Task Force Report: ‘Transforming the State Department’

Photo by Brooks Kraft

It is no secret that the State Department, our nation’s oldest Cabinet-level agency, needs to transform to meet the needs of the 21st century. Archaic technology and management practices, excessive aversion to risk, and hostility to innovation hold back the Department’s potential.

The cultural aversion to change and modernization has held back the Department in another significant way – a continued failure to recruit and maintain a cadre of diplomats representing the true diversity of the United States.

The Department needs a new vision, and under the Biden-Harris administration, it is well-positioned to implement much-needed reforms. From Secretary Antony Blinken’s office to Capitol Hill and beyond, leaders across the government are aligned on the need for decisive action. Recognizing the scope of this opportunity, this new report from the Truman Center for National Policy constitutes a blueprint for lasting transformation.

Watch the report launch event

New Truman Center Report Presents Groundbreaking Recommendations to Make State Department More Equitable

Report recommends the establishment of an office of innovation diplomacy; empowering the recently announced position of chief diversity and inclusion officer, and other reforms

WASHINGTON DC - Today, the Truman Center for National Policy released a report that presents groundbreaking recommendations to achieve one of the Biden administration’s most urgent diplomatic priorities: transforming the State Department into a more just, equitable, and innovative institution. Truman’s task force was led by co-chairs Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Representative Joaquin Castro, and Senator Chris Murphy, who have all spent significant parts of their careers fighting for a State Department that looks more like America and a foreign policy that delivers for all Americans.

From Secretary Blinken’s office to Capitol Hill and beyond, leaders across the government are aligned on the need for decisive action. Recognizing the scope of this opportunity, the Truman Center’s report constitutes a blueprint for lasting transformation.

Unlike past reform efforts, this report’s recommendations are informed by the lifeblood of the Department itself — mid-career officers from diverse backgrounds on the front lines of diplomacy. These experiences make Truman’s task force uniquely qualified to prescribe the recommendations that the Department so desperately needs and is well positioned to implement.

Among the report’s most significant recommendations to Department leaders, members of Congress, and other policymakers:

  • Empower the department’s newly created position of chief diversity and inclusion officer. This officer should be tasked with dismantling barriers to the recruitment and retention of employees from underrepresented groups, collecting and disseminating data on the department’s progress on diversity, and implementing accountability measures to improve the department’s culture.
  • Strengthen accountability for discrimination and harassment. Strengthen and enforce accountability standards for supervisors who are the subject of pending harassment investigations, and annul all non-disclosure agreements in settlements reached with survivors of assault and harassment.
  • Create a mid-career Foreign Service specialist entry program. This program would focus on new areas that require targeted expertise. It would diversify the mid-level ranks and match skills to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, in areas like global health, technology, data literacy, and climate change.
  • Strengthen equity and transparency in promotions and assignments. The Department should pilot blind review in employee evaluation reports, ensure gender parity and racial equity in promotion panels, collect diversity data on promotions, and conduct a data-driven analysis on barriers to promotion.
  • Establish an office of state and local diplomacy. This office will be key to expanding diplomatic engagement across America. Outside of foreign policy circles in major cities, knowledge of diplomacy and global affairs is sorely lacking. This office would serve as the connective tissue between state and local officials, urban and rural communities, and foreign policy leaders at the federal level. 
  • Establish an office of innovation diplomacy. The OID would connect decentralized innovation hubs across the country, and serve as a resource for State Department bureaus looking to connect overseas visitors to technology counterparts in those hubs.

The next phase of the task force’s work involves discussions and policy workshops over the course of 2021, led by Truman chapters across the country. These conversations will provide actionable insights on how the State Department and its workforce can make the report’s vision for reform a reality in the years to come.

Amb. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley said: “This report is an important addition to the State Department’s toolkit for making real progress on diversity and inclusion. Truman’s willingness to engage with the Department on this core issue adds valuable voices, perspectives, and insight previously untapped.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro said: “As we rebuild our nation’s infrastructure for diplomacy, it is crucial that America’s diplomats, who represent our face to the world, reflect the full diversity of the American people. The Truman Center’s report confirms that U.S. foreign policy gains a competitive advantage when we fully leverage the power of our example, and I’m encouraged that the report includes several recommendations that are key parts of my legislative agenda. Common-sense bipartisan reforms, such as paying State Department interns, will go a long way toward ensuring Americans of all backgrounds can pursue a career in diplomacy. I will continue working with the State Department, the Truman Project, and my colleagues in Congress to build a State Department that reflects our nation’s diversity and highest values.”

Sen. Chris Murphy said: “We have a real opportunity to modernize the State Department so the agency can better represent America, both by diversifying the ranks of our diplomatic corps and expanding foreign policymaking outside of Washington to bring mayors, governors and local elected officials into the fold. After teaming up with my colleagues on this task force, we’re recommending the State Department establish an office of state and local diplomacy and appoint a chief diversity officer, among other reforms. We’ve seen subnational diplomacy at work as states and cities have led on important issues like climate change and our recommendations will expand this important work to make the State Department more effective and better aligned with U.S. values at home and abroad. I’m grateful to the Truman Center for convening the task force to write such an important report.”

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, President and CEO of Truman Center said: “Under Secretary of State Blinken’s leadership, the Department has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the broad recognition that now is the time to restore trust and propose bold, transformational reforms that address the root causes of talent loss. The report’s recommendations cut to the heart of these challenges and offer bold, but achievable reforms to rebuild the Department in the sustainable and equitable fashion required to restore American leadership abroad.”

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The Truman Center for National Policy a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for tough, smart national security solutions. We are united in the belief that America is strongest when we stand with our allies to lead, support, and defend a growing global community of free people and just societies. Along with our sister organization, the Truman National Security Project, we identify, train, and position leaders across America who share this worldview.