Tillerson moves to eliminate special envoy posts at State Dept.: report

Getty Images - Greg Nash

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is preparing to eliminate or downgrade special envoy positions at the State Department, CNN reported Monday.

The secretary, in a letter addressed to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) obtained by CNN, proposed shaking up as many as three-dozen posts, by either letting go or transferring the envoys.

“I believe that the Department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” Tillerson wrote. He said he plans to eliminate “those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.”


Those changes, though, are likely to spark a fight. Among the envoys Tillerson is proposing removing are envoys dealing with Syria, the Sudan, the Arctic and climate issues.

According to the report, Tillerson’s letter claimed that many of the nearly 70 State Department special envoys, who are appointed to address important diplomatic needs, continue to serve even though the underlying issues for their positions have been resolved.

He argued that pulling together overlapping missions of the envoys and other offices under one roof and cleaning house will help the department achieve its initiatives more efficiently.

It would “eliminate redundancies that dilute the ability of a bureau to deliver on its primary functions,” he said.

Some changes under consideration reportedly include moving the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues to the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.

Another change would move the special envoy for climate change and the special representative for the Arctic region to work under the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs. Those positions would be eliminated and their responsibilities transferred.

Tillerson is also proposing eliminating special envoys on Syria, Sudan and South Sudan.

But he also plans to expand three offices on religious freedom, HIV/AIDS and Holocaust issues, CNN reported. This comes after Tillerson appointed a special representative, Kurt Volker, to handle Ukraine negotiations with Russia in July.

The special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would also report directly to the office of the secretary.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last month, some Democrats, including the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), expressed concern about eliminating special envoy positions.

Tillerson has previously indicated plans to restructure the State Department including proposed budget cuts up to 30 percent, which the letter to Corker highlights.

Tillerson said plans for reorganization will advance the country’s national security interests and help “counter the influence of U.S. adversaries and competitors.” 

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Corker Rex Tillerson

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