renewing American engagement in the world by rejoining the Paris Agreement, the UN Human Rights Council and the WHO, the Biden administration has made one thing clear: America is once again back at the table.
"However, we do not return to the world as we last left it, but one where the United States must rebuild its credibility, and demonstrate once more our capacity to promote democracy, the rule of law, human rights, global health and prosperity. It is through these efforts that American leadership is at its finest, and under these principles that we can once again build multilateral coalitions to address our shared global challenges.
"America must once again demonstrate its willingness and capability to build successful coalitions that champion these fundamental values, and thwart global threats. When at its best, our nation has never shown reluctance to accept that moral obligation and exert U.S. leadership. Not only is that a moral obligation, it is in our own economic and national security interests to do so.
"Whether it’s COVID-19 or the climate crisis, the issues of today show how interconnected we are, and how interdependent we are. 'America alone' or 'America only' has not worked.
"Mr. Secretary, as a former State Department employee yourself, I know you understand that the success of this important work before us requires effective management of the Department and its workforce.
"Revitalizing the State Department is not a task for the Department alone—Congress must resume our duties to regularly pass authorizing legislation for the State Department—equipping it with the authorities and flexibilities it needs, and signaling Congressional intent and support on a number of State Department priorities.
"And that’s why, at the first opportunity we had in this Congress to advance legislation, the Committee once again passed a bipartisan management-focused State Department authorization bill. But of course, the operations of the Department will also be a reflection of its personnel; personnel is policy.
"In a recent speech, I was pleased to hear you say 'we’re operating in a diverse world and our diversity is a unique source of strength that few countries can match. If we don’t have a diverse team, it’s like we’re conducting diplomacy with one arm tied behind our back.'
"As Chair of this Committee, I have made addressing the lack of diversity at the State Department a central focus of our work. Recent data shows that African Americans constitute only 3.8% of Senior Executive Service Members, and only 3.1% are Hispanic. Similarly, of our Senior Foreign Service Members, only 3% are Black, 5.9% are Hispanic, and 32% are women. To again use your words, Mr. Secretary, we are conducting diplomacy with one arm tied behind our back.
"The GAO’s 2020 report on barriers to diversity at the Department of State found that minorities at the Department are awarded fewer promotions than their white counterparts, even when accounting for education and years served, and this is throughout every stage of their career. Increasing the pipeline of minorities and women into the Department alone is not enough—we must also ensure there is an end to bias in promotions if we are to retain a diverse workforce at the mid and senior levels.
"These trends may have worsened over the last four years, but they did not begin in 2017. In many instances, these figures have either trended downward or stayed relatively unchanged for nearly 3 decades.
"With this administration’s stated priorities to rebuild our depleted State department and promote diversity, we have the opportunity to work collaboratively in strengthening our diplomatic workforce, both civil and foreign service. But the changes needed to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at the State Department will not be measured only in statistics—it must be marked by a shift in the culture, environment, and attitudes at the Department that have perpetuated institutionalized discrimination.
"Disturbingly, we have heard reports of some State Department employees publicly espousing white nationalist, racist, or anti-Semitic views. While these views don’t reflect the vast majority of dedicated public servants at the Department, but even isolated instances can have a chilling effect—on that student of color who is considering a career in diplomacy, or that new colleague who comes from a different ethnic or religious background than their coworkers.
"So Mr. Secretary, I look forward to your testimony today, Secretary Blinken, and I know talented colleagues on this committee are eager to engage with you and your Department so we can work collectively, in close collaboration, to make progress on our shared objectives."
# # #