National Security

Tillerson Looks To Close Cyber Office Amid State Department Reorganization

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will reportedly close down a Department of State office that coordinates cyber issues with foreign governments as he continues to pare down the agency’s sprawling organizational structure.

Tillerson plans to shutter the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, created under President Barack Obama in 2011, and fold its responsibilities into a larger functional bureau at State, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The coordinator will no longer report directly to the secretary of state but will fall under the department’s chain of command as a part of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, according to people familiar with the plan.

The change is the latest move by the secretary’s office to advance an ambitious restructuring plan across the entire department. The coordinator of the Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ), another ambassador-level envoy, is being reassigned to a position in the department’s office of legal affairs, Foreign Policy reported Monday. (RELATED: Tillerson Considers Closure Of State Department War Crimes Office)

As Tillerson moves forward with the reorganization, he appears to be targeting “special envoy” offices headed by political appointees reporting directly to the leadership at Foggy Bottom. While those ambassador-level postings can draw extra attention and resources to issues an administration deems especially important, they also compete with the department’s permanent regional and functional bureaus for authority where responsibilities overlap.

A State Department official told Bloomberg that offices such as the cyber coordinator are often walled off from the knowledge and capabilities of larger bureaus, which keeps them from receiving needing resources. Tillerson dislikes the idea of special envoys reporting directly to him because he doesn’t have time to give them all the attention they deserve, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Some experts worry that subordinating the cyber coordinator will diminish State Department’s ability to collaborate with allies on cyber security issues. Defending against hackers has become a primary concern for Western national security officials in the wake of repeated Russian and Chinese cyberattacks against government and private sector computer systems.

“It’s taking an issue that’s preeminent and putting it inside a backwater within the State Department,” Robert Knake, a senior fellow for cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Bloomberg. “Position to power matters both within the U.S. government and within the international community.”

Tillerson, who supports a White House proposal to slash Department of State’s budget by 30 percent, has criticized what he sees as an unnecessary proliferation of special envoys and offices that make decision making more convoluted. (RELATED: Tillerson On US Government: ‘Not A Highly Disciplined Organization’)

The former ExxonMobil CEO is also seeking to axe the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and the envoy for the Northern Ireland peace process, reports Bloomberg.

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