President Barack Obama appointed the country's first special envoy for hostage affairs following a review of the government's current hostage policies, the White House announced on Friday.
Former State Department official Jim O'Brien will be tasked with "one overriding goal," according to Secretary of State John Kerry, to whom O'Brien will report: "using diplomacy to secure the safe return of Americans held hostage overseas."
O'Brien will also communicate directly with the families of hostages—a response to criticism from families of American hostages who complained that the U.S. government left them in the dark.
O'Brien will be part of a "fusion cell" made up of officials from the FBI, the State Department, the Pentagon and CIA.
He previously worked as a presidential envoy to the Balkans during the 1990s and a senior adviser to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.