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U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

10/27/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/27/2021 10:44

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on the State of the State Department

October 27, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on the State of the State Department

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the state of the State Department and State Department authorization. The committee heard witness testimony from the honorable Brian McKeon, deputy secretary of State for management and resources.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

"Well thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Secretary McKeon for being here today.

"It has been nearly 20 years since Congress passed an authorization for the State Department. Over that time, the Department's need for reform of its operations and management has grown enormously. As such, I have spent the past two and a half years working with the chairman on a much-needed State Department authorization bill. Partly on my watch, and partly on his watch. We have not been successful to date obviously.

"If we want to exercise full oversight of the State Department - which is the charge of this committee - we must regularly and consistently authorize the State Department. If we don't, we will get more of the same, with the State Department choosing when and how it will listen to this committee.

"As the chairman knows, and I experienced during last Congress, getting the State Department to do the basics - provide witnesses for hearings, feedback on legislation, and updates before issues hit the news - is extremely difficult without authorizing bills.

"I look forward to working with the chairman, and you, Mr. McKeon, on getting a State Department authorization across the finish line this Congress.

"Since today's hearing is also about the state of the State Department, we must address the Department's role in the hazardous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"Despite the administration's efforts to put Afghanistan in the rearview mirror, it remains a pressing national security concern for the Senate and the American people.

"It's been over a month since Secretary Blinken appeared before this committee, and we have yet to receive the secretary's responses to our questions for the record that were propounded at that time. This is an unacceptable delay, and we expect better responsiveness from the Department, which they have always promised, but have never executed on.

"On the issue of continued evacuations - in September, Secretary Blinken assured us that there were just one hundred Americans remaining in Afghanistan that wished to depart. One hundred.

"Just last week, however, the team responsible for continued evacuations of Americans told us that they're working with over 170 Americans who wish to depart from more than 360 Americans who remain there. And the list is growing.

"I want to make note, and ask us to enter into the record, aggregate data my staff has collected from 25 Senate offices about the botched evacuations. It should be noted that this is a snapshot of just one quarter of the Senate's work to get people out. We know that:

  • 16,688 cases were referred to the State Department during and immediately after the NEO.
  • We only know of 110 individuals of this 16,000 who were successfully evacuated out of Afghanistan to the U.S. or to a third country.
  • I have been working on one flight with several U.S. citizens and with over 100 minors on that flight.

"I am also curious about the state of Embassy Kabul's workforce, particularly the fate of our locally employed staff. We owe a great debt to the Afghans who assisted our diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan for 20 years, and it is shameful they were not all evacuated before the administration's arbitrary withdrawal.

"I look forward to hearing more details on establishing predictable mechanisms for the continued departure of Americans and the Afghans who assisted us in our mission there.

"Last Thursday, I, along with Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Inhofe and Homeland Security Ranking Member Portman, sent a letter to the Inspectors General of State, DOD, DHS, and USAID requesting a joint audit on the botched evacuation and the failure to deliver on the Special Immigrant Visa program. As I mentioned at Secretary Blinken's hearing, the Department of Defense has a lot to answer for on SIVs as well.

"The bungled Afghanistan evacuation was a failure not only of the interagency, but also of leadership at the top. We will not accept separate audits from each agency just pointing fingers at each other.

"We've seen a dramatic uptick in terrorist activity in Afghanistan, demonstrating the Taliban lacks the will and capability to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven or, for that matter, even governing in the most basic sense. Coordination with Afghanistan's neighbors to address terror threats is critical, and I look forward to hearing an update from you today.

"I am not surprised, but I am disappointed to hear that the Taliban is blocking women and girls from the workplace and higher education. Yet, the Department has signaled the intent to restart non-humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan without securing concessions from the Taliban on these important issues. I have no doubt you are going to face some strenuous questions on that particular issue from this committee and others. Any further expansion of long-term assistance to Afghanistan requires a discussion with Congress.

"Finally, I and 29 of my colleagues introduced the Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight, and Accountability Act. I've asked the chairman that we mark up this important bill soon. Mr. McKeon, I look forward to working with you on this matter.

"With that, I yield back. Thank you, Mr. Chairman."

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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