America’s diplomats protect U.S. citizens, promote American businesses, rally our allies, and negotiate and secure our interests. In the face of so many unparalleled global challenges, American diplomacy must be strengthened and modernized through sustained congressional attention.
Since its creation in 1789, the U.S. Department of State has been the principal agency in charge of American diplomacy. It is made up of thousands of dedicated civil servants and members of the Foreign Service located all around the world, working to keep Americans safe and advance America’s interests. An empowered Department of State is central to a diplomacy-first foreign policy and the security of our nation.
To keep pace with current international challenges, the Department is in urgent need of modernization – from revitalizing our diplomatic engagement and public diplomacy efforts to updating the physical and IT infrastructure that supports a 21st century workforce. Decades of inadequate investment and focus by policymakers led to a hollowing out of the Department, a trend exacerbated by the compounding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump-era budget and staffing cuts. By 2021, more than half of the Department’s Foreign Service Officers and specialists were seriously considering leaving the agency within five years. Meanwhile, China overtook the United States in the number of diplomatic outposts around the world in 2019 and has increasingly sought to step into leadership gaps in multilateral institutions created by U.S. disengagement.
Congress began addressing these issues in 2021, when, for the first time in nearly two decades, it passed a State Department Authorization Act, which codified much of the Department’s organizational structure, strengthened public diplomacy efforts, and improved embassy security and construction. The following year Congress successfully passed another State Department Authorization bill, demonstrating renewed bipartisan interest in growing America’s diplomatic capacity. Among other things, the 2022 act expands our diplomatic presence in the Pacific Islands region, promotes initiatives aimed at achieving a diverse and representative workforce, such as a paid internship program, and created a blue-ribbon commission to develop recommendations on reforming and modernizing the State Department.
But more can be done. The main law covering our diplomatic personnel – the Foreign Service Act – has not been comprehensively updated since 1980 despite the Department’s readiness crisis. In addition, proposals for catastrophic budget cuts threaten to undo much of the progress made, while nascent modernization initiatives to attract and retain a competitive workforce risk failure without sustained support and depoliticization.
Our diversity as a nation in backgrounds and experiences, in race, religion, ethnicity, in countries of origin, is among our greatest competitive advantages in the world. Failing to draw on that diversity shortchanges our foreign policy and our ability to advance our interests in the world.— Secretary of State Antony Blinken Hear this quote in context on modernizing the state department
Faced with the challenges of climate change, an expansionist Russia, global competition from China, and widespread democratic backsliding, the need for U.S. diplomatic leadership, in close coordination with allies and partners, is more important than ever. In building and sustaining a State Department for the 21st century, the President and Congress must work to ensure that our Foreign Service Officers and civil servants have the tools to fully and effectively represent America abroad and are given the political support to pursue principled engagement with the world.
You can assist with these efforts by encouraging your elected representatives in Congress to support and pass annual State Department Authorization Acts that fully staff U.S. missions abroad, expand opportunities to make the Foreign Service more representative of the nation, and make other changes necessary for achieving lasting reform. You can also advocate for greater funding for the State Department, emphasizing to your representatives that with so many compounding global challenges, flatlining or cutting support for our diplomats is unacceptable.