WASHINGTON (CN) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to scale back the State Department by removing nearly 70 envoys and other special representatives from a variety of offices tasked with overseeing everything from environmental policy to cybersecurity.
In an undated letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Tillerson said the department would be able to “better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus, eliminating those that have accomplished or outlived their original purpose.”
Tillerson’s reorganization plan would not be a total overhaul. In some instances, the State Department would leave positions and offices untouched.
“While in other cases, positions and offices would be either consolidated or integrated with the most appropriate bureau. If an issue no longer requires a special envoy or representative, then an appropriate bureau will manage any legacy responsibilities,” he wrote.
What is clear now is that Tillerson plans to eliminate the top climate envoy spot at the State Department – a potentially contentious move in an administration that already faces sharp criticism over its denial of climate science and a general lackluster support of scientific study.
After the climate envoy is removed, support staff and funding are expected to be transferred to the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Tillerson is also reportedly considering terminating the special U.S. representative for the Arctic role.
The cybersecurity coordinator spot is also expected to close, after Chris Painter vacated the role in July. Painter was tasked with collaborating with foreign partners on cybersecurity issues and acting as a go-between for the White House and the State Department.
Corker issued a statement on Monday, welcoming the “streamlined” reorganization plan.
“Through the years, numbers of special envoys have accumulated at the State Department, and in many cases, their creation has done more harm than good by creating an environment in which people work around the normal diplomatic processes in lieu of streamlining them,” Corker said. “That is one reason our committee took bipartisan action last month to require Senate confirmation of special envoys while empowering the secretary to reduce bureaucracy by reining in these often unnecessary positions. I appreciate the work Secretary Tillerson has done to responsibly review the organizational structure of special envoys and look forward to going through these changes in detail.”
Historically, Democrats have been less enthusiastic about the idea of eliminating envoy spots. During a budget hearing in July, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said there was plenty of support within Congress for “particular envoys” and added that neither he nor others were interested in diminishing their capacity.
In a reaction to the removal of the climate envoy, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., expressed disapproval in a statement.
“The elimination of this critical position is just one more example of the Trump administration ceding American climate and clean energy leadership to countries like China and Germany,” he wrote. “Secretary Tillerson must retain this position so that the United States keeps a seat at the table.”
The news of the removals comes days after Daniel Kammen, a University of California, Berkeley, professor and science envoy for the department, resigned with flourish.
Kammen cited Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement as his cue to leave. Kammen also spelled out the words “IMPEACH” in his resignation letter, using the first letter of each paragraph to encrypt the message.