The global health and humanitarian aid communities
are pleased but not thrilled by the Obama administration's new budget request, which
saw modest although lower-than-expected increases in a number of development
According to calculations by the U.S. Global
Leadership Council, an umbrella NGO for the aid community, the overall
international affairs budget will see an entire increase of 2.8 percent over
fiscal 2010 in the fiscal 2011 budget request, including supplemental funding.
And that's if Congress fulfills the request as is, which is by no means a
Overall operating accounts for USAID and topline
funding for major programs like the Global Health initiative are set to rise
significantly in the budget request. But the request signals a shift in
priority within the international affairs budget away from longer-term programs
and those that have gotten increases in recent years toward smaller, more
focused accounts that could show short-term results.
"We are looking forward to Congress accepting this,
supporting it in a bipartisan manner as we have seen throughout the last
decade," said USGLC's executive director Liz
Schrayer. "Particularly when at least 250 members of Congress sent a letter
to the president last month calling for a robust international affairs budget."
The budget keeps Obama on track to double U.S.
foreign assistance by 2015, said Larry
Nowels, a USGLC consultant who worked previously for the Congressional
Research Service. The baseline for that promise was a foreign assistance budget
of $26 billion and this year's request falls short at about $41 billion. But even
that number is somewhat misleading because a lot of the increase is earmarked
just for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"If you look at the 2011 request, it's more than
what we anticipated and more than what Obama campaigned on for Pakistan and
Afghanistan," he said. "What will be really challenging is getting the rest of
the money.... The question is on getting Congress to appropriate the funds."
Larger operating budgets for both State and USAID
are a positive step toward another administration pledge, to eventually
increase the number of Foreign Service officers by 25 percent. But Deputy
Secretary of State Jack Lew admitted
yesterday that the timing on this goal has been stretched out in the new budget
"We have had to extend the period, but
we haven't changed the goal," Lew said Monday. "We need to grow. And I think
the budget gives us the ability to continue to grow. And the pace of hiring,
you know, will only slow down slightly. It will not be a dramatic change."
The request for the Global
Health Initiative, a worldwide program targeting major disease epidemics, was
viewed as a mixed picture. The overall account was increased from $7.8 billion
to $8.5 billion requested, which is substantial. But within the subaccounts
there were winners and losers.
"This budget will get you to about 38 percent of the
$63 billion proposal," said Nowels, referring to the overall pledge
for GHI funding. "So there is a lot of work ahead and a lot of assumptions at
stake that in the next three years you can come up with the additional
Maternal and child health funding is going from $550
million to $900 million, with a lot of the new funds focused on nutrition.
Neglected tropical diseases accounts could go from $65 to $155 million,
reflecting the priority of that issue in the minds of the administration.
Requests in other areas were more modest. Family
planning accounts could receive a $65 million increase, which isn't much, and
funding for HIV/AIDs would rise only 2.5 percent in the budget request, much
less than previous years' increases.
The $1 billion request for the Global Fund, an
international financing institution also focused on major disease epidemics, is
actually less than the $1.05 billion Congress gave for that account in fiscal
Nevertheless, the $600 million or 25 percent
increase in USAID's part of the GHI and the $460 million or 18 percent increase
in what's known as the "development assistance" account show a huge commitment
to expanding the development mission, said Sam
Worthington, president and CEO of Interaction, a coalition of more than 150
aid organizations. But the modest 2 percent increase in humanitarian assistance
is less encouraging.
Despite the rising need for refugee assistance and
disaster relief, as evidenced by the Haiti crisis, funding for refugees was cut
by 5 percent and USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives was cut by 13
percent. The request for contributions for international organizations would
mean an 11 percent decrease or $43 million cut if Congress goes along.
"Interestingly, an administration committed to
multilateral work may be looking to work more through the World Bank or other
places," Worthington said.
But overall, the increases requests for operating
expenses and staffing at both State and USAID are "clearly a signal of intent
for building institutional capacity," he added. "They're saying in their
request that they want to make a serious investment."
"For the programs that are accustomed to very steep
increases, this is the slowing of the growth rate but it's still a growing
trajectory," said J. Stephen Morrison,
director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, "It's not going to make everyone happy, but it's a
pretty robust proposal."
"The one message to
take away from this is stay tuned."