Thursday, February 25, 2010

Secretary Clinton and...the Incredible Shrinking International Affairs Budget?

Secretary Clinton is on the second of her two-day stint on the Hill, outlining the $52.8 billion international affairs budget request for FY 2011 to Congress.  On Tuesday morning, she went before the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.  The research department at The Big-Push has not been able to find that testimony as yet, though you can follow the live tweets (almost certainly texted from a Blackberry) from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, representatives from which were present at the hearing.  That afternoon, Secretary Clinton went before the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee (link to full prepared text from RealClearPolitics) to give what would appear to be essentially the same testimony.  Today, Wednesday, she presented before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

At the outset, I should say that I am generally very pleased with her testimony and with the budget.  Sarah Jane Staats, the director of policy outreach at the Center for Global Development, Washington's leading development think-tank, expressed a similar level of approval when the budget proposal was released earlier this month.  It is a robust, development-friendly budget that includes net increases in food security, global health, climate change, and humanitarian assistance.  Wait a second - net increases during a spending freeze?!  That's right - foreign affairs spending is exempt from Obama's spending freeze due to its being identified as a "critical national security investment."  This might be the first time that development stakeholders have been thrilled to have development so inextricably tied to defense.

However, the budget would appear to have been reduced slightly since it was initially proposed.  The figure proposed by the administration in early February and discussed in the above-referenced Center for Global Development post was $58.5 billion, whereas Secretary Clinton's proposed figure is $52.8 billion.  Confusing matters more, the Office of Management and Budget's factsheet on the budget shows a combined figure of $56.8 billion.  Readers should bear with me as I'm new to federal budgeting, but I am going to go ahead and state, tentatively, that it would appear as though the budget has gone through at least two rounds of revision and has been reduced. 

I’ll follow up with a breakdown of the numbers, and, if indeed the budget request has been reduced by $6 billion, a look into which programming areas will experience reductions.  Surely, somebody with more of a budgeting background will post some analysis that will help to clarify this issue.  Additionally, I’ll look into what, if any, take-away can be gleaned/inferred from Secretary Clinton’s rhetorical cues.  Finally, based off of the live tweeting from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, it looks as though lawmakers have peppered Secretary Clinton’s testimony with some, err, legitimate and quasi-legitimate concerns.  With foreign assistance reform bills in the House and Senate and the approval of the FY 2011 budget still on the horizon, it is important to gauge the temperament of Congress, because no matter how development-friendly the Obama administration and the budget request are, Congress holds the purse strings.


  1. I believe the discrepancies you point to in the various budget numbers reflect the sheer complexity of the budget, not any trimming that's been done. The $58.5b number is for all foreign operations, including not just State Dept & USAID, but also things like USDA's food aid budget, funding for OPIC, etc. Clinton's $52.8b references only accounts controlled by the State Department and USAID. What the OMB includes, I have no clue.

    This document (which was the basis for the numbers in Staats' post) should help:

  2. Thanks, Wren! It would appear you're right, though I'm still having issues delineating which items are controlled by State and which items, comprising some $6b of the overall international affairs budget request, aren't.

  3. Interestingly, the State Department refers to its $52.8b budget request as falling under Budget Function 150 (the International Affairs budget function):

    At the same time, the Stimson Center's analysis of Obama's request asserts that Budget Function 150 request includes the $58.51b number:

    I can't spend the time right to resolve the discrepancies, but it'd be interesting to see a line item tally of all of the non-State controlled programs that aren't reflected in the $52.8b.