From Josh Rogin at ForeignPolicy.com
Aid Advocates Happy, Not Thrilled with Obama’s New Budget
The global health and humanitarian aid communities are pleased but not thrilled by the Obama administration’s new budget request, which saw modest although lower-than-expected increases in a number of development accounts.
According to calculations by the U.S. Global Leadership Council, an umbrella NGO for the aid community, the overall international affairs budget will see an entire increase of 2.8 percent over fiscal 2010 in the fiscal 2011 budget request, including supplemental funding. And that’s if Congress fulfills the request as is, which is by no means a certainty.
Overall operating accounts for USAID and topline funding for major programs like the Global Health initiative are set to rise significantly in the budget request. But the request signals a shift in priority within the international affairs budget away from longer-term programs and those that have gotten increases in recent years toward smaller, more focused accounts that could show short-term results.
“We are looking forward to Congress accepting this, supporting it in a bipartisan manner as we have seen throughout the last decade,” said USGLC’s executive director Liz Schrayer. “Particularly when at least 250 members of Congress sent a letter to the president last month calling for a robust international affairs budget.”
The budget keeps Obama on track to double U.S. foreign assistance by 2015, said Larry Nowels, a USGLC consultant who worked previously for the Congressional Research Service. The baseline for that promise was a foreign assistance budget of $26 billion and this year’s request falls short at about $41 billion. But even that number is somewhat misleading because a lot of the increase is earmarked just for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If you look at the 2011 request, it’s more than what we anticipated and more than what Obama campaigned on for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said. “What will be really challenging is getting the rest of the money…. The question is on getting Congress to appropriate the funds.”
Larger operating budgets for both State and USAID are a positive step toward another administration pledge, to eventually increase the number of Foreign Service officers by 25 percent. But Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew admitted yesterday that the timing on this goal has been stretched out in the new budget release.
“We have had to extend the period, but we haven’t changed the goal,” Lew said Monday. “We need to grow. And I think the budget gives us the ability to continue to grow. And the pace of hiring, you know, will only slow down slightly. It will not be a dramatic change.”
The request for the Global Health Initiative, a worldwide program targeting major disease epidemics, was viewed as a mixed picture. The overall account was increased from $7.8 billion to $8.5 billion requested, which is substantial. But within the subaccounts there were winners and losers.
“This budget will get you to about 38 percent of the $63 billion proposal,” said Nowels, referring to the overall pledge for GHI funding. “So there is a lot of work ahead and a lot of assumptions at stake that in the next three years you can come up with the additional resources.”
Maternal and child health funding is going from $550 million to $900 million, with a lot of the new funds focused on nutrition. Neglected tropical diseases accounts could go from $65 to $155 million, reflecting the priority of that issue in the minds of the administration.
Requests in other areas were more modest. Family planning accounts could receive a $65 million increase, which isn’t much, and funding for HIV/AIDs would rise only 2.5 percent in the budget request, much less than previous years’ increases.
The $1 billion request for the Global Fund, an international financing institution also focused on major disease epidemics, is actually less than the $1.05 billion Congress gave for that account in fiscal 2010 money.
Nevertheless, the $600 million or 25 percent increase in USAID’s part of the GHI and the $460 million or 18 percent increase in what’s known as the “development assistance” account show a huge commitment to expanding the development mission, said Sam Worthington, president and CEO of Interaction, a coalition of more than 150 aid organizations. But the modest 2 percent increase in humanitarian assistance is less encouraging.
Despite the rising need for refugee assistance and disaster relief, as evidenced by the Haiti crisis, funding for refugees was cut by 5 percent and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives was cut by 13 percent. The request for contributions for international organizations would mean an 11 percent decrease or $43 million cut if Congress goes along.
“Interestingly, an administration committed to multilateral work may be looking to work more through the World Bank or other places,” Worthington said.
But overall, the increases requests for operating expenses and staffing at both State and USAID are “clearly a signal of intent for building institutional capacity,” he added. “They’re saying in their request that they want to make a serious investment.”
“For the programs that are accustomed to very steep increases, this is the slowing of the growth rate but it’s still a growing trajectory,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s a pretty robust proposal.”
“The one message to take away from this is stay tuned.”