WASHINGTON — For the third consecutive year, the Trump administration’s budget proposes slashing global development funding. It also underscores the need for increased burden sharing and proposes policy changes related to U.S. aid reorganization.
The budget requests $42.7 billion for the foreign affairs budget, including the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development. Congress appropriated $56.1 billion in the fiscal year 2019.
It is widely expected that Congress will reject the administration’s proposal when determining its budget — and there were already some signals Monday that might be the case. Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, said Monday in a statement that while he welcomes cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” from programs, “we must be careful that cuts don’t have unintended consequences that cost us more in the medium and long term. This is especially true of impactful cuts to humanitarian and development assistance.”
A merger between USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Food for Peace has long been in the works, but the budget proposes taking the consolidation a step further by bringing the State Department’s humanitarian assistance work into the new USAID bureau.
All humanitarian assistance would then be funded through a single appropriations account. It would also restructure some of the State Department’s refugee and migrant work and create a leadership position that would be dual-hatted at USAID and State.
Merging the principal humanitarian accounts is technically a very good idea, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, who served as the director of OFDA from 2013-2017: “Having a refugee account and a food account and an everything else account does not really reflect how the world works,” he said, adding that it makes it difficult to have coherent humanitarian assistance.
Having a single account will mean that aid is less siloed, both in terms of the type of aid, but also by who is receiving it, and decisions can be made by professionals closest to the crisis rather than by Congressional appropriations, Konyndyk said.
The policy proposal, however, is only “half good,” he said. The decision to move all assistance from State to USAID is one that Konyndyk warned against in a 2017 blog post. It is useful to have refugee expertise and assistance at the State Department with resources tied to it, he said.
“You need a strong partnership between State and USAID. Displacement is an inherently diplomatic and political issue, so State needs both the expertise and the resources at its disposal to be able to respond and influence policy and we’re concerned that the proposal ignores that reality,” said Mercy Corps’ Doherty.
Congress will likely carefully examine the administration’s proposals for reforms, particularly when it comes to humanitarian assistance and refugee and migrant issues, Konyndyk said. The administration will have to work hard to make the case for the changes and convince legislators that it would not further undermine U.S. leadership on refugee and migrant issues, which will be a “tough case to make,” he said.
It will be made more difficult by the fact that the administration still lacks senior people in key positions who would be making that case, Konyndyk said.
The budget also reiterates a commitment to further reform USAID and focus on “self-reliance” by prioritizing private sector-led growth, domestic resource mobilization, and economic and governance reforms. It highlighted the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative as the type of “responsible spending” the administration wants to achieve and touted its “cohesive whole-of-government approach,” rigorous metrics and leveraging of partnerships.
Another change proposed in the budget is that the U.S. African Development Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation would cease to be independent organizations and will become part of a new small grants office at USAID. The key to such a move would be ensuring that the unique capabilities of the agencies — they provide direct support to organizations and local civil society in the developing world — would not be lost in the process and the U.S. doesn’t have a good track record of doing that, Konyndyk said.