Lawmakers Probe State Dept Decision to Scuttle Plan for Crisis Response Bureau Months Before Afghan Catastrophe

Free Beacon report on shuttered emergency response bureau sparks congressional probe

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August 26, 2021

Congressional foreign policy leaders have ordered the Biden State Department to turn over all documents and internal communications related to its decision to abolish a Trump-era program that would have evacuated Americans stationed overseas in the case of an emergency.

Reps. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.) and Jim Banks (R., Ind.), members of the Republican Study Committee's foreign affairs task force and House Armed Services Committee, respectively, initiated on Thursday a formal investigation into the now-shuttered Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR), an emergency response initiative that was established in January by outgoing secretary of state Mike Pompeo, but did not become fully operational.

The Biden State Department moved in June to terminate plans to establish the CCR, the Washington Free Beacon disclosed earlier this month based on an internal memo and sources familiar with the decision. Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon signed off on the "discontinuation of the establishment, and termination of, the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR)," according to a June 11 memo.

News of the decision fueled intense criticism of the Biden administration, which is struggling to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban's takeover. While the State Department attempted to downplay the report, claiming the CCR bureau would not have helped with the Afghanistan evacuation, Banks and Steil say "the decision to shut down the CCR may very well have cost human lives," according to a copy of their investigation letter sent Thursday to the State Department and obtained exclusively by the Free Beacon.

"The decision to shut down this program only months before a rushed withdrawal has led to dire consequences and is unacceptable," the lawmakers wrote. "Not only did President Biden leave without providing a chance for Americans to evacuate, the State Department shut down one of our most vital tools to facilitate the evacuation of Americans in times like these."

Steil and Banks are ordering the State Department to turn over all documents, communications, and internal notes related to its decision to dissolve the CCR bureau. They also want "the name of the officials at the Department of State who recommended shutting down the CCR," according to the probe. The State Department must also provide Congress with an in-person briefing to explain "how shutting down the CCR has affected our efforts to evacuate Americans stranded in Afghanistan."

The State Department must hand over these documents by Sept. 3.

The Biden administration is struggling to pull Americans out of the Afghan capital of Kabul, where Taliban militants have encircled the airport and stopped U.S. citizens from boarding evacuation flights. While the White House and State Department have claimed that all Americans who want to leave the country will be helped, reports on the ground indicate that U.S. citizens have been unable to contact American officials for help. At least two explosions occurred near the Hamid Karzai International Airport, the only locations from which Americans can be flown out of the country, causing U.S. and civilian deaths.

The CCR bureau was meant to provide "aviation, logistics, and medical support capabilities for the Department's operational bureaus, thereby enhancing the secretary's ability to protect American citizens overseas in connection with overseas evacuations in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster," according to an October memo notifying Congress of the State Department's intent to create the CCR.

Following the Free Beacon's original report on the CCR bureau, the State Department claimed that it "would not have introduced any new capabilities to the Department."

The rushed and chaotic evacuation effort in Afghanistan, however, has generated questions about the veracity of this statement.

Steil and Banks maintain the CCR bureau "was set up to provide capabilities that did not [already] exist at the Department," and that official explanations for why it was dissolved do not make sense.