Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
June 14, 2017
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you, Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, distinguished members of the committee.Of course, we were all stunned by the news of the shooting involving your colleague, members of congressional staff, and Capitol Police. Congressman Scalise is a friend of mine, and he is a friend and represents many friends of mine back in Louisiana. My prayers and those of my colleagues at the State Department are with the injured and with those members of law enforcement who responded to this morning’s attack.
Today, I would like to continue the conversation that we have started about the administration’s State Department and USAID budget request for Fiscal Year 2018. Before I begin my testimony on the budget, I would like to offer a point of view on the Russian sanctions legislation currently being considered by the Congress.
I certainly agree with the sentiment that has been conveyed by several members from both parties that Russia must be held accountable for its meddling in U.S. elections. I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the President to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation. Essentially, we would ask for the flexibility to turn the heat up when we need to, but also to ensure that we have the ability to maintain a constructive dialogue.
As we all know, America’s global competitive advantages and standing as a leader are under constant challenge. The dedicated men and women of the State Department and USAID carry out the important and often perilous work of advancing America’s interest every single day. That mission is unchanged. However, the State Department and USAID, like many other institutions here and around the world, have not evolved in their responsiveness as quickly as new challenges and threats to our national security have changed and are changing.
We are challenged to respond to a post-Cold War world that set in motion new global dynamics, and a post-9/11 world characterized by historic new threats that present themselves in ways never seen before, enabled by technological tools that we have been ill-prepared to engage.
The 21st century has already presented many new evolving challenges to U.S. national security and economic prosperity. We must develop proactive responses to protect and advance the interests of the American people. With such a broad array of threats facing the United States, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request of $37.6 billion aligns with the administration’s objective of making America’s security our top priority.
The first responsibility of government is the security of its own citizens, and we will orient our diplomatic efforts toward fulfilling that commitment. While our mission will also be focused on advancing the economic interests of the American people, the State Department’s primary focus will be to protect our citizens at home and abroad. Our mission is at all times guided by our longstanding values of freedom, democracy, individual liberty, and human dignity. The conviction of our country’s founders is enduring: that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
As a nation, we hold high the aspiration that all will one day experience the freedom we have known. In our young administration’s foreign policy, we are motivated by the conviction that the more we engage with other nations on issues of security and prosperity, the more we will have opportunities to shape the human rights conditions in those nations. History has shown that the United States leaves a footprint of freedom wherever it goes.
Ensuring the security and prosperity of the American people and advancing our values has necessitated difficult decisions in other areas of our budget. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget request includes substantial funding for many foreign assistance programs under the auspices of USAID and the State Department. But we have made hard choices to reduce funding for other initiatives.
Even with reductions in funding, we will continue to be the leader in international development, global health, democracy and good governance initiatives, and humanitarian efforts. If natural disasters or epidemics strike overseas, America will respond with care and support. I am convinced we can maximize the effectiveness of the programs and continue to offer America’s helping hand to the world.
This budget request also reflects a commitment to ensure every tax dollar spent is aligned with the department and USAID’s mission critical objectives. The request focuses the State Department and USAID efforts on missions which deliver the greatest value and opportunity of success for the American people.
The State Department and USAID budget increased over 60 percent from Fiscal Year 2007, reaching a record-high $55.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2017. Recognizing that this rate of increase in funding is not sustainable, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request seeks to align the core missions of the State Department with historic funding levels. We believe this budget also represents the interest of the American people, including responsible stewardship of the public’s money.
I know there is intense interest in prospective State Department and USAID redesign efforts. We’ve just completed collecting information on our organizational processes and culture through a survey that was made available to every one of our State and USAID colleagues. Over 35,000 surveys were completed, and we have held in-person listening sessions with approximately 300 individuals to obtain their perspective on what we do and how we do it. I met personally with dozens of team members who spoke candidly about their experiences. From this feedback, we have been able to get a clear overall view of our organization.
We have no preconceived outcomes, and our discussions of the goals, priorities, and directions of the State Department and USAID are not token exercises. The principles for our listening sessions and subsequent evaluation of our organization are the same as those which I stated in my confirmation hearing for our foreign policy: We will see the world for what it is, be honest with ourselves and the American people, follow the facts where they lead us, and hold ourselves and others accountable. We are still analyzing the feedback we have received, and we expect to release the findings of the survey soon.
From all of this, one thing is certain: I’m listening to what my people are telling me are the challenges facing them, and how we can produce a more efficient and effective State Department and USAID. And we’ll work as a team with the Congress to improve both organizations.
Throughout my career I have never believed, nor have I never – ever experienced that the level of funding devoted to a goal is the most important factor in achieving it. Our budget will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will. My colleagues at the State Department and USAID are a deep source of inspiration, and their patriotism, professionalism, and willingness to make sacrifices for our country are our greatest resource. I’m confident that the U.S. State Department and USAID will continue to deliver results for the American people.
I thank you for the time, and I’m happy to answer your questions.