WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State Department officials briefed Senate staff on Friday on plans to cut up to $10 billion from the department’s budget over five years, but offered few specifics to ease concerns that the administration risked weakening U.S. standing in the world.
The plan is the result of an ongoing assessment of the department ordered by President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
It includes broad goals such as “maximizing the impact of foreign assistance” and “improving governance” for information technology platforms, according to a copy of the presentation seen by Reuters.
Members of Congress have been vying with the Trump administration for more influence over foreign policy. In particular, many lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, worry about his plans to slash the State Department budget to help boost military spending.
The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee issued a blistering report last week accompanying its spending plan for State, accusing the Trump administration of pursuing a “doctrine of retreat” on foreign policy.
Last week, the committee voted 31-0 for legislation allocating more than $51 billion for the State Department and foreign operations next year, nearly $11 billion more than the Trump administration’s request.
The presentation was more specific as it listed what State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) did not intend to do. That list said there is no plan to dismantle State and USAID, eliminate the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, or concentrate power in Tillerson’s hands.
A Senate aide who attended said both Republicans and Democrats seemed frustrated at the lack of specifics.
“It was tense in the room at times, with staff from both parties asking for specifics and warning the State Department officials that it would be difficult to defend this given the lack of specificity and the ongoing problems with early, consistent Congressional consultation on a range of issues,” the aide said.
Tillerson wants to eliminate more than 2,000 positions at State, out of some 75,000 worldwide.
At a news conference this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee that oversees State Department spending, spoke of his opposition to such cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid.
“I fear that we’re going to get caught blindsided without a robust State Department,” Graham said, saying that ensuring national security requires soft power as well as a strong military.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis