U.S. World Leadership on Refugee and Displacement Crisis Response and the U.S. Government Reorganization

Supported by the American people and the United States Congress over many decades, the U.S. government has been at the forefront of efforts to ease the suffering of civilians who have endured forced displacement and deprivation. The Trump administration is now engaged in a broad effort to consider the organization of the U.S. government, which will include an examination of how the government is structured for international humanitarian response.

Because the stakes are so high, the question of U.S. organization for international humanitarian response requires careful consideration of important program and policy issues.

The stakes in this discussion are very high, as we are living in a period of severe humanitarian suffering and overwhelming challenges worldwide. More than 65 million people are forcibly displaced globally, and tens of millions are severely food insecure. Administration officials and Members of Congress have long advocated strong support for generous and effective humanitarian response, to provide global leadership based on U.S. values and U.S. interests in addressing despair and desperation that can threaten peace and stability. Because the stakes are so high, the question of U.S. organization for international humanitarian response requires careful consideration of important program and policy issues that has yet to take place. This is a significant gap that this report seeks to address.

Based on the analysis in this report, an Expert Group of senior humanitarian practitioners and former senior diplomats concludes that the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) both have key roles to play in international humanitarianism that are inherent in their respective organizational missions, and each should retain essential functions while enhancing “jointness,” complementarity and coordination. Consolidation of the functions of either agency into the other would be a significant error. As mentioned, each has functions that are inherent in its organizational mission. Rather, we propose enhanced “jointness” and collaboration rather than consolidation, which would not only preserve essential functions of both State and USAID, but also enhance effectiveness in U.S. humanitarian response.

Finally, we are deeply concerned by proposals which would effectively end the State Department role in international humanitarianism by eliminating the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and transfer its overseas assistance role to USAID and its refugee admissions responsibilities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

These proposals ignore the special capacities of the Department of State and the importance of integrating diplomacy with international humanitarian assistance and resettlement.

These proposals ignore the special capacities of the Department of State and the importance of integrating diplomacy with international humanitarian assistance and resettlement. With respect to the Refugee Admissions Program itself, such a shift would, without any apparent justification, conflict starkly with the stated objectives of the 1980 Refugee Act.

Most importantly, the elimination of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration – the bureau established to manifest U.S. diplomatic, legal and moral concerns about refugees – will send an obvious and powerful signal, within the United States and to the rest of the world, that the United States is diminishing its historical concerns about the displaced and disenfranchised. This would ill-serve U.S. interests and would be a betrayal of the values that have characterized our nation from its very founding.

Members of the Expert Group

Scott Arbeiter, President, World Relief

Frederick D. Barton, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Former Director, Office of Transition Initiatives, US Agency for International Development 

Nicholas Burns, Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

William J. Burns, Former Deputy Secretary of State

Ryan Crocker, Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon and Member of the Board, Mercy Corps

Sheba Crocker, Vice President for Humanitarian Policy and Practice, CARE and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Arthur “Gene” Dewey, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO, HIAS

Victoria K. Holt, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Cindy Huang, Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Global Development

Erol Kekic, Executive Director, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service

Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO, Mercy Corps

Anwar A. Khan, CEO, Islamic Relief USA

Jeremy Konyndyk, Former Director, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development

Mark P. Lagon, Former Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons

Ellen Laipson, Former Vice Chair, U.S. National Intelligence Council

Lavinia Limon, President and CEO, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee

Thomas Nides, Former Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources

Victoria Nuland, Former Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs 

David M. Robinson, Executive Director, Jesuit Refugee Service USA

Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International and former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Wendy R. Sherman, Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

William H. Taft, Former Legal Adviser, Department of State, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and former General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense