It’s Budget Time: What Should We Expect?

January 30, 2015 By Tod Preston

The President submits his FY2016 Budget request on Monday, starting the traditional jockeying over spending priorities in Washington. With both chambers of Congress now controlled by the GOP, the jockeying at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave will be even more intense than in recent years. All of this will certainly affect International Affairs funding and America’s global engagement, so here are some of the issues worth watching in anticipation of Monday’s release:

  1. Will there be enough resources to respond to the vast array of crises raging throughout the world? Think about the crises and threats that weren’t really even in the news one year ago when the President submitted his last budget: Ukraine, Ebola, ISIS, and Yemen, to name a few. And given the instability around the globe, it’s a safe bet that more crises demanding U.S. leadership will arise this year. So after years of either flat or decreased International Affairs funding, it’s imperative that the upcoming budget not only address these global challenges, but also provide the resources (humanitarian and otherwise) so our civilian agencies will be able to respond to these still unforeseen emergencies.
  1. Will this be the year to reverse the disturbing cuts to “base” International Affairs spending? Over the past five years, funding for base (non-war related) programs has fallen by 16% despite growing needs around the world. Fortunately, the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account has made up for some of these losses, but this is not a sustainable option. OCO, intended to fund immediate military and non-military needs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, is declining – and it’s projected to decline significantly in the next few years. But nearly one of every five dollars of the International Affairs Budget – and more than half of humanitarian programs– now gets funded through OCO. It’s high time to rebalance and beef up the base.
  1. Any new initiatives? Budgets provide occasions for Administrations to outline new initiatives, and we certainly have seen many in the development and diplomacy space over the past few years – including Feed the Future and Power Africa. It’s unclear if the Administration will announce any major new initiatives, but we can probably expect some expansion of these existing signature initiatives.
  1. Will lessons from Ebola be reflected in the budget request? Many believe that the magnitude of the Ebola crisis was exacerbated by weak and fragile health care systems in West Africa. Almost exactly a year ago, the White House rolled out the Global Health Security agenda that aimed to keep the world safe from infectious disease threats and to promote global health as a national security priority. Will the FY16 budget unveil a more muscular review of that agenda? 
  1. Will U.S. Latin America policy get the financial backing it needs? With the sudden focus last year on unaccompanied minors flooding into the United States from Central America, attention (albeit not enough) was given to what the U.S. is doing to help those nations address some of the roots causes that compel many of their citizens to seek a better life elsewhere. Since we only spend 3% of our entire foreign assistance budget on this region, we’re likely to see some kind of beefed up assistance plan for Central America. Will it be similar to the one proposed last July or even bigger? Congress never acted on that package, but perhaps they will now.
  1. Will USAID reforms continue? With Administrator Raj Shah’s expected departure next month, I will be looking to see what happens to the USAID operating budget and some of his signature priorities. Administrator Shah’s tenure has been marked by a series of innovative reforms that have left the Agency with a range of new resources and tools needed to advance its critical aims. Will these continue under new agency leadership?
  1. Unfinished Business. In recent years, many issues that have continued to be debated in the development and diplomacy space remain to be resolved. Will the President try again to convince Congress to approve International Monetary Fund reforms that have languished for at least two years? What about the Counter-Terrorism Partnership Fund, announced at West Point last summer but unfunded in FY15? How will the budget address the commitment the President has made three years in a row during the State of the Union to end extreme poverty by 2030?

Some interesting items to ponder, so stay tuned ‘til Monday when we’ll detail these and many other issues as the budget battles begin. If it’s the first Monday in February, it’s budget time!