Washington Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is moving to eliminate or downgrade special envoy positions at the State Department, including the representative for climate change, a step that is sure to ignite vociferous opposition from some members of Congress.In a letter obtained by #CNN and written to Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who heads the foreign relations committee, Tillerson said he would end or transfer as many as three dozen special envoy positions.“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 Corker, “and eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.”
Cuts and one area of expansionOther positions dedicated to thorny diplomatic issues, ranging from Mideast peace to relations with Afghanistan, would be subsumed under existing State Department bureaus. One area of oversight — the Office of Global Food Security — would be moved to USAID.Three offices would be expanded — those dealing with religious freedom, HIV/AIDS and Holocaust issues. The special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would remain under the office of the secretary.Tillerson hinted at a reorganization on his first day at the State Department, even before the Trump administration signaled its intent to cut up to 30 percent of the agency’s budget. The letter to Corker outlines some of the first concrete steps the former ExxonMobil CEO will take in his restructuring.Tillerson notes that the department has nearly 70 special envoys, many that still exist even though the underlying issues have been resolved. But his critics, who pushed back against the proposals at a July hearing on Capitol Hill, pointed out that a special envoy can focus attention on issues important to US national security interests that might otherwise get overlooked.Indeed, Tillerson himself appointed a special representative for Ukraine negotiations, career diplomat Kurt Volker, in July. In that position, Volker will play a lead role in working on a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine — a crucial step to achieving President Donald Trump’s goal of better relations with Russia.