Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 15, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today to note that, during the 117th Congress, several major legislative efforts to further U.S. foreign policy are becoming law, and I would like to highlight several here today. I feel strongly that these accomplishments merit special recognition, as they represent major advances in foreign policy that will improve our country's international engagement for years to come. I am proud to have led these efforts and would like to outline a few of the major components of these monumental bills.

As chair, of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development, I take great pride to note that we successfully passed the State Department Authorization Act this year. To put this in context, this marks only the second time within the span of the past 16 years that a State Department Authorization Act has been enacted.

The State Department Authorization Act addresses much-needed reform that will help to strengthen our diplomatic corps and efforts on an institutional level and represents months of painstaking coordination. Modern diplomatic challenges require modern solutions, and it is my belief that provisions of this bill empower the State Department to make necessary changes in key areas that will help to revitalize and redefine our diplomatic engagement.

I will note that key to these efforts is my colleague Senator Bill Hagerty, whose team worked closely with my own, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the State Department on defining and addressing modern diplomatic challenges. This act also represents a victory of collaboration across parties and agencies, especially the Department of State, to reach this successful consensus.

First and foremost, Senator Hagerty and I led the efforts to establish a Commission on Reform and Modernization at the Department of State. This 16-member commission will seek to identify areas for improvement and modernization in the organizational structure, personnel, facilities, and policy of the State Department and make recommendations to the President and Congress.

This effort is crucial; in the ever-shifting atmosphere of modern diplomacy, this commission will provide a body of oversight that keeps a big-picture view of State Department operations and establishes a critical line of communication between Congress, the President, and the Department of State.

Secondly, the State Department Authorization Act establishes new requirements to extend the ``cooling off'' period for post-employment restrictions for certain Senate-confirmed officials. U.S. foreign policy is not for sale, nor should anyone have reason to think it is. By extending the cooling off period from 1 to 3 years, these high- ranking individuals are barred from representing foreign governments before the U.S. Government for a longer period. In doing so, we lessen the risk of perception that Ambassadors and other high-ranking officials will lose sight of U.S. interests in favor of their own near- term financial gain. Again, this important congressional oversight is yet another important step to safeguard the integrity of our foreign policy.

Third, I would like to highlight key advancements we have called for in lifelong professional development at the Foreign Service Institute. We have established a new body, the Board of Visitors, that will serve to offer recommendations to improve and modernize the Foreign Service Institute. The Board of Visitors, along with a new Provost position at the Foreign Service Institute, will work to inject new outside academic and adult learning expertise to better its operations, including the development of an evaluation system to determine how to improve the quality of training and focus it on the areas most useful to better prepare diplomats for the challenges they will encounter in 21st century diplomacy.

Additionally, we identified other professional development areas that will help to improve the State Department's operations on an institutional level. We authorized the State Department to expand the scope and number of external fellowships offered across Departments and Agencies.

These external fellowships, such as the Congressional Pearson Fellowship, which allows Foreign Service Officers the opportunity to work on the Hill for a Member or committee of Congress, expand relationships and knowledge across U.S. agencies and branches, academic institutions, and civil society organizations.

We further sought to expand professional development and trainings to address 21st century diplomacy, expanding virtual opportunities for training and extending out training to partner organizations that can offer specialized expertise for modern diplomatic challenges. In addition, we authorized the State Department to pursue curriculum to better enable Foreign Service Officers to understand the issues of press freedom and tools that are available to help protect journalists, as well as incorporate special training for officers assigned to countries significantly affected by climate change receive specific instruction on U.S. policy with respect to climate resiliency and adaptation.

Lastly, we have authorized the State Department to purse a foreign language incentive pay program that will enable our diplomatic corps to maintain our diplomats' critical language skills so that they can better serve our U.S. interests. Senselessly, in the past, there had been no mechanism to keep our highly trained diplomats up to skill in critical languages such as Chinese, Russian, Dari, and Arabic. Our current system simply trains diplomats in these languages and incentivizes their use while posted abroad, but these incentives disappear when diplomats move on to other positions--and with no incentive in place to maintain their critical languages, these language skills are usually largely lost.

While we have spent significant USG resources enabling our diplomats to engage and further our interests with foreign audiences by teaching them foreign languages, up until now, we have provided no mechanism to enable our diplomatic corps to keep these critical foreign languages skills active.

This new program will strengthen the ability of our diplomats to keep these key languages fresh, which ultimately will save the U.S. Government money by eliminating the need to retrain diplomats in the same language for a second or even third time. It will also provide for a better-prepared diplomatic corps that can be called upon when there is a pressing need for diplomats with specific language skills, such as the urgent call for Dari and Pashto speakers that the Department of State issued during the 2021 fall of Afghanistan. We will now have these diplomats ready when they are needed to best serve U.S. interests.

Finally, I am also proud of our work in this body to hold accountable authoritarian government regimes across the world. For too long, we have seen democratic backsliding, rising corruption, and human rights abuses committed at a global scale. There is perhaps no better example than in Burma, where the military initiated an illegal and unjustifiable coup d'etat in February 2021.

During and following the coup, the Burmese military has engaged in despicable human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and wrongful imprisonment. The military-led government has imprisoned over 11,000 civilians and killed over 1,400, including children. This amounts to crimes against humanity.

We cannot look the other way in the face of these grave injustices. That is why I was proud to introduce, alongside my House colleagues Representatives Meeks and Chabot, the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act, better known as the BURMA Act. This important bill will authorize the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support democracy activists, provide humanitarian assistance, and undertake reconciliation efforts in Burma. This will include support for organizations aiding political prisoners in Burma and assistance to entities investigating crimes against humanity.

The BURMA Act also requires the President to impose strict sanctions on Burmese military or government officials, as well as actors that have knowingly operated in Burma's defense sector or have undermined the nation's democratic processes. The United States must continue to stand with the people of Burma and for a civilian-led government based on the recognition of human rights and democratic principles.

To conclude, I am proud of the work we have accomplished in this Chamber during the 117th Congress. By modernizing State Department operations and pursuing an anti-corruption, human rights-focused foreign policy agenda, the United States continues to be at the forefront of global diplomacy.