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Hearing of the Senate Finance Committee - President Obama's FY 2014 State Department Budget Request

Hearing

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

During a hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry on President Obama's FY 2014 State Department budget request, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the request "reflects a sense of uncertainty in key areas," including U.S. planning for the deteriorating conflict in Syria and "critical unanswered questions" regarding the response to leadership failures from last year's deadly attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

"The budget reflects a sense of uncertainty in key areas. For example, in this budget, we see a lack of structured funding for Syria. I fear this reflects the lack of a coherent strategy and a failure to plan ahead to invest in specific priorities, whether supporting the opposition inside Syria or better preparing neighboring states to weather the coming storm," said Corker in his opening statement. "We also see uncertainty for U.S. personnel serving abroad. The budget request, including a substantial amount of funding for security related programs, reminds us that there are still critical unanswered questions that must be addressed going forward about failures of process and leadership in Benghazi. And, as far as I'm aware, no one has yet lost their State Department employment over the Benghazi failures."

Complete text of Senator Corker's opening statement is attached below.

Today, this committee is convening its annual budget hearing with the secretary, an opportunity to talk about the budget request and the issues that should inform what I hope will be a near-term effort by the committee to produce a State Department authorization bill.

Unfortunately, the challenges to our interests around the globe have not become easier since the secretary last appeared before us -- as our colleague and the nominee.

I want to note that I welcome the food assistance reform proposal in the budget request -- a top to bottom look at a significant foreign assistance program -- and underscore that I look forward to discussing the details of this proposal and the way forward with Administrator Shah during next week's hearing.

The budget reflects a sense of uncertainty in key areas. For example, in this budget, we see a lack of structured funding for Syria. I fear this reflects the lack of a coherent strategy and a failure to plan ahead to invest in specific priorities, whether supporting the opposition inside Syria or better preparing neighboring states to weather the coming storm.

Once again, the administration has submitted a request for a contingency fund for the Middle East and North Africa, but I'm concerned that we're getting a vague request for open-ended authority rather than a request for funds tied to clear priorities.

We also see uncertainty for U.S. personnel serving abroad. The budget request, including a substantial amount of funding for security related programs, reminds us that there are still critical unanswered questions that must be addressed going forward about failures of process and leadership in Benghazi. And, as far as I'm aware, no one has yet lost their State Department employment over the Benghazi failures.

Given that the budget has now arrived with a substantial funding request for embassy construction and security programs, I hope we will shortly have responses to the questions we have been asking about the process by which the department is sorting and prioritizing the competing construction and security lists. This will assure the Committee that funding is spent on the highest priority construction and renovation projects.

At the same time, we see built into the budget request plans for continued development work in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where security issues present a significant challenge for U.S. personnel. In many of these programs, it is evident that targets aren't being set, performance data is not being collected, and monitoring of our partners is not being done to know if our objectives are being met. This issue set is worth a larger conversation.

Today's hearing is also our first opportunity for the committee to hear from you about your recent Asia trip and to get your assessment of China's willingness to support a larger strategy to address the uncertain situation in North Korea.

Finally, the administration has sent a $52 billion request to the Congress for funding and we owe it to the taxpayer to ensure that every penny of their hard-earned money is well spent. It is long past time for the administration to name permanent, qualified inspectors general for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to help ensure that that happens. In fact, it is my hope that the next nominees you send to this committee will be individuals with proven careers in aggressive oversight for these two mission-critical positions.


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