WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.), both members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday introduced legislation to establish an Office at the U.S. State Department to coordinate policy and programs to help mayors and governors engage with their foreign counterparts and solidify a subnational diplomacy structure within the federal government. The City and State Diplomacy Act would codify the Office of Subnational Diplomacy at the State Department, led by an Ambassador-at-Large, to maintain international networks and reduce duplication and inefficiency in outreach by mayors and governors to create jobs, spark economic development, improve public health, and protect the environment. This legislation would also play a vital public diplomacy role by connecting U.S. citizens to the policy-making process, highlighting the local impact of diplomacy, and forging ties with foreign mayors and governors who are the future national-level leaders of their countries.

“If we want to keep up with China’s growing global reach, we need to get creative in the ways we wield our soft power. We’re seeing Beijing foster their own subnational diplomacy through opaquely funded cultural exchange programs, coordinating outreach to U.S. mayors, governors and state legislatures, and touting its local leaders’ responses to COVID-19. And that’s exactly why we need legislation to establish a federal infrastructure that helps our own mayors and governors engage with foreign counterparts and strengthen connections between U.S. citizens and the foreign policy process. Doing so also fosters important relationships with future foreign leaders that will inevitably benefit U.S. foreign policy. Marshaling all our foreign policy tools—including mayors and governors who are increasingly connected to the world—is a vital complement to boots on the ground, and this legislation helps us play the long game in competing with Beijing on the world stage,” said Murphy.

“With over 3,000 foreign-owned companies, over 20 diplomatic missions, two deep-water ports, and the world’s busiest airport, Georgia is truly an international state,” said Perdue. “Our local elected officials play an enormous role in this, engaging with their international counterparts to attract investment and collaborate on shared issues. Recognizing that our national diplomacy isn’t exclusive to Washington, the City and State Diplomacy Act harnesses the expertise of the State Department to coordinate with and support our local officials in Georgia and across the country. As Secretary Pompeo warned earlier this year, if we are to effectively compete with China’s efforts to expand its influence at the subnational level in the U.S., it is critical that state and local officials have a permanent, centralized resource to make informed decisions.”

“Cities remain sources of strength, stability, innovation, and diplomacy — and in the face of a global health crisis, there's never been a more important time for local leaders to deepen connections with each other across municipal and national boundaries. We stand on the front lines of the world's toughest challenges, from climate change and migration to poverty and public health. A State Department that supports cities' international engagement will empower us to expand our work with partners abroad and create even more opportunities here at home,” said City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Since at least the late 1970’s the importance of states and cities in the international arena has been intermittently recognized. This bill takes the critical step of affirming that importance and making it a permanent part of the State Department structure. The benefits to the overall U.S. national interest will be significant,” said Former Undersecretary of State for Management, Patrick Kennedy.

“On behalf of the State International Development Organizations (SIDO), we applaud your leadership in promoting the City and State Diplomacy Act. Governors and state trade officials are the CEOs and economic ambassadors of their respective state, working to attract foreign investment and helping their businesses export into new markets. They’re on the front-line forming relationships with international partners, leading foreign trade missions, and regularly hosting foreign delegations to help drive economic success for their respective state. All of this requires a strong partnership with our federal partners. The City and State Diplomacy Act is an important platform to strengthen our state and federal partnership and our joint mission to help U.S. businesses succeed in an ever-growing competitive global market,” said Andy Karellas, Executive Director of State International Development Organizations (SIDO).

“The American Academy of Diplomacy welcomes the City and State Diplomacy Act. The Academy, a non-governmental and non-partisan organization of former senior diplomats, recognizes the many ways in which cities, states and communities are already involved in international relations from trade to educational exchange to the transnational issues of crime and climate.  It makes good sense to establish a senior and formal coordinating point in the State Department to help in these efforts, coordinate with other aspects of policy, and support the ongoing efforts of America's local and state communities,” said Ronald E. Neumann, President, the American Academy of Diplomacy.

"This bill recognizes and affirms the value of subnational diplomacy. Our states and cities are already in dialogue with counterparts around the world--and this bill would formalize the much-needed capacity at the State Department to fully leverage these interactions for U.S. national interests,” said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The City and State Diplomacy Act put forth by Senators Murphy and Perdue takes the U.S. one step closer to an Office of Subnational Diplomacy at the State Department, which would act as a coordinating force between local governments and their foreign counterparts. The office would help facilitate international trade opportunities, and the exchange of best practices in various domains. Across the world, cities and states are embracing their autonomy to a greater level than ever before. We must recognize that cities and states, are not merely supplemental actors, but are essential to future diplomatic efforts. The bipartisan support for this bill is crucial in today's political climate, where partisan difference is at a high point. The coronavirus has highlighted the continued potential for mayors, governors, and other local leaders as avenues of international outreach and trade in critical situations. This bill outlines the overdue institutionalization of cooperation between American local leaders and our neighbors around the globe," said Reta Jo Lewis a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the  United States.

The House companion bill, HR 3571 was introduced in June 2019 by U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). This bill has been widely endorsed by both the foreign policy establishment and state and local government advocates, including the American Foreign Service Association, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Conference of Mayors, the German Marshall Fund, and Tom Shannon, the former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

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