Blinken announces new cyber bureau at State

The secretary of State named cybersecurity and emerging tech as critical areas for capacity building at State, alongside climate, global health and multilateral technology.

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The State Department is launching a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy to be led by an official with the rank of ambassador, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced Wednesday in a speech at the Foreign Service Institute.

Blinken also announced a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology. Both officials will report up to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), the co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which recommended a new bureau, praised the move on Monday after a phone call with Sherman.

"Secretary Blinken's vision for preparing the State Department to meet the challenges of the 21st century is a further demonstration of his commitment to strengthening the United States' posture in cyberspace," King said in a statement. "We look forward to working together with the State Department to establish these new authorities in statute and provide the necessary tools to the department, resulting in the long-term viability of this new bureau," adding that the passage of the Cyber Diplomacy Act was key to these efforts.

In his speech, Blinken named cybersecurity and emerging tech as critical areas for capacity building at State, alongside climate, global health and multilateral technology.

The focus, Blinken said, "reflects a significant reorientation of U.S. foreign policy that focuses on the forces that most directly and consequentially affect Americans' lives, livelihoods and security, and that will increasingly be at the heart of our alliances and partnerships, and core to our engagement with strategic competitors."

To support these efforts, Blinken said the department will "bring [in] more specialized talent, including STEM expertise" while developing such skills among the diplomatic corps.

Also on the workforce front, Blinken pledged to "build and retain a diverse, dynamic and entrepreneurial workforce" and to "equip and empower our employees to succeed." He noted that the State Department wasn't alone in providing employees with the prospect of a dynamic globetrotting career, and that the agency leaders "need to step up our game" on recruitment and on making sure that "talented people from all walks of life see the State Department as a place where they can belong and they can thrive."

IT spending

State is also looking to modernize its technology internally. Blinken said he would be seeking a 50% increase in its information technology budget, which a State Department spokesperson confirmed referred to a planned 50% increase in State's IT Central Fund from about $300 million to just under $450 million. While much of State's technology spend is spread across different bureaus, the Central Fund focuses on modernizing and maintaining IT services. According to the federal IT Dashboard, State is projected to spend about $2.3 billion on information technology in fiscal year 2022.

"You need better tools to do your jobs flexibly, efficiently, securely, from Washington and from the field. And accessibility must be built into our tech infrastructure from the ground up," Blinken said.

Blinken also touted the release of State's first enterprise data strategy in September.

"The department has vast and diverse data sets, but we haven't done a good enough job making data available to you in a timely and useful way, to help you make missions or management decisions more effectively. We’re changing that," Blinken said, adding: "We also haven’t always done a good job capturing lessons from our work. A learning institution is a strong institution – open to new insights, new information, new ways of working."

This story was updated Oct. 28 with additional information.