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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

FY15 Budget Request Puts Heavy Emphasis on Initiatives

Friday, March 7th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Casey Dunning, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Global Development. Dunning writes about the President’s 2015 budget request. The original post appeared on CGD’s blog.

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President Obama launched the opening salvo in the FY2015 budget process with his recently released request, and while some of his foreign assistance proposals seem destined to go the way of the cutting room floor, you certainly can’t fault the request for having a specific point of view.

The FY2015 international affairs budget request is edgy (a word I’ve never used to describe a budget request) in what it chooses to prioritize and push for, given basically flat funding. Indeed the $50 billion request is actually 1 percent below enacted FY2014 levels due to a downsized Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The base International Affairs FY2015 request stands at $44.1 billion with an additional $5.9 billion for the OCO account.

Here are the priorities, highlights, and surprising reversals that stand out the most. There are quite a few, hence the longer post.

  • Power Africa powers up. This is the first budget request since the launch of the Power Africa Initiative last June.  President Obama wastes no time in seeking to advance this signature initiative, both rhetorically and monetarily. The only actual line item at this point is a $77 million USAID allocation for technical assistance, risk mitigation, and regulatory reforms. But the budget request draws on the resources of the MCC (see more on MCC’s budget request here), OPIC, Export-Import Bank, and USTDA – all of which see increased budgets. If the bipartisan support around theElectrify Africa Act is any indication, funding for expanded energy access in Africa stands a good chance of making it into a final FY2015 appropriations bill.
  • OCO decreased in $ and expanded in scope. The OCO request sees a $600 million decrease compared to FY2014 enacted levels. The President’s request also puts forth a big substantive shift by expanding its country scope. In the past, OCO was almost exclusively reserved for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. However, the FY2015 request devotes $1.5 billion for Syria and to support transitions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This shift away from a singular focus on the “Frontline States” represents a recognition that these three countries can no longer dominate US foreign policy interests.
  • Feed the Future lives on. With its contemporary cohorts dead (Global Health Initiative) or under-resourced (Global Climate Change Initiative), the Feed the Future Initiative stands out in the FY2015 budget request with a $1 billion allocation, roughly 5 percent higher than in FY2013. The multi-year Feed the Future effort is due to wrap up in 2015 (at least for the first phase), and the budget request aims to ensure the initiative finishes strong.
  • Aid for humanitarian efforts in Syria is up; aid for efforts everywhere else down. The FY2015 budget request singles out humanitarian efforts in and around Syria to the tune of $1.1 billion. (And this doesn’t include additional aid for opposition groups and transition funding in Syria).  At the same time, other humanitarian assistance accounts get slashed by over $1.5 billion, with the Migration and Refugee Assistance account getting hit the hardest (a 33 percent cut). Due to large carryover funds, this cut shouldn’t mean a direct hit for humanitarian assistance, but expect some scrambling if any new crises strike.
  • Global Health is no longer a sacred cow. For the first time since 2000, the funding request for global health programs has decreased. This year’s global health request still stands at a mighty $8.1 billion (a full 18 percent of the base budget request). But, this level represents a 4.6 percent drop compared to enacted levels last year.
  • The aid spotlight swings to Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan in the dark. Aid to Afghanistan grew in this year’s budget request as compared to FY2014 appropriations, increasing 4 percent to $1.4 billion. This increase stands in stark contrast to the 44 percent reduction in aid to Pakistan. This near halving comes as a result of the conclusion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill and the availability of sizeable carry-over funds. Yet, the reduction sends a worrying signal at a time when the US and Pakistani governments are in the midst of a successful Strategic Dialogue process.
  • USAID operating expenses, ever the unsexy line item, get a needed boost. The FY2015 budget request proposes a 21.4 percent increase to USAID OE after a painful FY2014 cut. OE funds are necessary in providing adequate levels of personnel to implement, manage, and monitor programs around the world while giving USAID the ability to lead Feed the Future, robustly contribute to Power Africa, and institutionalize its USAID Forward reforms.
  • USAID’s Global Development Lab given funding to experiment. Meant to be a legacy of Administrator Raj Shah, the newly founded Global Development Lab is funded at $146.3 million in the budget request. The Lab is born out of a merger of two offices (and their resources): the IDEA office and the Office of Science and Technology. Administrator Shah is due to officially launch the Lab in late March so details are still sparse, but the new entity aligns with the budget request’s emphasis on innovation, technology, and the modernization of development.
  • Multilateral institutions get much-need attention. FY 2015 looks to be a catch-up and consolidation year as funding requests are up slightly for the regional development banks, multilateral debt relief programs, and most of the environmental trust funds. The request also offers the first official announcement of the US pledge to IDA-17 and includes funding for the long-delayed IMF quota reform package, which the administration is separately seeking to move more quickly in an emergency Ukraine assistance package.
  • Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative makes a big splash, and will most certainly drown. This new initiative – clocking in at $56 billion, with half for defense and half for non-defense programs – is a veritable grab bag of funding allocations. Less than $1 billion is meant for international affairs programs, but these allocations are directed to multiple programs including the MCC, GAFSP, the Global Fund, Feed the Future, USAID’s Global Development Lab, maternal and child health, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. While the extra allocations would no doubt be welcome additions to these entities, the chances of this initiative making its way through Congress are slim to none.

The budget request does an admirable job of honing in on key initiatives and programs that President Obama sees as transformative in power and scope. It also includes a scaled-back but important development-related reform – a proposal to make food aid more flexible, allowing this assistance to reach an additional two million people each year. Stay tuned to the Rethink blog for updates on how each of these initiatives fare as the FY2015 appropriations process gets underway on the Hill.

For a detailed breakdown of the FY2015 budget request including specific line-item changes, see USGLC’s excellent analysis here.

The President’s Budget: What to Expect When We’re Expecting

Friday, February 28th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Liz Schrayer, Executive Director of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and MFAN Executive Committee Member. Schrayer writes about her expectations for the President’s 2015 budget request. This original post can be found on USGLC’s blog.

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On Tuesday the President will unveil the Administration’s FY15 budget and begin yet another round of negotiations with Congress on funding priorities.  The decisions will ultimately have a real impact on the international stage, so here is what’s worth watching once the budget is announced:

  • Cut or Not Cut? The first item to watch is whether or not international affairs programs receives an overall cut, and if so how big will it be? Will it be a small “haircut” or disproportionately cut compared to other non-defense programs? Remember, the Murray-Ryan budget deal brokered last December left little room for increasing discretionary programs for this year — only about $600 million overall.  So no programs are getting much of an increase.  The good news is that Secretary Kerry is a tough negotiator, and the Administration is well aware of the important humanitarian and diplomatic security needs throughout the globe.
  • How Much for War Funding? Over the past three years, some funding for international programs has come from the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO) to cover the enormous cost of diplomatic and development efforts in Frontline States and some of the emergency and unanticipated security costs in other hotspots.  These additional funds (upwards of $10.5 billion last year) have been vital sources of funding but have to be absorbed into base funding as we withdraw from two wars.  Unfortunately, some years, the Administration limited their request for OCO resources to only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq despite consistent Congressional direction to expand the scope of OCO.

While we are strong advocates for increased base funding, we have encouraged the Administration to make a more realistic OCO request and maintain current levels ($6.5 billion) to deal with humanitarian crises in Syria and elsewhere.  So watch if the Administration’s OCO request includes some expansion beyond the Frontline States to deal with these crises.

  • Presidential Initiatives?  Budgets always provide roadmaps of priorities – both programmatic and country.  The Administration has several priority programs – food security, global health, climate change, Power Africa – and it will be interesting to see how the budgets of key agencies are affected.  Here are a few items to watch:
    • Presidential Initiatives – Will the Administration continue to ask for strong funding for key priorities such as Feed the Future, global health, and their most recent effort in Power Africa? How will a re-energized focus on climate change impact the international scene?
    • Given the crises in Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, how will humanitarian crises, peacekeeping and continued security requirements be reflected in the budget?
    • As the U.S. and Europe try to shore up the Ukrainian economy with a rapid aid package, what pressures might that place on other spending?
    • Will the Administration attempt to build on partial gains made recently on reforming U.S. food assistance?
    • How will the budget reflect challenges in places like Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
  • Continued Commitment on Reform? A signature of this Administration has been to build on the reforms of the Bush era in bringing accountability and transparency to our foreign assistance programs.  Last year the MCC scored highest on the Aid Transparency Index, making the Corporation the most open aid agency in the world.  USAID Forward has led the way with a significant scale-up of its evaluation and learning capacity so we can better understand what impact our programs are making.  Will we see continued investments in operating funds at USAID, State Department and other smart power agencies and what will happen w­­ith new efforts in science, technology and innovation?

There are lots more questions to ask, and we will be up late into the night as soon as all the numbers come out to answer these and other questions about how we see the budget impacting international programs.

The spotlight will quickly shift to Capitol Hill, where Secretary Kerry and other Administration officials will defend the President’s request in hearings and where Chairman Ryan is expected to mark up a competing FY15 budget in March.

Expectations for the President’s 2015 Budget

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow in global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair. Veillette writes about what she expects to see in President Obama’s forthcoming 2015 budget request. The original post can be found on The Lugar Center’s blog.

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The President’s 2015 budget is scheduled for release on March 4.  This marks another year that its release has been delayed despite provisions in the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 that designates the first Monday in February for its submission to Congress.  This year’s delay largely reflects late congressional action in completing the 2014 budget and appropriations processes. Of course, late budget releases inevitably contribute to the end of the fiscal year deadline (September 30) also being ignored.

The President has signaled that he wants to move past our current period of austerity that has defined White House and Congressional budgets for a number of years. What will this mean for foreign assistance and development issues? Will foreign aid still comprise just 1% of the total budget? Will it include dedicated funding for the President’s new Power Africa initiative? Where do administration initiatives such as Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and other new ventures fit? My crystal ball is notoriously cloudy, but here’s where I think some of this will go.

Feed the Future, the administration’s food security initiative that targets 19 countries with activities that stimulate agriculture and related sectors, will likely stay level funded at a little over $1 billion, give or take a couple hundred million for nutrition/health programs or climate change activities. Since these issues are so intertwined, some funding can be counted toward multiple objectives.

Speaking of which, Secretary Kerry’s interest in climate change may well be reflected in the budget with increased funding. Last year’s request for the Global Climate Change Initiative was a slight cut from previous years. Figuring out how much to spend in 2014 will be made more difficult by the fact that the two accounts (Development Assistance and Economic Support Fund) used to fund it took a hit in the omnibus spending bill. Given the administration’s interest in global agriculture, there could be much more done to help small holders adapt to changing growing conditions.

Momentum around food aid reform has been building for at least a couple of years. The administration’s far-reaching reform proposal in last year’s budget was watered down just enough to give hope to reformers while still providing comfort to status quo supporters. I expect that the original 2014 proposal will again find its way into the upcoming budget. I also expect little progress in calendar year 2014 given that the Farm Bill, in which the compromise was included, was signed into law just this month.

It was announced in January that the new Global HIV/AIDS Coordinator will be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that the largest portion of the Global Health Initiative will be run by a non-development agency. The CDC certainly knows its stuff, but using health as an economic growth springboard isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, global health programs remain popular on the Hill and within the administration. The administration might actually propose a slight cut in health programs knowing that Congress will add the money back in.

Power Africa is the latest administration initiative with the goal of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The White House’s intent is to fund Power Africa at $7 billion over five years through a number of U.S. agencies (USAID, OPIC, Ex-Im Bank, MCC, and African Development Bank) and private companies. I would expect a $1 billion request as the first down payment.

Funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has been maintained well below $1 billion for the last several years despite bipartisan support. With six country compacts in the pipeline, three of which are Power Africa countries, I would expect that the 2015 request will top the $1 billion mark.

Selectivity and focus became catchwords during austerity. Some of us even wrote tomes on how to get more value for our aid dollars. Even if austerity is a thing of the past, and I don’t believe it is or should be, making our aid dollars go further by paying greater attention to efficiencies and effectiveness is a good thing. Having said that, I don’t expect much selectivity and focus in the form of transitioning middle income countries off aid, closing and paring back U.S. aid missions, or getting out of sectors in which we have little comparative advantage.

Many of the administration’s initiatives are quite ambitious but none will achieve their objectives if U.S. agencies are not equipped to deliver results.  USAID Forward, a rebuilding framework to strengthen USAID, find efficiencies and reward innovation, will likely see a modest increase above FY2014 levels. Keep in mind that Congress cut these programs by 10.9% from the 2013 sequestration level so I’m not going out on a limb with this one.  The requested 2015 level will likely allow for a continuation of initiatives but not a robust expansion. The critical parts of USAID Forward, in my opinion, are the rebuilding of in-house expertise, the evaluation of the agency’s work, and learning to work with local aid groups and civil society in what USAID calls Local Solutions. (For analysis on the use of local systems to implement USAID programs, see this Center for American Progress report.)

There are many more accounts and programs that I haven’t the space to cover. We at TLC will be doing some deeper dives come March 4. Stay tuned.

 

Final Paper Reviewing U.S. Pledge to GPE Examines U.S. Support to Local Institutions

Friday, January 24th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager at RESULTS, about their recent paper analyzing progress made by the U.S. to the Global Partnership for Education. This piece originally appeared on the RESULTS blog.

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In November 2011, the United States made a series of commitments in its pledge to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the world’s only multilateral partnership exclusively devoted to ensuring a quality education for all children, everywhere. Part of this pledge was a $20 million commitment to the GPE Fund (see “Discussion Paper 1 of 3: The U.S. Commitment to the GPE Fund”); another part reaffirmed goals of the USAID Education Strategy (see “Discussion Paper 2 of 3: The USAID Education Strategy”). A further component of the U.S. pledge to GPE concerned aid effectiveness measures of USAID Forward, the agency-wide reform agenda, particularly around closer collaboration with local actors.

With input from visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the third and final installment of Towards Collaborative Support to Global Education: A Review of the U.S. Pledge to the Global Partnership for Education takes an in-depth look at USAID Forward, with a particular focus on progress USAID has made towards meeting its goal to provide more direct investment in partner country governments and local organizations and businesses.

Throughout RESULTS’ visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the majority of development actors consulted were not aware of USAID’s intentions to increase direct partnerships with local institutions and host country governments, though they responded positively upon learning about the initiative.

Only one of the 12 basic education projects surveyed by RESULTS has a local entity as the prime implementing partner, and only one out of every 25 dollars USAID invested in education in Africa in 2012 went to a local institution.

If it is to achieve the sustainable development outcomes underlying USAID Forward’s local investment objectives, USAID must:

  • Foster partners, not just implementers, by soliciting participation from host country governments and local organizations to establish priorities and develop them as institutions in their own right.
  • Build host country government capacity where assessments reveal national systems too weak for direct partnership.
  • Coach local NGO communities, by offering organizational feedback and routine guidance on USAID procedures to local communities of practice.

Strengthen government systems through increased partnership with the Global Partnership for Education, whose systems approach to education development builds the very environment

Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan Makes the Case for More Flexible Food Aid

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, senior fellow at Brookings and MFAN co-chair. Ingram writes about how current reform proposals to international food aid can increase flexibility in emergency situations. The original post can be found on Brookings’ Up Front blog.

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Philippines On November 7, Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan hit the Philippines, affecting 9.7 million people, displacing 3 million, killing 3,637, and destroying 384,000 acres of rice, corn and other crops worth $105 million.

Congress, through the House/Senate farm bill conference, once again has the opportunity to provide the U.S. international food aid program the flexibility that is essential for our help to be effective in responding to life-threatening disasters.

Look at how the U.S. has responded in the days following the devastation by Yolanda/Haiyan. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace committed $7.75 million from the International Disaster Assistance account to the World Food Program to purchase food in the Philippines and neighboring countries. Fifty-five tons of nutritious emergency food products were airlifted from the U.S.  One thousand one hundred tons of rice, prepositioned in Sri Lanka for just such an emergency, is en route and should arrive around December 2nd. These limited actions ensure that the U.S. is able to provide immediate relief to those in dire need.

U.S. food assistance resources are restricted to the purchase of U.S. grown commodities that then have to be shipped across the ocean.  An expedited procurement of U.S. rice would arrive in the Philippines in late January or early February at the earliest. That is 10-12 weeks after the typhoon hit, which can help relieve medium-term food needs, but does nothing to address the hunger and starvation in the days and weeks immediately following the destruction and devastation.

And one might say the Philippines is lucky as the typhoon struck at the beginning of the U.S. fiscal year so resources are available; if such a disaster strikes in July or August, the limited cash is likely to have already been spent responding to earlier crises.

The United States is the number one responder to humanitarian crises around the world, and the 60-year old food assistance program is at the center of that capability. Food aid is an important tool of U.S. smart power. It reflects the humanitarian streak that runs through the American people and at the same time enhances our image and influence in the world, such as the overwhelming appreciation by the people of Indonesia for our helping in the recovery from the 2010 tsunami.

In certain circumstances, and for the medium term to relieve food shortages, shipping commodities from the U.S. makes sense. But not allowing the resources to be used to procure food in the nearest and most efficient market constrains U.S. responsiveness and does not reflect well on the generosity of the American people.

This crisis should not be wasted by allowing the United States food aid program to continue along lines that were relevant in the 1950s and 1960s but not in the 21st century. The U.S. government needs the flexibility to purchase food commodities in the most efficient market, which sometimes will be the U.S., sometimes the country affected, and sometimes neighboring countries.  This flexibility will allow more efficient use of U.S. taxpayer resources and better reflect American values. The reform of the program proposed by the Obama administration earlier this year would allow the same dollar value to reach 4 million additional people. That proposal lost on the House floor by only 17 votes. My guess is, if it were put to the House now, in light of Yolanda/Haiyan and the recent evidence that purchasing food locally is the only way to get food to those in need in Syria, the reform would pass.

The House/Senate conference on the farm bill should adopt not just the modest change of 20 percent flexibility found in the Senate bill, but allow up to 30-40 percent, or, even better, 50 percent of our food assistance to be used for local and regional purchase if that is the most efficient and readily available source.

Last week I was in North Carolina meeting with a farm organization representative and asked what the position of the organization and its members on the administration’s food aid reform proposal was. His response was that the issue was not high on their agenda but that farmers object to the notion of giving cash to corrupt governments. Not an unreasonable attitude. So I then asked what the response might be if they were told the cash did not go to governments (as it does not), but instead to the World Food Program and U.S. non-profit organizations (Mercy Corps and Catholic Relief Service) that have a long track record of effectively purchasing commodities on local and regional markets. He said, in that case, their response probably would be different.

Why has every other country moved to providing cash rather than home-grown commodities? For the simple reason of efficiency and responsiveness. One would think that the United States, seen around the world as the champion of free enterprise and market-based solutions, would see the logic in purchasing emergency commodities in the most efficient market available!