US aid groups brace for 'dangerous' Senate budget proposal

By Michael Igoe 22 May 2014

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah in a USAID budget hearing for fiscal year 2015 with the Senate Appropriations Committee. US aid groups worry that funding for overseas contingency operations could decline because of the U.S. military drawdown. Photo by: U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to propose cuts to international affairs base spending for fiscal year 2015 on Thursday, according to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a group that advocates for more active U.S. international engagement.

The committee will reportedly propose to cut base spending for ongoing international affairs programs and move additional money into the “overseas contingency operations” budget, which funds stabilization and reconstruction programs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan,and a few other countries.

While that might mean that the Senate’s overall budget proposal for international affairs spending is roughly equal to President Barack Obama’s request and the House’s proposal, it is still worrying to some aid advocates, because while base spending supports long-term programs like global health, OCO spending is directed to more short-term priorities and could decline as the U.S. military engagement draws down.

The full appropriations committee meets on Thursday morning to determine 302(b) allocations, which set spending caps for each of the appropriations subcommittees, including the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee, which funds the U.S. Agency for International Development and most other U.S. foreign aid agencies and programs.

Obama’s March request of $44.1 billion for base programs would maintain funding next year at enacted fiscal 2014 levels and — despite cuts to some program areas like health — was largely praised by foreign aid groups for holding fast in a difficult budget environment.

The House Appropriations Committee’s allocations earlier this month were not far behind the president’s proposal, holding base funding at $42.4 billion, and cutting the overall international affairs budget by only 1.4 percent below the request.

Base spending cuts in the Senate could make the budgeting process more fraught, as the subcommittee would have less money to divide money between international affairs accounts including operating budgets for various foreign aid agencies, humanitarian relief programs and economic support programs.

“We are deeply concerned about the Senate’s reported deep and disproportionate cut to base funding for the International Affairs Budget on top of the 15 percent cuts already made since fiscal year 2010,” Liz Schrayer, USGLC executive director, said in a statement.

Schrayer added: “We recognize how challenging allocations for this year’s spending bills are, but cutting these programs at a time when they are needed more than ever from Central Africa to Syria to Ukraine is not in our national interests. While OCO funds may mitigate the impact in the short term, another round of budget cuts to base programs is extremely dangerous to our security and economic interests.”

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.

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