Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Hector Vivas / Getty Images

A $120 million grant had been allocated to the State Department since late 2016 to combat foreign efforts to sway elections, but the agency has yet to use any of the funds and none of the 23 employees tasked to combat efforts by Russia speak Russian, according to a New York Times report Sunday.

Why it matters: Senior officials including CIA Director Pompeo have said Russia will try to meddle in the midterms, and it's unclear what's being done to stop them. This reports comes the same day an Axios SurveyMonkey poll found a majority of Americans have little to no faith that the government will keep foreign powers out of the elections.

The details, per The Times:

  • A department hiring freeze has undercut State's ability to recruit experts needed to track the Russian efforts.
  • Congress directed the Pentagon to allocate $60 million to the state department at the end of the Obama administration to fight anti-democratic propaganda by Russia and China. Another $60 million was made available for the next fiscal year, but the defense and state departments took five months to decide on how much the latter should get. Following reports about the internal wrangling, State said last week it has agreed to take $40 million.
  • Secretary of State Tillerson took seven seven months to decide whether to use the funds. By the time officials decided to to use the money, it was too late because the fiscal year was ending.

What they're saying: Adele Ruppe, chief of staff of the state department's Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering Russia's propaganda campaign, defended the administration efforts, The Times reports. He said the agency provided $1.3 billion last year to bolster European resilience to Russian meddling. However, the Times points out that the Obama administration had allocated majority of those funds, while the Trump administration recently proposed cutting assistance by more than half for the 2019 fiscal year.

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