By Katie Delaney, Marketing Coordinator at InterAction
Orginally posted on the Will and the Wallet. See the InterAction foreign aid page. By Anne C. Richard--The president submits his FY2012 budget blueprint to Capitol Hill at a time when the Executive Branch and Congress are expressing clashing viewpoints on budgets, staffing levels and future directions of US diplomacy and foreign aid.
The good news: the departments and agencies that run these programs are better prepared than ever before to justify their budgets. The bad news: that may not matter.
After two years of planning, review and reform, the Obama team has readied itself to make the best case possible for a robust international affairs budget.
Many top appointees entered the Obama Administration prepared to strengthen the civilian components of American statecraft. Candidate Obama had assured a “robust engagement” with the world, promising to double foreign aid as “one of the most effective ways to prevent the terror and strife that is far more costly both in lives and treasure to the United States down the road.”
The administration recruited foreign policy experts who are savvy about resources. One of Hillary Clinton’s first acts as Secretary was to hire former Budget Director Jack Lew to serve as a second deputy secretary of the department, a previously unfilled position that focused solely on resources. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah worked to mobilize private resources to fight global threats. And, Defense Secretary Robert Gates emerged as an eloquent spokesman on why civilian-led programs are essential for US national security.
State and USAID have also undergone significant review and reform. Secretary Clinton launched the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review to determine how the State Department and USAID could do a better job dealing with 21st Century realities. Administrator Shah has rebuilt policy and budget offices at USAID, is reforming procurement policies, insisting on independent evaluations of aid programs and pushing other reforms. At both State and USAID, efforts are in full swing to rebuild and re-orient their workforces. The NSC reviewed how agencies – from the Treasury to the Agriculture Department – support development work on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. This review resulted in a new White House policy on global development that set priorities and roles for various agencies.
New Majority in the House
The “shellacking” of the mid-term elections resulted in a new GOP House majority and a multitude of congressional freshmen who campaigned on the promised to reduce government spending. While the Obama Administration considers international programs as part of the national security budget, and thus exempt from deep cuts, House leaders have lumped diplomacy and foreign aid into the “non-defense discretionary” category and targeted them for reduction. The Republican Study Committee, a group of House Republicans, issued a list of specific cuts they would like to see, including a $1.39 billion cut to USAID that would essentially shut its doors.
Remember, though, that the current fiscal year’s spending levels are still up for debate. House Budget and Appropriations Committees are striving to cut billions from the FY2011 Continuing Resolution, which expires March 4th. The previous Congress punted on making spending decisions until after the mid-term elections and now, five months into the fiscal year, House Appropriations Chairman Rogers (R-KY) has proposed $100 billion in spending cuts below the President’s original request for FY2011. Nearly $12 billion of the cuts come from the international affairs budget, including deep cuts to programs that respond to disasters and conflict, prevent death in childbirth and vaccinate babies, contribute to the United Nations, and dispatch Peace Corps volunteers.
The Senate’s Key Role
Many look to the Senate to slow down the budget-cutting frenzy and consider what this money buys the United States in terms of enhanced security, trade and economic development, and humanitarian response. Within the Senate, though, there are divergent views about international programs. While new Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wants to eliminate all foreign aid, Senator Lindsay Graham recently said that civilian programs were important in the war on terror and prevented the need to deploy military forces.
The president’s FY2012 budget request arrives in the midst of this ongoing budget battle. The State Department is no doubt pleased that Jack Lew, back at the helm of the Office of Management and Budget, has had a two-year tutorial at State. He understands that diplomats and development experts will remain behind in Iraq and Afghanistan and seek to prevent conditions from deteriorating as the military draws down. Expect to see funding for aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq remain a White House priority, as will three Presidential initiatives related to global health, food security and climate change.
Can the diametrically opposed forces come to some kind of agreement? Coalitions of aid agencies, faith-based groups, students, veterans and global businesses are mobilizing and seek to make this a bipartisan issue. But Congressional Democrats may oppose protecting international spending when domestic programs are being sliced, and the new breed of Republican Representatives may oppose any kind of spending at all.
Anne C. Richard is a vice president of the International Rescue Committee and a board member of the Stimson Center.