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President Obama’s first full budget request hit the streets Monday. Since then, Washington has been scrambling to decipher the numbers and what’s behind them. It’s important to note that we are dealing largely with top line numbers and many details won’t be available for several weeks, and that’s before the budget starts to go through Congress. But here’s what I see so far on the development side*:

  1. The international affairs budget gets a modest increase as part of critical national security investments. Of President Obama’s $3.8 trillion FY11 budget request, $58.5 billion or 1.4% is dedicated to international affairs. International affairs are positioned as critical national security investments and therefore exempt from the freeze on other domestic discretionary spending, so the international affairs request sees a $1.6 billion (or 2.8%) increase over the FY10 enacted budget plus the supplemental.
  2. The bulk of the increases go to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. 63% of the increases go to these ‘frontline states” leaving $2.5 billion to be spread across the rest of the international affairs budget. Front line states also account for one fifth of the total foreign operations budget.
  3. Other significant increases go to global hunger and food security, and multilateral engagement. Global hunger and food security get $1.76 billion, up from $890 million in FY10. This suggests the administration is fulfilling its G20 L’Aquila Summitcommitments. The international financial institutions get a $900 million increase; according to the U.S. Treasury, which manages Washington’s relations with the multilaterals, U.S. contributions to these institutions focus on responding to the global financial crisis and its impact on poor countries, the 2008 food price spikes and climate change.
  4. Global health and climate also see increases. Global health would rise $684 million; likely though boosts in maternal and child health, nutrition and neglected tropical diseases, with smaller increases in HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and family planning. The FY11 request also includes $1.39 billion for combating climate change (a 40% increase over FY10, but starting from a quite low base). The climate money would be divided between two multilateral climate investment funds and other accounts.

So is this a development-friendly budget? Yes. Does it elevate development alongside diplomacy and defense in a national security framework? Yes. Was the development community hoping for more? Of course. But in my mind, the fact that the international affairs budget wasn’t thrown to the wayside and is instead presented as part of critical national security spending and gets a modest increase is significant.

And even though a good chunk of U.S. policy is set by the blunt budget process, I am still anxious for the recommendations of the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy to see if they include some practical policy recommendations that don’t need a line item in the budget but could make a big impact in terms of getting a bigger bang for our development bucks.

One of these low-cost, big impact tools is the administration continuing to making the case that these investments are important even in difficult times. Secretary Clinton argued this in her CGD speech. And I was pleased to see the Treasury Department and the White House conducting public briefing sessions on the budget. This type of communication will be vital as the budget moves through Congress. Stay tuned.

 

*The development community owes Larry Nowels much gratitude for his quick budget analysis, more of which can be found among the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and ONE’s resources.