The State Department rolled out its fiscal 2013
budget request today, which contains several items that are sure to meet
resistance when lawmakers roll up their sleeves and dig into the budget this spring
International programs don't have strong
constituencies on Capitol Hill to begin with, and Congress has its own ideas for
how to spend foreign aid.
The State Department knows all of this, of course, and
has framed its fiscal 2013 budget request as a small portion of the federal
budget that contributes directly to national security. State's $51.6
billion request, however, faces a GOP-led House that is
searching hard for discretionary budget items to cut and a foreign-policy-minded
Senate that wants to use aid to press foreign governments to act more in line
with U.S. priorities.
is a moment of historic change around the world. They are also tight times for
our government and for our people -- the two truths that have guided us from
day one," Deputy Secretary of State Tom
Nides said Monday. "And so, as I'd like to remind you once again, with just
1 percent of the federal budget, the State Department and USAID will maintain
our country's leadership in a changing world, what'll promote our values, jumpstart
our economy, and above all keep America safe in 2013 and beyond."
Here are five of the items in the State Department's
budget that will spark debates in Congress this year:
1) The top line budget numbers.
The State Department and USAID requested
$51.6 billion for fiscal year 2013, but $8.2 billion
is categorized as temporarily needed funding for Afghanistan, Iraq, and
Pakistan under what's called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund (OCO)
account. The remaining $43.6 billion is the "core budget" request and
represents a 10 percent increase over fiscal 2012 levels as enacted by
For fiscal 2012, lawmakers moved a
lot of funding from the core budget to the OCO account in order to fit State
Department funding inside the mandatory discretionary spending caps set forth
in the Budget
Control Act of 2011. Now, State is trying to move that
funding back into its core budget so
that it will have it whenever the need for emergency funding wanes.
In general, State prefers to use
the OCO accounts when possible because Congress is more willing to fund
programs that are needed in the current wars... and because the OCO account is
off budget. ("Obviously,
the benefit of the OCO account in general allows for all of you who report on
this and for the Hill to look at the costs of our frontline states, to look at
the costs of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan," said Nides.)
outside experts see the OCO account, which has been used by State since last
year and by the Pentagon since 9/11, as a slush fund. "I
think OCO accounts are a scourge," said Gordon
Adams, former national security director at the Office of Management and
Budget during the Clinton administration. "Special extra accounts are a refuge
for budget scoundrels. Funding for all three of those countries are going to be
subject to debate and dispute."
2) Middle East Funding Initiative.
The administration is requesting $770 million for this new initiative, which is
meant to support U.S. activities in countries affected by the "Arab Spring." This
is the largest single new program in the State Department's budget request, but
there's not a lot of detail in the request about how the money will actually be
Nides said it's impossible to
predict. "The Arab
Spring has come. We need to make sure we have the tools and the flexibility in which
to fund these initiatives," he said. "I cannot tell you today where that money
will be spent, because we'll be, obviously, in consultation with the Hill."
Some $70 million of that total
comes from existing programs, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and
USAID's Office of Middle East Partnerships (OMEP). The remaining $700 million
is "new money," an administration official said. "We came to the Middle East
changes without any resources dedicated to this in the budget," the official
said, explaining that State has spent about $800 million since last year to
respond to the protests in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, but had to
cobble those funds together from other accounts.
"That will be controversial because
there's no content. It's a contingency fund and Congress doesn't like to give
State contingency funds," said Adams. "It's probably not a bad idea in theory
but it is way too large for having no program."
3) Egypt military funding.
The State Department is again asking
Congress for $1.3 billion in direct aid to the Egyptian military. The $1.3
billion in military aid that Congress appropriated for fiscal 2012, however, has
not been sent yet and might be held up for a while because of the
escalating crisis concerning pending charges against 19
American NGO workers in Cairo. By law, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to certify the Egyptian military is moving
towards a true democratic transition before that money can be released and many
top lawmakers are urging her not to do so. There are
to halt the funding regardless of Clinton's determination.
Additionally, the administration is requesting $250 million in direct
assistance to the civilian government, which it believes
to be more responsible for the NGO crackdown than the
Nevertheless, the administration is
hoping that will all be worked out by next year. "Our goal is, is to provide them
those funds," said Nides. "I mean, it's obviously clear to all of us that we
have issues that we need to work through. And we're working very aggressively
to do so. But this budget reflects our commitment and our desire to fully fund
4) Pakistan civilian assistance. The
U.S.-Pakistan relationship is in tatters, but the administration is still
requesting more than $2 billion in aid to Pakistan. But in a shift from last
year, the administration is requesting significantly less money for assistance to the Pakistani civilian government
while increasing requested aid for
the Pakistani military. That may seem odd considering that the Pakistani
military and intelligence services have been widely accused of playing both
sides in Afghanistan, and that Osama bin
Laden was discovered hiding in a military garrison town for years.
Nevertheless, the administration is
requesting only $1.1 billion for in Pakistani civilian assistance for 2013,
even thought the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill authorized up to $1.5 billion each
year. Meanwhile, the administration requested $800 million under the Pakistani
Counterinsurgency Contingency Fund (PCCF), a
reimbursement program for the Pakistani military jointly run
by State and DOD, and State is requesting $350 million in foreign military
financing for Pakistan, up from $98 million in fiscal 2012.
An administration official said
that becuase Congress only gave State about $1 billion last year under the
Kerry-Lugar program, that's about how much they decided to ask for in FY 2013. "It's still one of the largest
recipients of assistance in our budget," the administration official said. "We
have a lot of negotiation to do and we'll be making that argument that we can
and we'll have to figure out with Congress what the final number will be."
5) Palestinian Authority assistance.
The administration requested $370 million for economic support funding for the
West Bank and Gaza in fiscal 2013, down from the $397 million given to the PA
in fiscal 2012 but still one of the largest U.S. assistance programs in the
budget. Congress is extremely sour on PA assistance, however, because peace
talks have broken down and because Fatah and Hamas are planning to form a unity
The reduction in West Bank funding
is because equipment for the U.S. police training program there has been
largely completed, an administration official said. State also cut the amount
of direct cash transfers to the Palestinian Authority from $200 million to $150
million. "We think the economic situation is slightly better so we think we can
do a little bit less," the official said.
What's more, the administration is
also requesting $79 million for UNESCO in 2013, even though the U.S. government
barred from contributing to UNESCO because the organization
admitted Palestine as a member.
"The Congress has prohibited us for funding UNESCO this year.
And as you know, the president's also articulated -- and quite clearly -- that
he would like a waiver to allow us to participate in UNESCO," said Nides. "We
have put the money in the budget, realizing that we are not going to be able to
spend the money unless we get the waiver. And we have made it clear to the
Congress we'd like a waiver."