What the bipartisan budget agreement means for foreign aid

A U.S. delegation visits the Islahiye Refugee Camp for Syrians in Turkey. U.S. President Barack Obama’s recently signed budget act includes an appropriation of $15 billion in “overseas contingency operations” funding for each of the next two years. Photo by: U.S. State Department

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 includes a heavy dose of funding for the state and foreign operations account that bankrolls U.S. aid programs. That’s great news for U.S. development programs, right?

In the short term, yes. But looking further ahead, some analysts worry the U.S. government is paying for aid programs with money it shouldn’t count on having forever, while failing to resupply the base funding account that provides ongoing programs with more financial security.

The budget act, which both congressional chambers approved and which President Barack Obama signed into law last week, includes an appropriation of $15 billion in “overseas contingency operations” funding for each of the next two years. That OCO money is an emergency funding pool associated with the global war on terror.

But in recent years, budget negotiators have tapped this special set-aside for programs well-beyond active war zones or anti-terror missions. Broadly speaking, it’s not difficult to draw connections between foreign aid programs and a global peace and security agenda, which OCO was designed to fund. But today, appropriators use “contingency operations” funds to pay for programs that few aid watchers would describe as “contingent,” humanitarian assistance for example. And that makes some aid advocates nervous.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.