The Cable

Aid groups warn of human cost of sequester

Forty international humanitarian organizations are warning that the impending arbitrary budget cuts known as the "sequester" will have dire consequences for people in crisis situations in the world's most conflict-affected areas.

The across-the-board budget cuts set to go into effect March 2 would force the State Department to cut $200 million from humanitarian assistance accounts and $400 million from global health funding, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in a letter to Congress this week.

"Such a reduction would hinder our ability to provide life saving food assistant to 2 million people and USAID would have to cease, reduce, or not initiate assistance to millions of disaster affected people," Kerry wrote.

He added that cuts in global health funding would hurt State and USAID's efforts to stamp out AIDS abroad and hamper efforts to prevent child deaths.

"Such cuts undermine our efforts to shape the broader international efforts to fight disease and hunger, invest in global health, and foster more stable societies," said Kerry.

A coalition of aid groups including CARE, Catholic Relief Services, InterAction, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Refugees International, World Vision, and many others delivered a letter to the White House and Congress Wednesday pointing out that 2013 has already been a year where the resources devoted to humanitarian assistance have been strained to the breaking point.

"Humanitarian needs resulting from conflicts and natural disasters around the world have increased dramatically over the course of the last year," the groups wrote in their open letter. "We write to express deep concern that current resource levels for humanitarian assistance are not sufficient to meet these challenges, which will prove harmful to both U.S. interests and millions of vulnerable people requiring lifesaving assistance. Therefore we urge Congress to ensure that the levels approved for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 are commensurate with humanitarian need."

The crisis in Syria has worsened considerably since the Obama administration last submitted a budget request in February 2012, the groups said. Now, more than 770,000 refugees have poured into neighboring countries, and that number is expected to increase.

"This strain is compounded by urgent new needs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, evolving crises in Mali and Sudan and ongoing food insecurity in the Sahel. It is also cause for great concern regarding how a response would be mounted if another disaster were to strike during the 2013 fiscal year," the groups wrote. "This escalation of humanitarian needs comes as sequestration threatens to further curtail available humanitarian resources." 

The groups are asking that when Congress puts together the next continuing resolution, a temporary bill to fund the government, at the end of March, the changing needs for humanitarian assistance are taken into account. They are also asking that increased funding for humanitarian assistance not come from within the existing international affairs budget, which is already facing extreme tension due to sequestration.

"Without these alterations we fear that the U.S. agencies that oversee humanitarian response will be put in an impossible position, choosing between saving lives in one country over another," the letter states. 

If sequester goes into effect March 2, the administration and congressional appropriators are already planning to reorder the cuts by including a list of "anomalies" in the next continuing resolution, which will need to be passed by the end of March. Usually, continuing resolutions simply extend funding at the same levels, but this year is different. The "anomalies" are individual changes to certain accounts that will allow appropriators to reorder the cuts in the sequester and save or punish individual programs.

All federal agencies have already submitted a list of requested anomalies to the White House Office of Management and Budget. OMB passed back its edits of those lists to various agencies this week. At the end of some further intraadministration negotiations, the White House will send a formal list of anomaly requests to appropriators for their consideration as they prepare the new continuing resolution. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that "there's a great deal of activity in this White House with regards to the sequester, and there will continue to be."

The White House hasn't yet submitted a fiscal 2014 budget request, which is typically sent to Congress the first week of February. Carney said the impetus was on Congress, which he noted is out of town this week, to pass a measure to delay the sequester before March 2.

"I am entirely sure that we will continue to engage with Congress, including the leaders in Congress, on this issue at every level," Carney said. "But the issue here isn't, as I said yesterday, sitting around the table or sitting in some chairs here in the West Wing. It's Congress and congressional leaders, congressional Republicans making a choice between allowing the sequester to kick in with all of the negative effects that would come from that, or postponing the sequester in a reasonable way with a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases."

The Cable

David McKean to be State Department director of policy planning

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has asked David McKean to be the next director of the Policy Planning office at the State Department, two senior State Department officials confirmed.

McKean, who was the chief of staff in Kerry's Senate office from 1999 to 2008, became Kerry's first staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009. In 2011, McKean left Congress to be a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In April 2012, he moved over to the State Department to become Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior advisor dealing with implementation of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), State's first foray into setting up a mechanism for regular strategic and bureaucratic planning. He has also worked as the CEO of the John F. Kennedy library in Boston.

Kerry and McKean go way back.

"McKean was a key player in laying the groundwork for the Senator's presidential campaign in 2004, and was a co-chairman of the senator's presidential transition team," McKean's State Department biography reads.

McKean replaces Jake Sullivan, who was dual-hatted as Clinton's director of Policy Planning and her deputy chief of staff -- titles that, if anything, understated his personal closeness to Clinton.

Sullivan is said to be headed to the office of Vice President Joe Biden to replace Tony Blinken, who took over as principal deputy national security advisor for Denis McDonough, who is now the White House chief of staff. (White House sources say Sullivan's move to OVP is not yet finalized.) Sullivan is also said to want to return to Minnesota to start a political career.

Sullivan's time as Policy Planning director was characterized by his effort to move that office away from the job of implementing the QDDR and toward a focus on more over-the-horizon planning for U.S. foreign policy in the mid to long term. That body of work could come in handy if and when Clinton decides to run for the presidency in 2016.

McKean's appointment could signal a return of focus for the Policy Planning shop to the nuts-and-bolts mission of cementing the reorganization of the State Department and USAID bureaucracy, which was the focus of Clinton's first Policy Planning director, Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter.

"I take David's appointment as an important signal that Secretary Kerry intends to continue and build on Secretary Clinton's decision to have a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. David McKean has been tasked with the implementation of the first QDDR... he will now be in the position to help design and oversee the second," Slaughter told The Cable. "For these reviews to have any impact, it is important that the person in charge be close to the secretary and determined to implement the secretary's longer-term agenda, which David is."

"It's also a signal that Kerry wants to continue to elevate development, because the significance of the QDDR is not just a 4 year planning exercise and strategic review, but that it knits diplomacy and development together as core pillars of foreign policy that Secretary Clinton wanted to make as equal as possible," she added.

In 1997 and 1998 McKean served as the minority staff director for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. McKean taught at the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland from 1981-1982, according to his State Department bio.

McKean is the author of three books on American political history: Friends in High Places (with Douglas Frantz), Tommy the Cork, and The Great Decision (with Cliff Sloan). He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1980, and holds graduate degrees from both the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Duke Law School, his bio states.