Expectations for the President’s 2015 Budget

See below for a guest post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow in global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair. Veillette writes about what she expects to see in President Obama’s forthcoming 2015 budget request. The original post can be found on The Lugar Center’s blog.

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The President’s 2015 budget is scheduled for release on March 4.  This marks another year that its release has been delayed despite provisions in the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 that designates the first Monday in February for its submission to Congress.  This year’s delay largely reflects late congressional action in completing the 2014 budget and appropriations processes. Of course, late budget releases inevitably contribute to the end of the fiscal year deadline (September 30) also being ignored.

The President has signaled that he wants to move past our current period of austerity that has defined White House and Congressional budgets for a number of years. What will this mean for foreign assistance and development issues? Will foreign aid still comprise just 1% of the total budget? Will it include dedicated funding for the President’s new Power Africa initiative? Where do administration initiatives such as Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and other new ventures fit? My crystal ball is notoriously cloudy, but here’s where I think some of this will go.

Feed the Future, the administration’s food security initiative that targets 19 countries with activities that stimulate agriculture and related sectors, will likely stay level funded at a little over $1 billion, give or take a couple hundred million for nutrition/health programs or climate change activities. Since these issues are so intertwined, some funding can be counted toward multiple objectives.

Speaking of which, Secretary Kerry’s interest in climate change may well be reflected in the budget with increased funding. Last year’s request for the Global Climate Change Initiative was a slight cut from previous years. Figuring out how much to spend in 2014 will be made more difficult by the fact that the two accounts (Development Assistance and Economic Support Fund) used to fund it took a hit in the omnibus spending bill. Given the administration’s interest in global agriculture, there could be much more done to help small holders adapt to changing growing conditions.

Momentum around food aid reform has been building for at least a couple of years. The administration’s far-reaching reform proposal in last year’s budget was watered down just enough to give hope to reformers while still providing comfort to status quo supporters. I expect that the original 2014 proposal will again find its way into the upcoming budget. I also expect little progress in calendar year 2014 given that the Farm Bill, in which the compromise was included, was signed into law just this month.

It was announced in January that the new Global HIV/AIDS Coordinator will be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that the largest portion of the Global Health Initiative will be run by a non-development agency. The CDC certainly knows its stuff, but using health as an economic growth springboard isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, global health programs remain popular on the Hill and within the administration. The administration might actually propose a slight cut in health programs knowing that Congress will add the money back in.

Power Africa is the latest administration initiative with the goal of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The White House’s intent is to fund Power Africa at $7 billion over five years through a number of U.S. agencies (USAID, OPIC, Ex-Im Bank, MCC, and African Development Bank) and private companies. I would expect a $1 billion request as the first down payment.

Funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has been maintained well below $1 billion for the last several years despite bipartisan support. With six country compacts in the pipeline, three of which are Power Africa countries, I would expect that the 2015 request will top the $1 billion mark.

Selectivity and focus became catchwords during austerity. Some of us even wrote tomes on how to get more value for our aid dollars. Even if austerity is a thing of the past, and I don’t believe it is or should be, making our aid dollars go further by paying greater attention to efficiencies and effectiveness is a good thing. Having said that, I don’t expect much selectivity and focus in the form of transitioning middle income countries off aid, closing and paring back U.S. aid missions, or getting out of sectors in which we have little comparative advantage.

Many of the administration’s initiatives are quite ambitious but none will achieve their objectives if U.S. agencies are not equipped to deliver results.  USAID Forward, a rebuilding framework to strengthen USAID, find efficiencies and reward innovation, will likely see a modest increase above FY2014 levels. Keep in mind that Congress cut these programs by 10.9% from the 2013 sequestration level so I’m not going out on a limb with this one.  The requested 2015 level will likely allow for a continuation of initiatives but not a robust expansion. The critical parts of USAID Forward, in my opinion, are the rebuilding of in-house expertise, the evaluation of the agency’s work, and learning to work with local aid groups and civil society in what USAID calls Local Solutions. (For analysis on the use of local systems to implement USAID programs, see this Center for American Progress report.)

There are many more accounts and programs that I haven’t the space to cover. We at TLC will be doing some deeper dives come March 4. Stay tuned.

 

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