Trump Seeks Further Funding Cuts From @StateDept/@USAID, This Time From 2017 Budget

Posted: 2:51 am ET
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Last December, Public Law No: 114-254 (12/10/2016) was signed into law to provide continuing appropriations for most federal agencies through April 28, 2017. This continuing resolution (CR) was passed and it prevented a shutdown of the federal government that would have occurred when the previous CR expired on December 9, 2016 (at that time, eleven of the twelve FY2017 regular appropriations bills that fund the federal government had not been enacted).  The bill funded most projects and activities at the rate established for FY2017 spending by the Budget Control Act of 2011 including additional emergency, disaster relief, and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

It looks like the House will be in session for eight calendar days in April, while the Senate will have ten days. With six months left in the current fiscal year and while Congress is expected to wrestle once more with that CR next month, the Trump Administration is also seeking cuts from the FY2017 budget.  The “savings” from the proposed cuts in the current fiscal year will reportedly also go to DOD for additional military spending, and to help build that wall.

Via usnews.com:

memo sent by the administration on Friday to the House and Senate appropriations committees provides the first detailed look at the proposed cuts, and is expected to meet resistance as the budget blueprint did from lawmakers who have fewer than a dozen legislative days to craft and pass the trillion-dollar spending legislation to keep the lights on.
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All told, the programs overseen by the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee would see the greatest reductions, totalling $7.26 billion, followed by $2.88 billion from the subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations, including $1.16 billion to USAID foreign aid programs going to combating climate change, family planning and other global health initiatives.

The list of proposed reductions below is via Politico (see pages 11-12 above for the proposed cuts for the State Department).

Some programs will be slashed while others are zeroed out under the proposed cuts from the State/USAID budget for FY2017. In the case of PEPFAR (Aids) the proposal calls for “slowing the rate of new patients on treatment in FY17.” It slashed funds for peacekeeping operations, family planning/reproductive health, and refugee programs “because of lower projections in FY 2017 of refugee admissions.” Here are some of the most notable programs targeted for cuts this year under Trump’s proposal:

Development Assistance (DA) (-$562M): Proposed savings in the DA account include reducing support for bilateral climate change programs that are part of the previous Administration’s Global Climate Change Initiative. Further savings from the FY 2017 CR level can be achieved by reducing economic assistance in other sectors to programmatically sufficient levels, such as through reductions of up to 20 percent in basic and higher education (which has a large pipelines of unspent funds); biodiversity; democracy, human rights, and governance; agriculture and food security (while still addressing key objectives and priorities in the Global Food Security Act); and other sectors.

Economic Support Fund (ESF) (base) (-$290M): This decrease accepts the topline reduction in the House bill (-$274 million vs. CR), which included zeroing out the GCF. It then also reduces several sectors, including bilateral climate change, basic/higher education, democracy/governance, and economic growth.

President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/Global Health Programs (-$242M): This reduction would achieve savings by requiring PEPFAR to begin slowing the rate of new patients on treatment in FY 17, by reducing support to low-performing countries, by reducing lower-priority prevention programs, or by identifying new efficiencies or other savings.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (-$200M): This account can absorb a $200 million reduction from the annualized base CR rate with insignificant impact to the account, given carryover, the slow rate of FY 2016 obligations, and resources recaptured through de-obligations, recoveries, and proceeds of sale.

Foreign Military Financing (-$200M): This account can absorb a $200 million reduction from the annualized base CR rate by cutting funding for high income countries and consistent with funding restrictions for certain countries in the FY 2017 House and Senate bills.

International Organizations and Programs (-$169M): This account provides for non-assessed contributions to international organizations. This reduction would eliminate such contributions to most organizations funded through the account including the UN Population Fund and some contributions to climate change programs but preserve flexibility to make contributions to some organizations such as UNICEF as well as those supporting global security functions.

Educational and Cultural Exchanges (-$140M): Reduction or elimination of programs based on the ability to fund outside of ECE, ability to merge with other programs, and legacy programs in high income countries. Scale back of programs to prior year levels and/or 5-10% reductions given budgetary constraints.

Global Health Security (-$72M): This proposal zeroes out global health security programs at USAID in FY 2017 to realize up to $72.5 million in savings. These programs are currently supported with 2-year funds and it is unlikely the agency will obligate a significant portion of these funds under the current CR. This proposal instead seeks legislative authority to repurpose $72.5 million in remaining Ebola emergency funds to support these programs in FY 2017.

Specified Other Global Health Programs at USAID (-$90M):To achieve additional savings, reduced levels for:
• Tuberculosis (-$44.6 million below FY 17 CR)
• Polio eradication (-$7.9 million)
• Nutrition (-$16.3 million)
• Vulnerable children (-$7.5 million)
• Neglected tropical diseases (-$13.3 million)

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@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On

Posted: 2:07 am  ET
Updated: 2:27 pm PT
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The AP’s Matt Lee reports that the State Department was granted an exemption from the Trump administration’s hiring freeze on most federal employees. It will bring on 175 new diplomats: 70 entry-level diplomats, 80 mid-level specialists and 25 consular fellows, non-foreign service officers who assist visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

The report says that the State Department has been granted an exemption from the Trump hiring freeze. The number only includes a fraction of the projected hires this year for the Foreign Service.  The State Department has projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition.

It looks like this exemption affects only the March classes scheduled to start on March 6 for FS officers,  and March 20 for FS specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?).  Beyond these positions, it appears that the hiring freeze is on, including a halt in the hiring of eligible family members. 

There are classes scheduled for July and September but it appears no invitations have gone out for those classes.  The State Department’s careers.gov says, “We do not yet have information regarding hiring authority for future classes. This is not unusual.”  We anticipate that the OPM plan required after 90 days under the federal hiring freeze executive order will be available by then.

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Congress Sends President Obama First State Department Authorization in 14 Years

Posted: 1:21 am ET
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Last week, we blogged that S.1635 the State Department authorization bill was marching to the finish line (see S.1635 ‘Department of State Authorities Act Fiscal Year 2017’ Marches to the Finish Line). On Saturday, December 10, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved S.1635, legislation referred to the Senate earlier from the House of Representatives where lawmakers apparently incorporated provisions from State Department authorization bills for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 . This is the first State Department authorization bill sent by Congress to the President in 14 years. Below is the statement from SFRC Chairman Bob Corker:

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced that for the first time in 14 years, a State Department authorization bill will be sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law. Today, the Senate unanimously approved S.1635, legislation referred to the Senate earlier this week from the House of Representatives where lawmakers incorporated provisions from State Department authorization bills for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, which were authored by Corker and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee.

“Today, Congress ends a 14-year drought by finally sending a State Department authorization to the president,” said Corker. “Restoring Congress’ rightful role in the conduct of U.S. engagement overseas has been a top priority of mine as chairman. I thank Senator Cardin for his partnership and appreciate the bipartisan cooperation and contributions of my committee colleagues and our counterparts in the House in renewing this important oversight process on behalf of American taxpayers. Among other provisions, this legislation will enhance the security of our embassies abroad, improve personnel and organizational practices of the State Department, and demand much needed oversight and accountability of U.N. peacekeeping missions to end horrific cases of sexual abuse and exploitation. Going forward, I am hopeful we can build even further on this important progress to ensure State Department funding is used in the most responsible manner to advance American interests.”

A summary of S.1635 is available here or read it below:

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SFRC Approves the Department of State Authorization Act of 2017 #DOSAA17

Posted:9:11 pm ET
Updated 4:22 pm PT
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On April 28, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced committee passage of the bipartisan U.S. Department of State Authorization Act of 2017.  In 2015, the committee approved a State Department authorization bill for the first time in five years. A State Department authorization bill has not been signed into law since 2002.

Senators Corker and Cardin released a statement on the bill’s passage, below is an excerpt:

“Assuring the American people that their taxpayer dollars are used efficiently in advancing U.S. interests has been one of my top priorities as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Senator Corker. “We made a commitment to conduct a review of State Department programs and practices on an annual basis, and for the second consecutive year, I am pleased the committee approved a bipartisan authorization bill to fulfill our oversight responsibilities. This legislation requires the U.S. to use its leverage at the United Nations to end impunity over the horrific cases of abuse by peacekeepers. It also supports a stronger, more dynamic workforce and makes the issuance of passports and visas operate more like a business. I look forward to working with Senator Cardin and our committee colleagues to pass the bill through the full Senate this year.”

“It’s essential to provide the authorities for the State Department so it can strategically and effectively carry out America’s foreign policy, and I believe we’ve taken an important step in that direction today,” Senator Cardin said. “We fought hard to prioritize the Department’s essential requests while also improving some accountability measures. In a world of increasing challenges and opportunities, the men and women of the United States diplomatic corps work tirelessly day in and day out to keep America safe, improve global health, empower women, protect vulnerable populations, and engage with our allies and adversaries alike through our bilateral relationships and multilateral organizations. I thank Chairman Corker and the Committee’s Members for working in a bipartisan fashion to bring this bill to the Senate floor and look forward to its passage.”

The SFRC also released a summary of the key provisions; we hope to have a follow up post for the interesting bits:

We should note that a similar bill was introduced last year. “S.1635 – Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, Fiscal Year 2016″ was the first authorization bill passed by the SFRC in 5 years. At that time, our source on the Hill informed us that the State Authorization bill was offered as an amendment when the NDAA was debated in the Senate but it was not voted on and the NDAA passed on June 18 without it (That would be H.R. 1735 which passed 215 (71-25)  The State Authorization bill was not brought to the floor for a stand alone vote, and as far as we know, Senators Corker/Cardin were not able to attach it to another piece of legislation last year. So the bill died and went to the cemetery for dead bills.   The State Department authorization bill for FY2016 was actually wrapped in the deal that made the Roberta Jacobson confirmation possible; it was also passed by the Senate on April 28. (Thanks A!) The FY2017 bill is currently pending in the Senate. 

We’ll have to wait and see what happens this year.

 

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USAID/OIG Highlights Challenges to the Management and Administration of Foreign Assistance

Posted: 3:24 am ET
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On March 15, the new USAID Inspector General Ann Calvaresi Barr went before the Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations during its review of the FY2017 budget request and funding justification hearing for USAID. She told the subcommittee that in FY2016, OIG issued 698 financial and performance audits and reviews with more than 1,268 recommendations for improving foreign assistance programs.

These audits identified approximately $290 million in questioned costs and funds to be put to better use. OIG’s investigative work led to 10 arrests and 91 administrative actions such as suspensions, debarments, and terminations of employment. OIG also realized nearly $85 million in savings and recoveries in FY 2015 as a result of its investigations. In addition, OIG provided 270 fraud awareness briefings and training sessions for close to 8,600 attendees in 36 countries.

She talked about changes in the USAID OIG operations:

On the horizon are changes to improve OIG’s work to ensure it has a meaningful impact on the strategy, policy, and practice of U.S. foreign assistance. This includes building and maintaining a workforce equipped with the right guidance, skills, and resources to evaluate complex development programs, unravel sophisticated fraud schemes, and address new oversight requirements.
[….]
In addition to recruiting and developing top-notch staff, I am committed to making certain that OIG has the right internal policies, processes, and systems in place to meet the highest standards for reliable and meaningful oversight. The quality of our audit and investigative work must be beyond question.

Most importantly, she highlighted to Congress the many challenges to the management and administration of U.S. foreign assistance:

Work in nonpermissive environment:

Work in nonpermissive environments is a leading challenge for foreign assistance agencies. Programs in conflict-affected settings face greater risks than those operating in more stable environments. These risks typically include a more acute threat to the lives of U.S. Government and implementer personnel. In these settings, in addition to limited access to projects and threats to safety, USAID often confronts dishonest and opportunistic actors who look to prey upon the influx of foreign aid. In some cases, instability and weak institutions threaten both the immediate progress and long-term benefit of development efforts. Agency staff and implementing partners alike face severe constraints in monitoring the progress of development and humanitarian assistance activities in these settings. Shortfalls in these activities can lead to health and environmental hazards, such as those we observed in a camp for displaced persons in Iraq. They can also create conditions for pervasive fraud and diversion. OIG, for example, recently documented the large-scale substitution of basic hygiene and food items intended for displaced Syrians with substandard materials. In other cases, we have noted the diversion of humanitarian goods to terrorist groups, and uncovered a case in which a sub-implementer received funds for a range of humanitarian assistance activities that it never performed. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan we found that a lack of access to project sites constrained USAID’s ability to observe 74 percent of the projects it funded.

Unreliable data: collection, reporting and use

[T]he collection, use, and reporting of unreliable data in connection with development programs. OIG has identified poor data quality as a concern across a spectrum of USAID’s programs, irrespective of geographic location or functional area. Of 196 performance audit and survey reports OIG published from FY 2013 to FY 2015, about 4 in 10 identified problems with data quality or sufficiency. OIG has repeatedly identified errors and overstatements, gaps in data collection and reporting, and problems in the consistency with which underlying calculations are made. Recent OIG work on USAID’s Ebola response activities, for example, found that the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance lacked adequate performance measures given the nature of the Ebola crisis. OIG identifies data quality problems in more traditional development programs as well, as indicated in recent reports on justice system reform efforts, activities under the Feed the Future Initiative, and education programs. Without reliable data that meaningfully speaks to program results, USAID cannot effectively manage its programs or plan new ones. Moreover, absent reliable information on program progress, policymakers are unable to make fully informed decisions on the course of U.S. foreign assistance.

Sustainability:

USAID’s long-term goal is to transfer ownership of its development initiatives so that the progress and results from its projects continue. To achieve this end, USAID is responsible for building sustainability into its plans and activities. Notwithstanding this aim, sustainability remains a major management challenge and OIG has often found that USAID planning for the end of projects has been inadequate. About a quarter of performance audit reports OIG issued from FY 2013 through FY 2015 contained recommendations to do more to ensure sustainability. In one case, we noted an HIV/AIDS project lacked a formal transition plan 3 years after the project began, threatening its continuation. In other cases, OIG has found that a lack of host country support, including the limited capacity of some USAID partners, reduced the likelihood that development goals could be realized and sustained. Recent OIG reports on programs in Afghanistan and Armenia, for example, noted that local partners lacked the ability to effectively support or continue USAID programs.

The capacity of host country governments and local implementers can indeed determine the success or failure of development efforts. In recognition of the need for technical capacity within host country systems, USAID’s Local Solutions Initiative aims to provide direct funding to host governments and to local private and nonprofit entities. Yet, USAID’s risk mitigation efforts in association with this initiative have not been consistent and this constitutes another significant management challenge for the agency as a result. OIG audit and investigative work over the years has provided evidence that agency and partner controls are unable to effectively safeguard funds in many of these cases. The U.S. Government has channeled a sizable share of assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan through local systems, for example, but not always demonstrated sufficient accountability for these funds. In FY 2015, we issued a report on USAID’s controls over direct assistance in Afghanistan, identifying shortcomings in both its oversight and in how it communicated about employees’ responsibilities and the expectations placed upon Afghan implementers. In Pakistan, a direct assistance program to support municipal services in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) fell short in part because the mission failed to effectively work with the grantee, KP’s Planning and Development Department, which lacked adequate capacity to implement the program on its own.

Human resources management, decentralized IT and information security:

Two additional challenges facing USAID pertain to the management of its human resources and decentralized management of information technology (IT) and information security. Audit work last year continued to indicate that USAID faces a shortage of experienced, highly skilled personnel familiar with USAID guidelines, standards, and processes. Staff retained under the Development Leadership Initiative pointed to irrelevant training, poor support in preparation for overseas assignments, and being assigned roles that were less than those of other employees as problems facing a major hiring effort in recent years. We also found that staffing shortages have hampered program implementation and oversight in many locations where USAID operates.

On the IT front, OIG has noted the lack of an effective risk management program as well as a substantial number of open recommendations from prior IT-related audits. OIG deems this to indicate a significant deficiency in the security of USAID-wide information systems, including financial systems. An audit relating to the agency’s privacy program for information technology identified new weaknesses and risks related to potential noncompliance with major privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.

The full testimony is here (PDF).

 

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