Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is sitting on nearly $ 80 million set aside for the State Department to combat propaganda from Russia and terrorists groups — and most of it will expire if he doesn’t act soon.
Tillerson has held off for months, without public explanation, on accepting the war chest set for his department, according to Politico.
Most of the money — $ 60 million — was earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and has been sitting with the Pentagon, and it will expire if it is not transferred before Sept. 30. Another $ 19.8 million is already at the State Department but has not been put into use, despite pleas from Congress members and from Tillerson’s own staff.
The cash load had been reserved for a cyber battle against the spread of propaganda from terrorists organizations like ISIS, as well as state-sponsored disinformation from Russia as well as China and North Korea. Former President Barack Obama signed a spending bill one month before leaving office to boost State Department funding for these causes.
But there has been little indication the cash will come through before deadline.
One former senior department official told Politico part of the delay is due to the new and convoluted decision-making process by Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO. After officials filed an “action memo” for the money — a routine document requesting a decision from the secretary of state — Tillerson’s aides reportedly replied that he “didn’t like being told what to do.”
The State Department is also facing a nearly 30% budget cut — totaling more than $ 17 billion — under President Trump’s proposed federal budget, which calls for cuts to international diplomatic efforts in favor of Trump’s “America First” policies. The expected cuts have apparently made Tillerson hesitant to accept a major cash load.
But one Tillerson aide, R.C. Hammond, suggested the department might also be hesitant about using the money for one of its intended purposes: Pushing back on the Kremlin.
Trump and Tillerson have been shown little interest in repudiating Russia for the election cyberattacks that have been reported by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. Tillerson himself has close ties to Russia from his ExxonMobil days, and even received the country’s Order of Friendship award in 2014 from President Vladimir Putin.