Report: State Department plans buyouts to cut budget, bypassing Congress

The buyouts are meant to push forward on President Donald Trump's promised budget cuts, which Congress rejected, the report said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during his meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during his meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

The State Department will offer $25,000 buyout to diplomats and other officials who leave by April, according to a report Friday in The New York Times.

The move comes amid plans by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for a major reorganization across the State Department. But the buyouts are meant to push forward on President Donald Trump’s budget, rather than as part of the reorganization, according to The Times report.

That budget proposed a 28 percent cut to State Department funding. Congress has so far rejected that proposal, with appropriations bills keeping State Department funding largely intact.

“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the subcommittee responsible for State Department funding, told The Washington Post in May. “A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”

The State Department has about 25,000 full-time American employees. Tillerson plans to cut that staff by nearly 2,000 people, or about 8 percent, according to The Times. The buyouts will not be available to security, IT, medical, or facilities staff, whom the State Department is trying to retain.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reacted swiftly to news of the buyouts on Friday. “These actions are going to harm our security and our ability to lead on the global stage,” Engel told The Times.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump’s comments about the State Department have shown much more skepticism, if not outright disdain, for the role of diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy.

“We don’t need all the people that they want,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham earlier this month. “Don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. And I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people there that I’m not happy with their thinking process.”

“Let me tell you — the one that matters is me,” Trump continued, after being asked about still-unfilled assistant secretary of state positions. “I’m the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

Trump was similarly sanguine after Russian President Vladimir Putin expelled 755 U.S. diplomatic personnel from his country in July.

“I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people,” Trump told reporters at the time, “because now we have a smaller payroll.”