Special Representative Reta Jo Lewis, U.S. Department of State, Speech to the NCSL International Relations Task Force

Fall Forum

Phoenix, AZ

Saturday December 11, 2010


NCSL International Relations Task Force Speech

Good morning.  It is a pleasure to be here to participate in the inaugural meeting of the NCSL International Relations Task Force. As a Representative of the United States and on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to thank President of NCSL Senator Richard Moore and Executive Director, Bill Pound, International Programs Director, Kathy Wiggins, Task Force Co-Chairs Senator Pam Althoff and Speaker Terie Norelli, Mr. Neil Simon, Deputada Aparecida Gama, and all the state legislators for all of the hard work you do day in and day out working to create and maintain the important governing policies of your states.

This is an excellent platform – and audience – for exchange, learning, and strategic debate around states, and their roles internationally.  We have the opportunity to tackle many common and urgent global challenges together that state legislatures, maybe unexpectedly, have the power to address.

Secretary of State Clinton, as the leading U.S. diplomat, has made international engagement with previously untapped or underrepresented resources a priority in all of our work, because our communities the world over are grappling with many similar issues and it is vital to take an innovative second look at how we can address these issues. 

Secretary Clinton and the Department of State broadened and changed the way we conduct business and opened our doors to a new era of diplomacy, working with new partners to collaborate and innovate the way we engage globally.  The Secretary is integrating development, diplomacy, and defense – the three Ds – in order to serve our mission of representing America’s very best to the world.

As Secretary Clinton has made clear, the time has come to take a bold and imaginative look, not just at the substance of our foreign policy, but at how we conduct our foreign policy. We must now make the transition to 21st Century Statecraft, engaging with all the elements of our national power – and leveraging all forms of our strength.  We must now engage our sub-national leaders and utilize them as an extraordinary source of innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge.  In the past, we only scratched the surface.

Now we are seeking in the Department of State to build partnerships that will allow state and local officials to exchange ideas.  After all, it is the states and cities that are the engines of progress at the ground level where the transition from policy to practice becomes most visible.  

Since being appointed Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton has taken on the full responsibility of U.S. foreign policy and its many global challenges and implications. As evidenced by the creation of the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Secretary Clinton has emphasized the utilization of you--our local leaders--as a key component of the much-needed widespread and deep-rooted effort to take on our world’s greatest challenges. We understand the implementation of solutions occurs largely on the state, city, and local levels.

That is why the Secretary created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs at the State Department: to assist U.S. state and local elected officials with their global needs and facilitate their engagement with their sub-national counterparts; assist the regional bureaus’ work, specifically in Asia, Africa and the Western Hemisphere, on their engagement with sub-national and U.S. state and local leaders; amplify and develop targeted capacity building programs utilizing the technical expertise of our U.S. state and local officials; and support diplomacy, and foster peer-to-peer opportunities for sub-national dialogue.

As we forge ahead realizing this momentous purpose, we observe a revitalized appreciation for the state legislators’ vital role in diplomacy.

We know that state legislation, although at the state level, has the potential for global impact – therefore making it something of a misnomer. Being in the business of global engagement, we seek to identify and harness all channels capable of such impact.

In less than a year of existence, my office has been privileged to work extensively with many governors, county executives, mayors, and council members, and of course legislators. We have only been able to catch a glimpse of what state legislation and state legislators are really capable of achieving on an international scale, but we are confident of their wide reach and breadth.

We have already seen that legislatures are willing to consider and adopt internationally directed policies, like resolutions on foreign policy and humanitarian action and policy affecting immigration and border relations, international trade, environmental issues, and national defense – to name just a few.

I am sure you are aware that legislators can do more than simply create policy, though. As respected go-to members of the community, many legislators have used their clout and expertise to advocate for the issues close to the hearts of their constituents, such as we have experienced in support of Haiti aid and reconstruction efforts in areas with Haitian Diaspora communities.

Although these actions could potentially influence state or federal policy, they are not necessarily required to directly affect legislation– they are also important to making issues and crises visible, thereby strengthening the collaborative effort to address such issues.

We have also seen greatly successful participation of legislators in welcoming and interacting with foreign delegations. These demonstrations of good will and genuine helpfulness and interest are essential components of successful diplomacy.

To date, we have had state legislators participate in several of our projects, including the sub-national delegation to the U.N. Donors’ Conference Pre-Meeting for Haiti earthquake relief efforts, programming for African Ministers during the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Kansas City to support economic development, and during our U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission programming in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to support government transparency. This participation in Harrisburg – which could not have been made possible without the help of NCSL and Kathy Wiggins – resulted in an exciting meeting between the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House and the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria, who is a former Speaker himself.

All of these events provided a platform to share ideas, concerns, and best practices, and even discuss model legislation. They also embodied the important work of diplomacy. 

Toward that end, we at the Department of State are very interested in further cultivating and expanding our work with state legislatures. My office is in the unique position to be able to connect you with both your international counterparts and other Department Bureaus and Agencies who do work on issues of mutual interest that would benefit from your collaboration.

For example, I have begun working with Ambassador Luis CdeBaca of the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, who has expressed a desire to further the existing relationship with the states. Federal and state collaboration on this crime and human rights issue would serve to increase the number of traffickers convicted; provide critical services and assistance to the victims; and ultimately prevent trafficking from occurring. By working together with all partners to pass and implement human trafficking legislation that touches all three Ps – prosecution, protection and prevention – in every state and create consistent policies across the states, we can significantly impact the effectiveness of this globally consequential issue. 

This integration of all of our work and resources allows us to bring all of our competencies together to maximize our success, in this and any situation. The coordination and participation of state and local and sub-national leaders and governments are key in inspiring interest, compliance, and expanded innovation and initiative.  Without comprehensive support and cooperation at all levels of government and their constituents, our collective goals and objectives cannot be realized. 

Our success in these endeavors is shared. Likewise, our work must be more collaborative, our plans more coordinated, and our partnerships more strategic, and will need to also include universities and research institutions, the private sector, NGOs and civil society because we already know that policies cannot be executed by government alone.

And by implementing these partnerships and acting in a collective, concerted manner, we can add value to both our individual and shared goals, while also promoting the strategic interests of our nations, and enhancing what we can achieve together. 

We firmly believe that our shared, global challenges can only be met through a comprehensive response rooted in partnerships, innovation, and collaboration at the sub-national and state levels.

Let us begin with the ideas that we have been working on and that we share today to help us build a better world that will inspire us and make us even more passionately committed to the challenges before us.

It also takes us looking beyond our borders; it takes a shared, global response to meet the shared, global challenges we face.  Our world is urbanizing at a rapid rate and our policies must keep pace with these changes.

We are truly all in this together, and we will only succeed in creating and maintaining effective policy by forging mutually beneficial partnerships among our state and local leaders and their sub-national counterparts abroad.

Thank you all again for your legislative leadership that is so critical to our common future, as we come together for state and local partnerships in pursuit of the common good.  Together in partnership we are making a difference.

Once again, congratulations on the formation of the International Relations Task Force.


Updated 12/13/10