Policy Recommendations in House Budget Raise Concerns

April 17, 2012 By Larry Nowels

Last month, the House voted (228-191) to cut FY2013 International Affairs funding by 11%, once again reducing critical resources that promote America’s national security, global engagement tools, and economic competitiveness.  While the House action comes as no surprise given the Budget Committee’s position a year ago for FY2012 with a 27% cut, many believed the House cuts would be even deeper.

But what is concerning is how the House Budget Committee proposes to accommodate these reductions.  To be clear, final decisions will be made by the Appropriation Committees in the coming weeks, and there is nothing binding about the Budget Committee’s views.  These proposals, however, should not be ignored.  Several of the nine specific policy options outlined by the Committee, raise real concerns at a time the U.S. Government’s development and diplomacy efforts are under an important transformation to deliver greater results.

  • Merge USAID’s development assistance with the MCC.  Perhaps the most confusing is the proposal to consolidate the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and USAID’s development assistance program, with MCC becoming the lead U.S. development agency.  Agency consolidation is a worthwhile matter to consider, especially in tight budget times.  But it should be done smartly, combining the strengths of each institution.  USAID and MCC have very different missions.  The MCC, created as an innovative approach to development by the Bush Administration, invests in best performing nations, focusing on economic growth with a heavy emphasis on infrastructure.  USAID, on the other hand, works across the entire spectrum of development, sometimes assisting countries to achieve MCC status.  Each model is complementary and both are necessary.

The Committee correctly acknowledges sound aid principles adopted by the MCC: requirements that partner governments apply sensible policies and own and lead in their development.  The good news is this is exactly the direction USAID has moved the past two years.  USAID has created a serious and important monitoring and evaluation system, with a transparent platform for showing Americans where all U.S. foreign aid is spent, and has re-instated multi-year country strategies that are driven by professionals on the ground.  All of this is leading USAID from a focus on inputs to one on outcomes and meaningful results, like the MCC.

  • Reduce voluntary multilateral contributions.  The House Budget Committee also proposes to reduce U.S. voluntary contributions to international organizations based on the assumption that these voluntary transfers duplicate payments made under the Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) account.  The CIO funding is for our membership dues, though, while the voluntary contributions go to important programs supporting a broad range of global activities, from civil aviation, to democracy promotion, and to child health programs.  Eliminating this voluntary channel would be devastating to the work of those organizations that have proven themselves effective.
  • Eliminate Feed the Future.  Also puzzling is the Committee’s proposal to eliminate Feed the Future (FtF), a Presidential Initiative to strengthen food security in the developing world.  The House Committee believes FtF overlaps with two food assistance programs—Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole school feeding program.  While it is true that a portion of food aid supports agriculture programs in food insecure nations through the process of monetizing food aid and directing the proceeds to development projects, the large majority of Food for Peace – 71% in FY2011 — is distributed to meet unanticipated emergency food requirements around the world, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake and last year’s famine in the Horn of Africa.

Feed the Future, on the other hand, aims to reduce the need for large quantities of emergency food relief by expanding agricultural production, raising nutritional standards, especially for children, and increasing household incomes that will lift families out of poverty.  It also embraces the principle of country ownership, noted by the Committee as something that should be applied across all US development assistance programs.  And, according to USAID, which manages both Feed the Future and food assistance, it is 8 to 10 times less expensive to address food security through sustainable and country-owned programs than through food aid.

The House Budget Committee makes several other recommendations to cut the International Affairs Budget: eliminate the Complex Crisis Fund, reduce resources for international broadcasting, cut funding for Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs (which, by the way, help promote a better understanding and image of the United States abroad), and cut funding to USAID’s International Disaster Assistance account.

We are only in the early stages of the FY2013 budget consideration, a debate that is expected to continue throughout the entire year.  There will be significant attention paid to both International Affairs funding levels and how to maximize the impact of those resources.  While the goals of the Budget Committee’s policy recommendations may be well-intended, most of these recommendations will not result in more effective U.S. foreign assistance, and in some cases, create unnecessary challenges.