The 12 gifts of Congress for those both naughty & nice (Or what I like and don’t like in the FY2012 budget bill)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The U.S. Congress passed the consolidated 2012 spending bill Dec. 17, which includes $42.1 billion for State and foreign operations. Connie Veillette of the Center for Global Development notes the good and bad points of the section pertaining to foreign assistance.

We are in the holiday spirit here at CGD so everything takes on a celebratory hue.  Congress finally acted on what is called a Megabus spending bill.  For policy wonks, it’s the perfect gift, allowing for hours of reading fun and analysis.  (Note to hubby: I am being facetious.  Do not change your GPS setting from jewelry store to Government Printing Office.)

Here are my top items in Division I – the State Department and Foreign Operations section – of the Megabus:

  • Nice:  Increased flexibility.  There is continued interest on the part of policymakers to provide additional flexibility in the expenditure of funds by extending the period in which moneys must be obligated. In this case USAID Operating Expenses are now two-year funds. 

  • Naughty:  No funding is provided for any new Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) positions in 2012.  The DLI began under President Bush to restore the staffing and expertise that had been lost at USAID.  Requested funding was to be used to hire mid-level professionals for staff initiatives such as food security and global health. 

  • Naughty:  No authority or funding was provided for a requested USAID Working Capital Fund.

  • Nice:  Congress blessed new enterprise funds for Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordon. 

  • Nice for transparency; Naughty for increase in reports: The bill includes several provisions requiring new reports or spend plans.  I’m generally not a fan of including more reporting requirements, but these new obligations seem aimed at addressing the whole-of-government conundrum, clarifying exactly what agencies are doing what activities where, and getting aid investments posted on USAID’s Dashboard.  In the same vein, the bill requires a “government-wide” funding summary within 90 days after enactment of global health programs.  For anyone who has tried to total up the amount of health funding, this one’s for you. 

  • Nice:  The position of coordinator for basic education is moved from the State Department to USAID. Why was it ever anywhere else? 

  • Nice:  The creation of a Middle East and North Africa Response Fund will help the U.S. engage in this region at a critical point in its history.  Naughty: for requiring a spend plan (with the assumption that it must be approved by the appropriate congressional committee before money can be spent).  Creating a fund that has the “necessary flexibility” to take advantage of opportunities as they come up becomes much less flexible when a spend plan has to be written and approved in advance.  Proper planning is nice; let’s hope the oversight committees are prompt in their reviews. 

  • Nice:  REAP, or the fund formerly known as GAFSP – the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, will get $135 million.  That amount, while generous, leaves the U.S. short by nearly $150 million of its $475 million pledge, but it may help to motivate other donors to fulfill their pledges. 

  • Nice: A rewritten Bumpers amendment will make it a lot easier to provide agricultural productivity funding to very poor and food insecure countries without having to demonstrate that the aid will turn recipient countries into competitors with U.S. exports. 

  • Nice:  A clear signal of congressional intent that more USAID missions need to be scrutinized for closing by calling for an estimate of savings that could be realized in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  But, I would caution that there are immediate costs to closing missions before the savings kick in, and funds should be provided for close-outs. 

  • Nice:  A clarion call for clarity with regard to the Global Health Initiative (GHI). The bill requires a status report by mid-February on the transition of the GHI to USAID leadership as called for in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.  Included in the status report are to be the metrics that measure the benchmarks USAID is supposed to meet in order to take charge as of the target date of September 2012.  If it appears the transition date will not be met, then it requires a “revised target date for the transition to be completed.”  The signal is clear – Congress expects USAID to take GHI leadership. 

  • Nice:  Related to the GHI, the bill requires a study within six months of enactment on the costs of moving the State Department’s Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) into USAID.  Others have called for this move for the sake of coherence.  If GHI is to integrate health and disease prevention into a single coherent whole, then health programs should be under a single leader.  What is interesting about this is that an early iteration of the House bill combined PEPFAR and other global health programs into one fund and appropriated the entire fund to USAID, although it left OGAC at State.  Clearly some quarters in Congress want change while others are hesitant.  The requirement for studies is a way to signal intent while kicking the can down the road a bit. 

While international affairs spending was not cut to the degree anticipated, it is still clear that budget pressures will continue a downward trend.  These cuts must be accommodated in a strategic and focused way in order to increase effectiveness.

Republished with permission from the Center for Global Development. View original article.

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