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Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

Secretary Clinton Defends FY’13 Budget Request to Congress

Thursday, March 1st, 2012
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This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made two appearances on Capitol Hill, testifying before four committees, on the administration’s FY 2013 budget request for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Clinton appeared before the Senate State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Click on the links below to watch videos and read full transcripts of the hearings. Coming up, USAID Administrator Raj Shah will testify before the House State/Foreign Operations Subcommittee on March 6.

The end of poverty: Is America in it to win it?

Monday, February 27th, 2012
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

Hillary Clinton is no stranger to thoughtful stagecraft. But this week, she will have to give the performance of a lifetime if she wishes to protect America’s efforts to fight poverty around the globe.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Secretary makes the ritual annual trip to Capitol Hill, to testify before key Congressional Committees about next year’s foreign affairs budget request. The Secretary has long been a champion of robust, effective global development programs. But with the economy still weak, and the deficit still big, the Secretary is going to need to make her strongest possible case if she is going to be able to avoid cuts to U.S. diplomatic and development efforts.

The Obama administration has been forcefully arguing why our investment in fighting global poverty is so important to the United States’ core interests. The President’s FY’13 budget request explicitly links foreign affairs funding to efforts to advance “the security of the American people, the prosperity and trade that creates American jobs, and support for universal values around the world.” And Congress seems to be agreeing; last year, Congress eventually voted to maintain U.S. spending to fight global poverty.

I say “eventually” because, at the beginning of last year, some Members of Congress wanted to eliminate all international affairs spending. Some called for cuts to prove their commitment to cutting the deficit—despite the fact that, at only one percent of the budget, cutting all foreign aid wouldn’t even dent the deficit. Others wanted to cut foreign aid because they don’t think the problems of other countries are actually important to U.S. interests. Meanwhile, those cuts would put America at risk, and pull the rug out from under the very people who are trying to fix problems like poverty, hunger, and human rights abuses that cause problems for us here at home.

It’s worth listening to the critics of development assistance in these upcoming hearings. A few key questions to Secretary Clinton, and how she answers, can help shed light on which direction the U.S. will take over the next few years. In particular, watch for questions on:

  • Long-term focus: development investment can take a long time to pay off, but Congress is eager for quick results. Will Members of Congress play “gotcha” on individual projects that didn’t pan out? Or will they try to get the Secretary to outline longer-term outcomes that they can hold the administration accountable for?
  • Passing new laws: the Obama administration has put sweeping reforms in place over the last few years to make our development assistance work better. But few of these have been passed into law, meaning they could be easily changed before they have time to pay off. Will Secretary Clinton embrace a role for Congress in reform? Or will she try to tell Congress that legislation isn’t needed (despite ample evidence to the contrary)?
  • Corruption in oil, gas & mining: corruption is always a staple argument for aid critics. Congress has passed rules to require U.S.-based oil, gas & mining companies to disclose payments to governments, so citizens can actually follow the money their government spends. Yet companies are pushing for loopholes and exemptions to water down its impact. Will Members of Congress speak up for these rules intended to help citizens blow the whistle on corruption?
  • The response to the Arab Spring: in light of the halting progress towards democracy in Egypt, some Members of Congress want to cut off all aid to Egypt. The President has proposed a different approach; rather than cutting of our nose to spite our face in Egypt, why not direct more resources towards those countries making more progress towards democracy? In other words, why not stop talking about punishing bad behavior and start trying to support—and incentivize—democratic behavior? To see how Congress feels about this, watch to see if they support or criticize the President’s proposed $770m “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” and how well the Secretary is able to defend it.

The debate that happens this week around these key questions will help map out the strategic course the United States will take in the next few years—and tell us how committed our government is to investing in lasting solutions to poverty and injustice around the world.


USAID’s Town Hall on the QDDR

Friday, February 24th, 2012
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Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a town hall discussion for employees on implementation of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and other key initiatives, including Feed the Future. USAID Administrator Raj Shah provided opening remarks before introducing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who spoke at-length about progress on reform at the agency.

Read a transcript and watch a video of the town hall here.

What should we expect from the President’s 2013 assistance budget?

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Principals John Norris, executive director of the Center for American Progress’ Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding initiative,  and Connie Veillette, director of the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance initiative.

It would be a mistake to think that the budget crisis has passed for America’s foreign assistance programs and institutions. Although the 2012 international affairs budget dodged the proverbial bullet, and the president’s 2013 budget request will likely be reasonably robust, this is all something of a mirage. The administration appears eager to keep its powder dry in advance of what will eventually be a high stakes showdown over sequestration at the end of the year, after considerable election-year dust has settled. The administration does not want to put significant assistance cuts or USAID Mission closures on the table now and give up that advantage later.

It is a reasonable negotiating strategy, although it may prove to be a poor management decision. Looking at our relative fiscal health as a country, it seems almost inescapable that eventually there will be steep cuts in our foreign affairs spending as part of some grand bargain (however begrudging) that includes both spending cuts and revenue increases. We will likely see few signs of this in the President’s budget request, which will  read very much as a status quo request where we see shifts in emphasis, but no dramatic headlines. For those of us who care about effective assistance programs and the health of the U.S. economy, this amounts to whistling past the graveyard and hoping for the best.

For those who care about selectivity and focus in our aid programs, the budget will likely be something of a disappointment. Officials at USAID have argued, including in this blog post, that they are being more selective and catalytic in their approach to assistance. These are important but insufficient steps. USAID continues to be spread too thinly across too many countries and over-represented in places like Latin America and Eastern Europe that should be on a faster track for graduation. USAID can only take a share of the blame for the slowness in adapting to new realities. Both Congress and the State Department have been slow to assent to USAID pulling up stakes in Latin America, and no ambassador ever likes to lose a USAID Mission under his or her general command.

These arguments may have been fairly esoteric during periods when the U.S. assistance budget was flush in the post-9/11 period. But if the administration is not more aggressive about putting money into fewer places where development is more likely to succeed in the immediate term, it could be left to deal with some wrenching and very disruptive changes when a top-line budget agreement is finally brokered.

As Connie noted in this recent post, U.S. economic assistance, including the major health, development, and humanitarian response accounts, goes to 102 countries.  One country – Afghanistan – accounts for about 10% of the total.  The top 15 recipients account for 40% of the total, leaving about $12 billion to be distributed to 88 countries. Very small sums are allocated for countries like Belize ($20,000) and Micronesia ($490,000), which begs the question of whether it costs more to administer the funds than the value of aid provided. Ambassadors argue that such aid buys political influence, but one is only left to wonder what exactly we as a country get from Micronesia on the political front that would not lead to the conclusion that this money is better spent on development programs that have a chance of securing real and lasting development progress in a higher priority country.

From all indications, we will see a real push in the budget to provide more support for the Arab Springcountries. How exactly this effort will be affected by the Egyptian government’s hidebound determination to shoot itself in the foot and prosecute American democracy activists remains to be seen. But if we are to glean any lessons from the disastrous assistance programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the last decade, it is that money should follow reform, not the other way around.

This is the year in which, more than any in recent memory, the wisdom behind our assistance will be judged most harshly.  The President’s budget should reflect an understanding that Congress will be scrutinizing aid partners, goals, and effectiveness, and that anything that doesn’t pass muster could drag the best of these programs down.


It All Starts with Training: New CAP Report Calls for Better Crisis Prevention Training

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
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Last week the Center for American Progress (CAP) published a report, “It All Starts with Training: Crisis Prevention and U.S. Foreign Affairs Agencies,” that explores the need for improved training courses and professional development opportunities at core U.S. foreign affairs agencies. John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP, Abigail Long, associate for policy and government relations at Humanity United, Sarah Margon, Associate Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP and David Abramowitz, vice president for policy and government relations at Humanity United all contributed to the report. The paper states that “without enhanced training, diplomats will continue to lack the broad range of tools they need to deal with the many complicated and challenging global issues they regularly encounter whether on the ground or back in Washington.” The goal is with improved training, diplomats and development experts can advance democracy, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen the rule of law prior to a possible emerging conflict that could end with direct military combat.

The Obama Administration has launched a series of reviews on how U.S. embassies and development offices operate. One such review, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), concluded that the U.S. is not adequate in preventing and managing crises. A few statistics included in the QDDR underscore how important conflict prevention is to the U.S.: close to 60 percent of State and USAID’s foreign assistance goes to 50 countries that are in the midst of, recovering from, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure; more than 25 percent of State and USAID’s personnel serve in the 30 countries classified as highest risk for conflict and instability; and more than 2,000 civilian personnel are currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In part to turn the system around, the QDDR established an Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and the New Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (COS) to “lead, coordinate, and institutionalize U.S. government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife.”

As the authors note, looking at statistics from similar reports, it seems as though crisis prevention is a priority for the U.S. government. However, the findings from these reports indicate that significant institutional and cultural change is needed in order for the President’s rhetoric to become reality.

CAP’s key recommendations to improve crisis prevention training include:

  • Tying promotions directly to conflict prevention training;
  • Giving post bid preference to those Foreign Service officers who complete a certified core curriculum in conflict prevention training;
  • Requiring all incoming State and USAID officers to take a basic course on conflict prevention;
  • Providing for additional training for Foreign Service officers deploying to a conflict-prone country;
  • Requiring Foreign Service officers to complete a year of advanced training to be eligible for promotion to Senior Foreign Service;
  • Establishing the personnel capacity for civilian international affairs agencies to do better training;
  • Creating a new cone within the Foreign Service dedicated to conflict prevention; and
  • Synchronizing USAID’s operating expenses with its program budget.

To download a PDF of the report, click here.