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If @StateDept Refuses to Spend $80M Appropriated Funds, Could It End Up in Court? #GAO

Posted: 3:48 pm PT

 

Last month, we wrote about the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act; the Act  inspired by then President Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of appropriated funds by Congress.

Today, Politico is reporting that Secretary Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.

“It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department. But more than five months into his tenure, Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another$19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson’s aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America’s adversaries.”

The $60 million will expire on Sept. 30 if not transferred to State by then, current and former State Department officials told POLITICO.
[…]
Last month, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio pressed Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on whether Tillerson considers the Global Engagement Center a priority and urged that hiring caps be lifted so the center can expand.

We anticipate that Congress could allocate more funds for the State Department than requested by the Trump Administration.  Given that the Administration has proposed some 30% cuts in its own request, it will be worth watching what Tillerson will do with the bulk of appropriated funds that the Administration did not ask for. The reported $80 million for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center that the State Department has not released could be the first test.

The State Department could violate the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) if it refuses to obligate funds for policy reasons without President Trump sending a special message to both Houses of Congress.  It is also considered a violation is if it sets aside funds or intentionally slows down spending, or if it proposes a deferral but the timing is such that funds could be expected to lapse before they could be obligated.

Under ICA, an impoundment is any action or inaction by an officer or employee of the federal government that precludes obligation or expenditure of budget authority.  The Act applies to salaries and expenses appropriations as well as program appropriations.

The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA) provides authority for agencies to “impound” or withhold the obligation of funds in certain circumstances. There are two ways for withholding funds, through a deferral or through proposed rescission. In both both cases, the President is required to send a “special message” to the House and the Senate specifying the following:

(1) the amount of budget authority which he proposes to be rescinded or which is to be so reserved;
(2) any account, department, or establishment of the Government to which such budget authority is available for obligation, and the specific project or governmental functions involved;
(3) the reasons why the budget authority should be rescinded or is to be so reserved;
(4) to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated fiscal, economic, and budgetary effect of the proposed rescission or of the reservation; and
(5) all facts, circumstances, and considerations relating to or bearing upon the proposed rescission or the reservation and the decision to effect the proposed rescission or the reservation, and to the maximum extent practicable, the estimated effect of the pro- posed rescission or the reservation upon the objects, purposes, and programs for which the budget authority is provided.

A deferral is used if the President wants to temporarily withhold obligation of funds (but not beyond the end of the fiscal year). A rescission is used if the President wants to permanently withhold funds from obligation and for Congress to cancel the budget authority (before that authority would otherwise expire). The latter can be accomplished only through legislation.

The GAO’s Principles of Federal Appropriations Law notes that “The President is authorized to withhold budget authority that is the subject of a rescission proposal for a period of 45 days of continuous session following receipt of the proposal. Unless Congress acts to approve the proposed rescission within that time, the budget authority must be made available for obligation.”

Since Congress is on break in August, and the fiscal year ends on Sept 30, we don’t think there’s enough time to notify Congress of the rescission if that’s something the State Department is considering for the $80 million GEC funds.

So what happens if an agency withholds appropriated funds, and refuses to spend it?

Continue reading

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Nixon and the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act

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Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act turned 43 years old this week.  It moved the fiscal year from July 1 to October 1 and created the budget committees in the House and the Senate. It also established the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But there’s one other thing that folks may have forgotten — that the Act was inspired by then President Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of appropriated funds by Congress. This seems relevant under the current circumstances where Congress may appropriate more funds than the Trump Administration’s budget request for the State Department.  Although apparently, loopholes can always be found if one is skilled enough.

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act modified the role of Congress in the federal budgetary process. It created standing budget committees in both the House and the Senate, established the Congressional Budget Office, and moved the beginning of the fiscal year from July 1 to October 1.

The 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act created a set of institutional changes designed to help Congress regain power over the budget process. The Act was inspired by Richard Nixon’s refusal to disburse nearly $12 billion of congressionally-appropriated funds in 1973-74 through the executive power of impoundment, as well as more generalized fears about the budget deficit. Nixon claimed that the deficit was causing high inflation and that as a result he needed to curb government spending. To this effect, in the 1972 presidential election he called on Congress to grant the President authority to cut federal spending so as to keep the budget under control. Congress opposed Nixon’s proposal and instead sought to reform Congress’ budgetary role. In 1972 Congress created a Joint Study Committee on Budget Control which called for procedural reforms to enable Congress to examine the federal budget from an “overall point of view, together with a congressional system of deciding priorities.” Following Nixon’s impoundment Congress acted on these recommendations and in 1974 passed the Act over the President’s veto.

The Act had two main goals: (1) strengthen and centralize Congress’ budget authority; (2) reduce the President’s impoundment authority. The latter was done by drafting detailed guidelines restricting how the President can impound funds already appropriated by Congress. The former—which has proven the more significant of the two—was done through a variety of means. The Act created the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to give Congress independent economic analysis and end the Executive Branch’s monopoly on budgetary information created by the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act. It created standing budget committees in both the House and the Senate, provided for greater numbers of staff for these and other committees involved in budget decisions, and made changes in the procedure of passing a budget. The new budget committee was required to pass a ‘concurrent budget resolution’ (to be passed by Congress no later than May 15) outlining the government’s overall expenditures and receipts, based on CBO estimates. The concurrent resolution would then serve as the blueprint for the regular work of the authorizing and appropriating committees as they drafted the budget. (Via University of California)

 

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Appropriations Committee Releases FY2018 DHS Bill, Includes $1.6 Billion For Border Wall

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Posted: 2:22 am ET

 

On July 11, the House Appropriations Committee released its proposed fiscal year 2018 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill, which will be considered by the subcommittee on July 12. The legislation directs $44.3 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, an increase of $1.9 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. The bill includes $1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the U.S. southern border. It also includes $6.8 billion – the same as the President’s request – for disaster relief and emergency response activities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to the Committee’s statement.

The bill highlights include the following:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

The bill contains $13.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for CBP – an increase of $1.6 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. These resources ensure our borders are protected by putting boots on the ground, improving infrastructure and technology, and helping to stem the flow of illegal goods both into and out of the country. Within this total, the legislation includes:

  • $1.6 billion for physical barrier construction along the Southern border – including bollards and levee improvements – meeting the full White House request;
  • $100 million to hire 500 new Border Patrol agents;
  • $131 million for new border technology;
  • $106 million for new aircraft and sensors; and
  • $109 million for new, non-intrusive inspection equipment.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – The bill provides $7 billion for ICE –$619.7 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Within this total, the legislation includes:

  • $185.6 million to hire 1,000 additional law enforcement officers and 606 support staff;
  • $2 billion – an increase of $30 million above the requested level – for domestic and international investigations programs, including efforts to combat human trafficking, child exploitation, cybercrime, visa screening, and drug smuggling;
  • $4.4 billion for detention and removal programs, including:
  • 44,000 detention beds, an increase 4,676 beds over fiscal year 2017;
  • 129 Fugitive Operations teams; and
  • Criminal Alien Program operations, including the addition of 26 new communities to the 287(g) program, which partners with local law enforcement to process, arrest, and book illegal immigrants into state or local detention facilities.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

The bill includes $7.2 billion for TSA – a decrease of $159.8 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This includes full funding ($3.2 billion) for Transportation Security Officers, privatized screening operations, and passenger and baggage screening equipment, in order to speed processing and wait times for travelers and cargo. This also includes $151.8 million to hire, train, and deploy 1,047 canine teams to further expedite processing time.

Cybersecurity and Protection of Communications

To combat increasingly dangerous and numerous cyber-attacks, the bill includes a total of $1.8 billion for the National Protection and Programs Directorate to enhance critical infrastructure and prevent hacking.

Within this amount, $1.37 billion is provided to help secure civilian (.gov) networks, detect and prevent cyber-attacks and foreign espionage, and enhance and modernize emergency communications. Funds are also included to enhance emergency communications capabilities and to continue the modernization of the Biometric Identification System.

Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)

The legislation does not fund most CIS activities, as these are funded outside the appropriations process through the collection of fees However, the bill does contain $131 million for E-Verify, which is funded within CIS and helps companies ensure their employees may legally work in the United States.

SEC. 107 of the bill requires the following:

(a) Not later than 30 days after the date  of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Committees on the Judiciary of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate, and the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives, a report for fiscal year 2017 on visa overstay data by country as required by section 1376 of title 8, United States Code: Provided, That the report on visa overstay data shall also include—

(1) overstays from all nonimmigrant visa categories under the immigration laws, delineated by each of the classes and sub-classes of such categories; and 

(2) numbers as well as rates of overstays for each class and sub-class of such nonimmigrant categories on a per country basis.

(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall publish on the Department’s website the metrics developed to measure the effectiveness of security between the ports of entry, including the methodology and data supporting the resulting measures. 

For the complete text of the FY 2018 Subcommittee Draft Homeland Security Appropriations bill, see: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AP/AP15/20170712/106241/BILLS-115HR-SC-AP-FY2018-HSecurity-FY2018HomelandSecurityAppropriationsBill-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf

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Today: Tillerson Before SFRC and Appropriations Hearings For FY18 State Dept Budget Request

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Posted: 3:24 am ET

 

Today, Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to appear before two Senate panels on the FY2018 State Department Budget Request. He will appear before the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) for a Review of the FY 2018 State Department Budget Request in the morning. That hearing will be chaired by SFRC Chairman Bob Corker. This will be Secretary Tillerson’s first public Senate appearance since his confirmation as Secretary of State. Questions will be specific to the FY18 budget but we expect that there will also be questions on the planned agency reorganization, staffing gaps, morale, and a host of items that have surfaced on the news since he was confirmed in February. He is also scheduled to appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in the afternoon. That hearing will be chaired by Senator Lindsey Graham. 

Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

The prepared statement and live video will be posted here when available.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Time: 02:30 PM
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building 192
Presiding: Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)

The live video will be posted here when available.

But what in heavens name is this all about?

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@StateDept’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC): Status Update

Posted: 1:20 am ET

 

The State Department recently posted a video update of its Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett in Virginia.

FASTC will provide hard-skills security training to State Department personnel and the foreign affairs community.  In 2015, GSA purchased property and secured land use agreements for approximately 1,400 acres of publicly held land. On February 25, 2016, construction began for the FASTC project.  According to the State Department, the Master Construction Schedule for the FASTC construction is being completed through three construction contracts. Contractors began construction activities on February 25, 2016 and overall project substantial completion is anticipated for July 2019.

Related posts

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click here for video update

The FASTC Site Plan below shows the general areas where the hard-skills training venues are currently being built for Contract 01 and Contract 02.  According to state.gov, AECOM of Virginia Beach, VA has provided Construction Management as Agent and Commissioning Services since the Design Phase for the FASTC Ft. Pickett, VA site and is responsible for the numerous comprehensive facets of the construction process, including ongoing site communication, safety, security, and circulation of deliveries and construction vehicles on site.

CONTRACT 1: 2015 – April 2017

Jan. 2017 – Build out of Live Fire Shoot House interior
Feb. 2017 – Rappel Tower wood and rock wall installation
Mar. 2017 – Permanent power to all venues

  • Mock-Urban Tactical Training Area
  • Rappel Tower
  • Smoke House
  • Static Training Device Pad
  • Tactical Maze as well as Interior of the High Bay, Classroom and Breakroom
  • Explosives Demonstration Range
  • Viewing Shelter and Storage Building
  • Live Fire Shoot House as well as Interiors

CONTRACT 2: 2016 – September 2018

Jan. 2017 – Tree clearing and grading continues
Feb. 2017 – Ductbank complete and A01 Foundations begun
Mar. 2017 – Slab on Grade placement at A01, tree clearing finishes

  • A01 (Administrative Office Building 01) and T01 (Training Classroom Building 01)
  • Vehicle Maintenance Shop
  • Ring Road Bridge C-300 and C-307
  • Central Ammo and Explosives Storage
  • High-Speed Driving Track
  • High-Speed Track
  • High-Speed Driving Track Bridge
  • Tank Trail
  • Post-Blast Training Range

CONTRACT 3: 2017 – July 2019

August 2017 – Award
July 2019 – Estimated substantial completion

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All In: Tillerson on Trump’s FY2018 @StateDept/@USAID Budget

Posted: 2:44 am ET

 

We previously blogged about President Trumps FY2018 budget request (see FY2018 Trump Budget Word Cloud: Cuts, Reduction, Elimination) and #TrumpBudget Proposal FY2018: Most Volatile Geographic Bureaus Get the Deepest Cuts).

On May 23, President Trump sent his first budget request and FY2018 proposal for 4.1 trillion to Congress. The 32% cut to the international affairs budget has been called irresponsible.  Senator Lindsey Graham warns that the Trump budget cuts to the State Department is “a lot of Benghazis in the making.” Meanwhile, 225 corporate executives sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson on Monday arguing that “America’s diplomats and development experts help build and open new markets for U.S. exports by doing what only government can do: fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, and promote host country leadership to create the enabling environment for private investment.” The business executives note the importance of U.S. international affairs programs to boost their “exports abroad and jobs here at home” and urged Secretary Tillerson’s support for a strong International Affairs Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

While it is doubtful that Congress will support the Trump proposal in its current form, we suspect that the Administration will come back next year and every year thereafter for additional bites.  After all the border wall is estimated to cost anywhere between $21B-$67B and for FY18, the Trump Administration has requested $1.6 billion for “32 miles of new border wall construction, 28 miles of levee wall along the Rio Grande Valley and 14 miles of new border wall system that will replace existing secondary fence in the San Diego Sector…” on the 1,933-mile U.S.-Mexico border. And since the president has already kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign, we can be sure that the noise about the border wall will remain in the news for the foreseeable future.

Important to note, however, that this is only a budget request and that the Congress is the branch that actually appropriates the funds. In March, the Trump Administration sought cuts to the State Department and USAID funding (see Trump Seeks Further Funding Cuts From @StateDept/@USAID, This Time From 2017 Budget).  In early May, Congress did not give in to the request and appropriated funds comparable to the previous administration requests but as pointed out here, this is just the beginning of the budget wars.

The Secretary of State who believed he has to earn President Trump’s confidence every day stepped up to the plate once more, and released a statement calling the proposed -32% budget for his agency  as “responsive to the realities of the world in the 21st century.”

Today, President Trump requested $37.6 billion for the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. This budget request reflects the President’s “America First” agenda that prioritizes the well-being of Americans, bolsters U.S. national security, secures our borders, and advances U.S. economic interests.

This budget is responsive to the realities of the world in the 21st century, and ensures that the State Department and USAID can quickly adapt to an ever-changing international environment. Activities and programs supported in this budget will support our effort to defeat ISIS and other terrorist organizations and combat illegal migration and trafficking. This budget will also support our efforts to combat corruption and address threats to good governance, which helps level the playing field for American workers and businesses.

The FY 2018 budget supports the President’s commitment to make the U.S. government leaner and more accountable to the American taxpayer, while maximizing our diplomatic and engagement efforts, including with our international partners. As we advance the President’s foreign policy priorities, this budget will also help lay the foundation for a new era of global stability and American prosperity.

Clips:

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#TrumpBudget Proposal FY2018: Most Volatile Geographic Bureaus Get the Deepest Cuts

Posted: 3:03 am ET

 

Diplomatic Security’s 2015 Political Violence Against Americans publication notes that attacks involving U.S. citizens or interests occurred predominantly in the Near East (NEA), South Central Asia (SCA), and Africa (AF).

Some of the significant attacks against U.S.diplomatic facilities and personnel in 2015 occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh (protesters threw flammable liquid at a U.S. Embassy vehicle); Dili, Timor-Leste (a hand grenade was thrown over the wall of a U.S. Embassy residential property); Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (a U.S. Embassy vehicle transporting two U.S. congressional staffers to their hotel was hit by pedestrians throwing rocks); Sana’a, Yemen (a mortar or rocket round exploded on the road in front of the U.S. Embassy and Houthi rebels opened fire on two U.S. Embassy Quick Reaction Force (QRF) vehicles dispatched to assist locally employed embassy staffers detained at a rebel checkpoint); Erbil, Iraq (a vehicle laden with explosives detonated outside the U.S. Consulate General, killing two Turkish nationals and injuring 11 others, including a U.S. citizen); and Bangui, Central African Republic (an individual opened fire on a U.S. Embassy two-vehicle motorcade transporting eight passengers to the airport).

The FY2018 budget request proposed to cut funding deepest in the geographic areas that are most volatile and dangerous:  NEA -$45.1M;  SCA -$43.7M; AF – $32.7M; EUR -$24.3M; EAP -$12.6M; WHA -$12.6M.

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The Bureau of African Affairs (AF) promotes the Administration’s foreign policy priorities in 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) through 44 U.S. embassies, four constituent posts, and the U.S. Mission to the African Union. AF addresses key foreign policy initiatives and development challenges across Africa by focusing on five overarching policy priorities to: 1) advance peace and security; 2) strengthen democratic institutions and protect human rights; 3) spur economic growth through two-way trade and investment; 4) promote development including better health; and 5) advance diplomatic effectiveness through appropriate staffing and facilities.

In support of U.S. national security interests, AF has provided significant assistance to ensure that the African Union could play a major role in mitigating continental peace and security challenges. AF also supports the African Union’s ability to act as a standard bearer for democracy and human rights, the rule of law, and economic prosperity. AF also strongly supports African efforts to counter terrorism in the Sahel and West/Central Africa, Somalia and wider East Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin region. Finally, the Bureau and other State Department entities are working with counterparts throughout sub-Saharan Africa to provide humanitarian assistance to drought-stricken populations in the Horn of Africa; aid refugee populations; curtail trafficking of people, drugs, and arms; and facilitate the path towards an AIDS-free generation.

The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) advances vital U.S. national interests in the Asia Pacific region. Home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the emerging engagement occurring between the United States and nations in the Asia Pacific region reaffirms that America’s future security and prosperity will be shaped by developments in the region. EAP is comprised of 43 embassies, consulates, and American Presence Posts located in 24 countries from Mongolia to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. EAP has 861 foreign and civil service positions in overseas posts and domestic offices. The Bureau also provides support to the American Institute in Taiwan, a non-governmental organization that represents U.S. interests in Taiwan.

EAP leadership and diplomats reinforce rules-based order in the region by building an international commitment to defeat ISIS. EAP works to promote cooperation on transnational threats such as cyberspace and health pandemics, as well as threats from state actors, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and defending freedom of navigation in the region’s maritime spaces, including in the South China Sea.

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To support American prosperity and security, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs’ (EUR) strategic objective over multiple administrations has been to support a Europe “whole, free, and at peace.” The bureau’s range of tools includes the 50 EUR missions and important multilateral platforms including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). European nations are the United States’ most capable and globally engaged partners and can be force multipliers. Maintaining these alliances and partnerships is vital to U.S. defense and to our ability to enhance international stability, counter Russian aggression and subversion, and confront complex global challenges, such as proliferation, terrorist threats, and combatting organized crime and violent ideologies.

The total FY 2018 EUR Enduring Request is $470.6 million, a -$24.3 million decrease to the FY 2017 estimate, including $1.1 million in OCO. With these resources, and in conjunction with foreign assistance resources allocated to the region, EUR will continue to work to achieve the full range of State Department priorities, and seek to generate greater operating efficiencies and cost containment initiatives.

Through 25 embassies and consulates, stretching from Morocco to Iran, the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) promotes U.S. interests by combating terrorism and violent extremism, and leading the Global Coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); promoting the free flow of commerce; and preserving Israel’s security, working toward a comprehensive and lasting Middle East Peace between Israel and its neighbors. The region’s primary causes for volatility include: terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Qa’eda, who have found safe havens that threaten U.S. interests and allies; Iran’s malign regional influence impends U.S. partners’ strategic security; and the ongoing Syrian civil war that exports instability and undermines the stability of its neighbors with humanitarian crises.

In order to defeat ISIS and stabilize liberated areas, Mission Iraq will vigorously engage with the Government of Iraq, international organizations, regional neighbors, economic partners, and the Iraqi people to support improvements in governance, economic development, Iraq’s regional relations, and to maintain a strong enduring partnership with Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement. Mission Iraq’s 5,500 personnel working at Embassy Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC), Consulate General Basrah, and Consulate General Erbil are essential to pursuing the above-stated goals.

The FY 2018 Request is $413.3 million ($175 million Enduring and $238.3 million OCO), a -$45.1 million decrease below the FY 2017 estimate. The request strives to gain efficiencies via a more stringent management of travel, contract, and International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) operations throughout the region. Additional efficiencies are being pursued through the review of programs/operations such as aviation assets and support, consulate operations, and financial support provided to outside entities by way of agreements.

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) is responsible for promoting U.S. interests in one of the most populous and dynamic regions of the world. With a combined population of more than 1.5 billion people, the 13 countries that make up SCA are home to almost a quarter of the world’s population, including one-third of the world’s Muslims and 850 million persons under age 30, making continued engagement in South and Central Asia vital to U.S. national security and regional stability.

Department operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across South and Central Asia remain critical to ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States. On the security front, the efforts of the U.S. and bilateral and regional partners have combated multiple terrorist threats. Continued programs to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and deter nuclear proliferation in the region will continue to improve security for the homeland and U.S. global partners.

SCA’s request will also support two major regional initiatives: the New Silk Road (NSR) focused on Afghanistan and its neighbors, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor linking South Asia with Southeast Asia.

The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) is comprised of 52 Embassies and Consulates encompassing Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. WHA’s primary goals include helping to shut down illicit pathways to the United States to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism. The bureau will continue to work with partner governments and civil society in support of democratic values and human rights. WHA will support bilateral trade agreements that respect U.S. national sovereignty and promote U.S. investment and jobs. WHA will use all possible sources of leverage to encourage other countries to open markets to U.S. exports of goods and services, to provide adequate and effective enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Department seeks to expand security, prosperity, and democracy in the Hemisphere through partnerships that benefit the United States and its strategic national security partners.

The WHA FY 2018 Request is $256.2 million, a -$12.6 million reduction to the FY 2017 Estimate. WHA will implement contractual services reductions in order to absorb the reduction.

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The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) and its seven diplomatic missions play a central role in U.S. efforts to advance national security through the multilateral system, including the United Nations (UN). IO works through organizations that offer opportunities to achieve multi-national solutions to complex global issues.

U.S. multilateral engagement is an important component of a robust U.S. foreign policy, and particularly in promoting U.S. priorities through transnational action. International organizations comprise a global architecture that can extend U.S. influence at a reduced cost to the American taxpayer over bilateral or unilateral actions.

The UN system, in particular, has principal convening power for multilateral action within its main bodies, funds and programs, and specialized agencies. Through the UN system, the United States can take internationally-recognized action on issues affecting U.S. citizens that may not be resolved elsewhere, including aviation safety and security, public health, internet governance, and global postal services. IO’s multilateral engagement extends beyond the UN system to buttress multi-national resolutions outside the UN’s walls.

 

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FY2018 Trump Budget Word Cloud: Cuts, Reduction, Elimination

Posted: 10:23 am PT

 

President Trump’s FY2018 federal budget was rolled out today. Here’s the first of the highlights as we’re combing through the document.

Via FY2018 Budget Proposal

Request For Diplomatic Engagement

The FY 2018 Request for Diplomatic Engagement is $12.3 billion in discretionary enduring and OCO appropriations, $4.7 billion in fee-based spending, and $159 million in mandatory funding for the Foreign Service Retirement Disability Fund. The FY 2018 Request focuses on key Presidential and Departmental priorities including defeating ISIS and other terrorist groups; strengthening our borders; enabling our allies and partners to defend shared interests; ensuring operational and personnel safety at posts; strengthening cybersecurity; and ensuring accountability and efficiency with taxpayer resources.

Reduction of State’s on-board employment by nearly 2,000 through FY18

The Department is implementing the principles outlined in the Administration’s plan for reforming the Federal government and reducing the Federal civilian workforce. This includes a detailed review of State and USAID’s core missions, personnel, programs, and operations. The results and recommendations of this reform process will be released no later than February 2018. In the meantime, the Department is responsibly reducing its Foreign Service and Civil Service workforce through ongoing attrition and anticipated targeted (FY 2018) buyouts, which are projected to reduce State’s on-board employment by nearly 2,000 through September 2018.

Reduction of Funds for the UN

The FY 2018 Request proposes to reduce funding for the UN and affiliated agencies as well as other international programs and organizations that do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, fail to demonstrate effectiveness and transparency, and/or for which the funding burden is not fairly shared amongst members. The FY 2018 Request sets the expectation that these organizations rein in costs, and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among member states.

Facility Upgrades in Somalia, Turkey, Afghanistan

The Department appreciates Congressional support for security investments in the Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017 (SAAA), which provided a combined $1.7 billion for Diplomatic and Consular Programs – Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) and Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance (ESCM). These resources are enhancing security protection and facilities for civilian personnel on the front lines against ISIS and other terrorist organizations. As the WSP funding supports expanded Diplomatic Security operations through FY 2018, those funds are largely non-recurred in this request. Within ESCM, $0.6 billion of the SAAA is being applied towards State’s share of the FY 2018 Capital Security Cost-Sharing and Maintenance Cost-Sharing program, including facility upgrades for Somalia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. This reduces the level of new FY 2018 ESCM appropriations needed to sustain the $2.2 billion interagency level recommended by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board.

Elimination of Funds for East West Center and Asia Foundation

As part of the Administration’s plans to move the Nation towards fiscal responsibility and to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government, the budget proposes to eliminate earmarked appropriations for the East-West Center (EWC) and The Asia Foundation (TAF). Elimination of line-item Federal funding will not terminate these organizations, due to their non-profit status, and they remain eligible to apply and compete for federal grant funding opportunities, as well as receive private sector contributions.

Cuts Direct Funding in Half for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) 

The request cuts direct funding in half for the Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs from the FY 2017 Estimate. In a fiscally constrained environment, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) will focus its support on core global programs such as Fulbright and the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).

New “Consular and Border Security Programs” (CBSP) Account

The FY 2018 President’s Budget proposes creation of a new fund in which to deposit the receipts from retained consular fees. The new fund, known as the “Consular and Border Security Programs” (CBSP) account, will consist of the fees listed under the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and will support the provision of consular services, with expedited passport fees continuing to support the Department’s information technology programs. The CBSP chapter will continue to include the H and L Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, but as the CBSP’s only collection scored as mandatory, the H and L fee will continue to be collected in a standalone account outside of the new CBSP account.

Diplomatic and Consular Programs – Enduring

The Department’s FY 2018 Request for D&CP Ongoing Operations is $3.9 billion and includes $3.5 billion for Program Operations and $452 million for PD. The request is -$283 million below the FY 2017 estimate of $4.2 billion, and includes $42 million for the American pay raise, -$97 million to absorb all other current-services adjustments, such as overseas and domestic price inflation, base adjustments, GSA rent and Locally Employed (LE) staff wage increases, and -$325 million in program changes.

The Department has begun engaging its entire workforce with a listening tour to provide the Secretary with input for a broader reorganization proposal to be released in 2018. The Department has begun to reshape its workforce and will reduce staffing levels through attrition and anticipated targeted buyouts. By the end of FY 2018, the Department anticipates reducing its workforce by approximately 8 percent. The D&CP request for American Salaries funding reflects this projected attrition, as adjusted for the American pay raise. However, this Request generally does not show reductions in bureaus’ authorized position levels, as Department’s strategic workforce analysis is still underway. Detailed information regarding personnel adjustments will be provided once the comprehensive plan to reorganize the Department is finalized.

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@StateDept Targets Umbrella Schools For Homeschooling Foreign Service Families

Posted: 4:18 am ET

 

An umbrella school is an alternative education school which serves to oversee the homeschooling of children to fulfill government educational requirements.  Umbrella or cover schools can provide options that homeschoolers might not have on their own, including field trips, resources, team sports opportunities, and tutoring. They also have widely different requirements regarding curricula, record-keeping, and even religious affiliation.

On May 15, the State Department issued an “Educational Allowance Home Study Payment Guidance” which says “indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees.” Any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction fees are included in this restriction.

The new guidance further states:

An educational provider receiving payment as a result of an education allowance must be providing the course teaching and evaluations directly to the student. The course of study provided by the educational provider may be online, by correspondence, or through other appropriate materials. Indirect or third party service provider fees, such as umbrella school/cover schools not providing direct instruction, course, or accredited virtual education, are not reimbursable fees or recognized as advisory fees (this also applies for any supplementary or gifted and talented instruction). However, a parent can elect to pay them as a personal expense. Third party service providers billing for the direct educational providers’ fees may only be paid directly by the FMO or reimbursed to the officer as described below. Agreements, rules, procedures, or contracts (if completed) between the officer, third party service providers, and/or the school must be made available to Post as part of any claim for reimbursement or request for direct payment.

Prior to this guidance, the State Department pays the homeschooling allowance for the Foreign Service child to the umbrella school. The school can then use it for school items for the child or reimburse parents for the school items they purchased. By restricting the use of umbrella schools, post’s Financial Management Officer (FMO) now becomes the “decider” for the FS child’s homeschool allowance. Foreign Service families can still homeschool but the FMO at post has to okay each and every purchase expenditure. Parents have to take their receipts to the FMO and hope that he/she will reimburse them for that specific math curriculum.

We don’t know how much the State Department is saving by going after umbrella schools. At some posts, homeschooling may be the family’s only educational option. And at other posts, there may not be an FMO and this could become one more collateral duty for the Management Officer.

We should note that Foreign Service families can only choose from three educational methods for their kids: 1) school at post, 2) school away from post, and 3) home study/private instruction. Guess which one is the cheapest.

So a hiring freeze for family members with very few exceptions, and now, we’re asked why the State Department is picking on homeschoolers?  What should we make of this? They’re absolutely not saying parents can’t homeschool their kids.  They’ll just make the process burdensome enough, as a way to rein in the cost?

In late April, Bloomberg reported that “Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas.”

When we look back at that reporting and then look at this new guidance, we get a sense that this is just the opening salvo in a one sided fight projected to inflict deep cuts at the State Department. This is just the first cut but the axe is out.

 

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AFSA Elections 2017: Three of Four Top Elected Posts Are Uncontested. Again.

Posted: 12:10 am ET

 

It’s that time of year again. AFSA is having an election for the 2017 Governing Board.  For the second time in four years, three of the four top elected posts are again, unopposed: President, Secretary, Treasurer.  As in 2013, only the State VP position has two candidates.  Also uncontested slots are: USAID VP, FAS VP, APHIS Rep, BBG Rep, FAS Rep and USAID Rep.  The Foreign Service had seen this movie before in the 2013 elections.

Barbara Stephenson is running unopposed for reelection as AFSA’s president. In her latest FSJ column addressing the 30% funding cut, she writes that she has become over the years, a “cheerleader for making the most of transitions to reexamine priorities.” In hedging off potential criticisms for AFSA’s noticeable silence over these budget cuts, she cites “AFSA’s record-high membership levels and the response and feedback from our “structured conversations” (now in their second year) and other communications tell me that many members are open to a sophisticated approach by AFSA that draws on our core competencies as diplomats.”

Following Secretary Tillerson’s recent address to State Department employees, WaPo’s Joe Davidson writes“Tillerson seems more in touch with the tension reorganization can generate among employees than the union representing them. A statement from American Foreign Service Association President Barbara Stephenson didn’t address worker apprehension as she said “this reorganization effort offers a rare opportunity to make American diplomacy stronger.”

Former Ambassador Tom Boyatt running unopposed for AFSA Secretary says in his campaign message that he “registered the unprecedented uncertainties in the current budget proposal, the reorganization and “streamlining” being considered and the possible RIF flowing therefrom.”

First time candidate for AFSA office, former Ambassador Tony Wayne running in an uncontested seat for the Treasurer slot says that he “cannot recall a period when the misunderstanding was so serious regarding the vital role that American diplomats and American diplomacy play.  AFSA must be as effective as possible in explaining the importance of the non-military tools in America’s international policy. The proposed budget cuts are deeply concerning.” 

Ken Kero-Mentz running for State Vice President under the Stephenson slate writes, “I believe we must forge new alliances, build new bridges, and plan for a stronger future, together. […] I believe AFSA must be a place where everyone can share concerns and ideas, safely. I know how to work with senior management, and I know how to advocate for our Foreign Service and our Department.”

Joe De Maria, an independent running for State Vice President says, “I have served 26 years in the Foreign Service. I’ve served at six posts and in five functional bureaus with many fine generalists and specialists. I’ve served as a consular officer, a Pearson Fellow, HRO, Labor Officer and Congressional Advisor. I know the Department well.[…] I know what works well and what doesn’t, and what motivates us to keep plugging away year after year. Let me put this experience and knowledge to work for you and your families.”

Ann Posner for USAID Vice President in an uncontested seat writes: “As USAID Contingency VP, I want to press onward to assure that the Agency streamlines systems that affect FSOs’ work and careers.”

Daniel Crocker running for FCS Vice President as part of the sole slate: “I’ll help ensure that FCS’s role in promoting U.S. economic security is a core component of your country team at post. I’ll challenge Commerce to support a first-tier Foreign Service. And my communication with you will be transparent and timely.”

Independent Steve Morrison is running for FCS Vice President says that he “Cannot be promoted, SFS “window” not open so ONLY WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS!”

The contested Retiree VP slot is between Bill Haugh who is running as part of the only slate and John Naland running as an independent. Haugh writes: “I want to strengthen AFSA’s capacity to help you transition to retirement. Every retirement is unique, so I propose to strengthen AFSA casework. I am a career management officer with decades of experience navigating the bureaucracy.”

AFSA President twice and former AFSA VP John Naland writes that he is the “only retiree candidate who has pledged to dedicate 20 hours per week to AFSA, I have the time to apply my experience and knowledge to advancing AFSA’s agenda.  As an independent candidate, if the need arises to urge our AFSA President to speak out more strongly in defense of the Service, I will be freer to do so than her fellow slate candidates whose elections she made possible.”

As an aside — we have not made a habit of endorsing AFSA candidates and we are not about to start now, but we will always remember John Naland as an AFSA president who was willing to address members’ concerns long before we had this blog. He was accommodating and sensitive to the issues of Foreign Service members and their spouses, even those who were not paying members of the organization.  He certainly talked the talk and walked the walk.

Frankly, we are sorry to see that he is not at the top of the ticket.

Former Ambassador Alphonse F. La Porta for Retiree Representative talks about “another and lesser known threat: the gutting of employee rights and the labor-management system for which AFSA is responsible as the exclusive representative of the Foreign Service. The law-based and carefully-negotiated rights of federal unions are under attack on the Hill to limit due process, employee protections, and AFSA advocacy.”

Philip A. Shull for Retiree Representative as part of the sole slate writes that “If elected as your Retiree Representative, I will use my skills and 30+ years of experience in marketing and coalition building to win over even more converts.”

George Colvin is running as an independent for Retiree Representative. In his campaign statement, he writes:

According to prominent legal theorist Jack Goldsmith, the Trump administration is conducting “the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history,” including “trying to gut State Department capacity across the board.” News stories feature bewildered Department staff fearful of budget cuts that could produce a Foreign Service RIF, as well as a drastic and damaging reorganization. The Secretary is a taciturn recluse and policy bystander.

Faced with conditions that threaten both the national interest and the future of the Foreign Service, Barbara Stephenson and her colleagues have nothing to say.

I am running as an independent candidate for retiree representative because I believe AFSA must engage on these concerns, and must be seen to do so. We are the Foreign Service, not the Silent Service; and it is past time for the “Voice of the Foreign Service” to start speaking.

Oh boy! Mr. Colvin might just stir things up on the Board!

Several folks are also running for State Representatives. Some candidates’ statements do not talk about what they hope to accomplish  as AFSA representatives but about the um… “true appreciation of the work” of AFSA President Ambassador Stephenson or Stephenson’s “leadership.”  

Below is a list of nominees.

 

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