Just Security recently broke the story that the State Department was considering shuttering or downgrading certain functional offices and Senate-confirmed ambassadorships within the Department.  An outpouring of support for many these offices, and particularly the Office of Global Criminal Justice, ensued in the press and elsewhere. Last night, a letter from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to Senator Bob Corker, Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was posted setting forth certain structural changes in this arena. Of special note, the following position are retained:

  • Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism
  • Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice
  • Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Although these positions will be retained within the Under Secretariat for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J) and will continue to be Senate confirmed, the letter does not expressly indicate whether the Offices themselves (and their associated budgets) will remain intact.  The language preceding this announcement, however, indicates that “the Department also informs the Committees that the Department does not intend at this time to make any organizational changes to the following offices,” which implies no structural changes either, which would be welcome.  No mention is made of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which was reputedly at risk. Presumably, it too will remain intact within the J Under-Secretariat.

Other bureaucratic re-organizations/downgrades include the following:

  • The Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues will come under J and report to the Under Secretary rather than report directly to the Secretary as it did under the Obama Administration.
  • The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism will report to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), which is itself under the J Bureau.
  • DRL will also absorb the functions of the U.S. Special Advisor for International Disabilities Rights and for International Labor Affairs; these two titles will be eliminated. DRL will retain the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons at the current assistant secretary level.

The letter also indicates that certain envoys and special representatives (many of whom were administratively created) will be either eliminated or consolidated/integrated into the relevant functional or regional bureau. The letter hints to some of the criticism that has surrounded these special positions: that they create redundancies, contribute to bureaucratic bloating, or circumvent the ordinary diplomatic processes. Some of the positions to be retired include the U.S. Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility, whose responsibilities will escheat to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). Likewise, two positions dedicated to the environment–the Special Envoy for Climate Change and for the Arctic Region–will be eliminated and their functions assumed by the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs (OES). The functions and staff of several country envoys will revert to the relevant regional bureau. For example, the African special envoys–for the Great Lakes Region and the Sudans–will be eliminated. Their functions will be assumed by the Bureau of African Affairs (AF). Likewise, the work of the Special Representative for Burma will be assumed by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), that of the Libya and Syria special positions by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), and that of Afghanistan and Pakistan by the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA).

For each change, Secretary Tillerson identifies the number of positions eliminated or moved and the funds realigned to new offices.  The final fiscal implications remain unclear.

There had been fears that the entire J Under Secretariat would be disbanded (indeed, the Heritage Foundation proposed just such a move); instead, its substantive mandate seems to have been broadened. The Under Secretary will continue to be dual-hatted as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues but will also take on the functions and staff of the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues.

You can read the full text of the Secretary of State’s letter here.