Will Debt Deal Force USAID Staffing Cuts?

Pallets of humanitarian aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.S. Department of State and USAID have to downsize as a result of the newly signed law that will impose strict government spending caps. Photo by: U.S. Embassy, Chile / CC BY-NC-SA

The United States may have averted immediate financial collapse Tuesday, but for the aid community, the real fight is still ahead. It’s going to be a tough one.

On Aug. 2, President Barack Obama signed a law that will increase the country’s borrowing limit but also impose strict government spending caps. As a result, it’s all but certain that the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development will have to downsize.

Operating expenses may be most affected, with lawmakers shaving as much as a quarter or more from the White House’s fiscal 2012 budget request for USAID and leading not just to hiring freezes but perhaps even to staff reductions through dreaded reduction-in-force procedures.

“I’ve heard nobody at either agency talk about RIFs,” said George Ingram, co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, on the fringes of a Capitol Hill briefing yesterday at a briefing on Capitol Hill, according to Government Executive. But, he told the news outlet, “When I look at the operating expenses of that budget, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.”

Such cuts may effectively gut the Development Leadership Initiative, USAID’s multi-year effort to rebuild its workforce, rely less on external contractors and better monitor and evaluate its field projects.

Lawmakers are required to find and agree on a first round of across-government spending cuts by the end of September, before the start of fiscal 2012. Meanwhile, a newly created, temporary bipartisan committee will set out to find yet more government savings - including in the areas of defense, diplomacy and development.

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About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.