Sequestration and America’s Global Leadership

February 15, 2013 By Molly Lester

With only two weeks until the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sequesters $85 billion from the FY13 budget, members of both the defense and non-defense communities are preparing for the effects of across-the-board cuts.  Congressional leaders and the White House have yet to find any common ground toward averting sequestration, and federal agencies are making preparations to manage the mandated spending cuts.  On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee Democrats released a report outlining the impact of sequestration on programs from education to defense.  The report also detailed the significant impact the 5.3% cut would have on the International Affairs Budget – which has already been cut 15% since FY10.

From embassy security to global health to international financial institutions, the report concludes sequestration would hinder diplomacy and development programs around the world and reverse progress on aid reform efforts.  According to the report, basic operations for the State Department and USAID would be cut $780 million, preventing the hiring of new Foreign Service officers and leading to the scaling down of embassies and missions around the world.  It would also halt USAID Forward initiatives to improve foreign assistance transparency and accountability.

In terms of international security, sequestration would reduce funding for diplomatic security by $168 million, jeopardizing security upgrades in over 80 embassy facilities and putting at risk diplomatic facilities and personnel around the world.  Sequestration would also cut $19 million from international peacekeeping efforts, impacting efforts to respond to emerging crises in countries such as Mali.

Cuts to international development programs under sequestration could reverse important gains in global health, food security, and economic development.  Cuts to refugee assistance and international disaster assistance (totaling $152 million for both accounts) would impede efforts to respond to humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa, Sudan, and Syria.  Over $290 million would be cut from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), severely inhibiting progress towards and AIDS-free generation and preventing HIV/AIDS treatment from reaching almost 172,000 people.

Additionally, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday emphasizing the impact sequestration would have, saying, “Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development.” The House report highlights the fact these automatic cuts have a real impact on the lives of many, from our diplomats and aid workers stationed overseas to the millions around the world saved by U.S. development programs.  At a moment when the United States is facing a whole host of issues – an ongoing crisis in Syria, unrest in Mali, nuclear tests in North Korea, just to name a few – sequestration will certainly affect our ability to respond to challenges and opportunities around the world.