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Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill

Posted: 1:59 pm PT

 

On September 6, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs announced that it approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level when factoring in fiscal year 2017 funding for famine relief but not the Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017. The State Department’s reorganization/redesign is huge news; this bill provides for notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on proposed changes. Most notably, it requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans.

Senator Patrick Leahy notes that ““The President sent us a budget that was irresponsible and indefensible.  We were provided no credible justification for the cuts that were proposed, which would have severely eroded U.S. global leadership.  This bill repudiates the President’s reckless budget request, and I commend Chairman Graham for reaffirming the primacy of the Congress in appropriating funds.” Also this:

The bill does not endorse the reorganization or redesign of any part of the Department of State, USAID, or any other entity funded in the bill absent consultation with, and the notification and detailed justification of any proposed modifications to, the Committees on Appropriations.  In addition to such consultation and notification requirements, section 7083 of the bill requires any such proposal to first be submitted to GAO for review. The bill further restricts changes to, and provides specific amounts of funding for, certain bureaus, offices, and positions, and removes authority for the administration to deviate from certain operating and assistance funding levels.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee said: “Through the bill and report, the Subcommittee has articulated its vision of an active American role in the world today.  ‘Soft power,’ as it’s commonly called, is an essential ingredient to national security.  This bill recognizes and builds upon the significance of ‘soft power.’”  

Below excerpted from the the Appropriations Subcommittee statement:

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs today approved a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.

The FY2018 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill provides $51.2 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs.  Of this amount, $30.4 billion is for enduring costs and $20.8 billion is for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

Full committee consideration of the bill is scheduled for Thursday (http://bit.ly/2gGCwhL).

Bill Highlights:

Supports Key Allies, Counters Extremism, and Promotes Democracy and Human Rights
•    $3.1 billion for military aid for Israel, $7.5 million for refugees resettling in Israel; and continues restrictions on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
•    $1.5 billion for economic and military assistance for Jordan.
•    $120 million for the Countering Russian Influence Fund.
•    $31 million for the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai.
•    $165.4 million for assistance for Tunisia, and requires an assessment of the feasibility of establishing a multi-year Memorandum of Understanding with Tunisia.
•    $500 million for the Relief and Recovery Fund to hold, repopulate, and establish governance in areas liberated from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other extremist groups.
•    $19 million for a program to assist women and girls at risk from extremism in predominantly Muslim and other countries.
•    $2.3 billion for democracy programs, and an additional $170 million for the National Endowment for Democracy.
•    $15 million to promote democracy and rule of law in Venezuela.
•    $8 million for programs to promote human rights in North Korea.

Promotes and Protects International Religious Freedom – $25 million for programs to promote international religious freedom, and $5 million for atrocities prevention programs.  In addition, the bill provides $6 million for the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, and $2 million for the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom in the Near East and Central Asia.

Strengthens Embassy Security – $5.8 billion to ensure the safety of American diplomats, development professionals and facilities abroad.

Provides Assistance for Refugees – $3.11 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance, maintaining the long-held United States commitment to protecting and addressing the needs of refugees impacted by conflict and other natural and manmade disasters.

International Disaster Assistance – $3.13 billion for International Disaster Assistance, which is $311.5 million above the FY2017 level, excluding emergency assistance for famine relief.  Funds provided in excess of the FY2017 level are made available for famine prevention, relief, and mitigation.

Does Not Include Funds for the Green Climate Fund – The bill does not include funds for grants, assistance, or contributions to the Green Climate Fund, as none were requested by the President.

Protects Life – The bill expands the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. assistance for foreign nongovernmental organizations that promote or perform abortions, and caps family planning and reproductive health programs at $461 million.  The bill continues provisions relating to abortion, including the Tiahrt, Helms, and Kemp-Kasten Amendments.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE OPERATIONS AND OTHER FUNDING

Administration of Foreign Affairs – $11.51 billion for the administration of foreign affairs, including funding to maintain staffing and operations levels at the Department of State consistent with prior fiscal years.  Funding is also provided to implement the recommendations of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report.

Reorganization or Redesign – Maintains funding for Department of State and USAID personnel levels consistent with prior fiscal years; prohibits funds from this and prior acts from being used to close, move, or otherwise incorporate USAID into the Department of State; requires submission of notifications and reports on any proposed reorganization or redesign plans; and requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review plans.

USAID Operations – $1.35 billion for USAID operating expenses, including to maintain staffing and operational levels consistent with prior fiscal years.

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State Dept’s Made in the USA Glass Stemware Makes News on Shutdown Week

— By Domani Spero

In April 2010, this made the news: Not Made in the USA Glass Stemware Causes Not-So-Diplomatic Protest.  This week, the glass stemware controversy returned for another news splash.  The Cable reports that the State Dept Defends Its $5 Million Order for Hand-Crafted Glassware.

Apparently, according to The Cable, Congress is asking the State Department for specifics about a recent $5 million contract for handcrafted glasses for use in embassies around the world.

The order with a potential five-year contract covers “20 different styles of custom handcrafted stem and barware from the Vermont-based glassblowing company Simon Pearce.”  The Daily Mail says this includes 12,000 pieces of stemware for American embassies from a company that makes hand blown crystal that retails for up to $85-per-wine glass. Even the Wine Spectator covered the need for quality stemware here.

Below is an excerpt from Valley News on how this contract was “re-competed”:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies, which oversees State Department funding, was instrumental in helping Simon Pearce get the contract. Leahy wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry in support of the bid by Simon Pearce, a news release says.

“It is wonderful to have such an exquisite example of Vermont craftsmanship on display and in use in our embassies around the world,” Leahy said in the release. “Marcelle and I have visited many of those embassies, and knowing that Simon Pearce’s products will be there is something that all Vermonters should be proud of,” Leahy said.

A State Department official, speaking on background, told The Cable that neither the order nor the timing is unusual:  “It’s not unusual for lots of contracts to be awarded by the end of the fiscal year.” 

The Cable quotes one Hill aide who was less than happy with this contract. “Seems like a poor use of funds given the current budget environment.” 

Aah! Aah! Aah!  Wanna bet that the Hill aide was not Senator Leahy’s. Okay.

Today is Day 11 of the shutdown but just a couple of weeks ago was “use it or lose it” week. In many cases, agencies must spend all their allotted funds by September 30, the end of the fiscal year.  If they don’t, they lose the money, or Congress could cut short their future funding.  So agencies are certainly incentivized to spend.  Jeffrey B. Liebman and Neale Mahoney who did a 2010 paper on Do Expiring Budgets Lead to Wasteful Year-End Spending? noted that “spending spikes in all major federal agencies during the 52nd week of the year as the agencies rush to exhaust expiring budget authority.”

Apparently, some contractors even make 25% of their annual business on that 52nd week alone.  The last week of September — AKA: the end-of-year spending binge, the Flush, or just Christmas in September.

If you think State is the only one doing this, get ready for a booo!

WaPo details some of the end of year binges in late September:

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork.
  • The Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges.
  • The Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.”

According to Feds here, government offices in their equivalent of shop till you drop week, bought three years worth of staples. What the what?  One office purchased 10 portable generators “that just sit there.” One department reportedly bought some flat screen TVs “which are not used, just big shiny black wall decorations.”

One from the National Guard said, “We had to go to the range every year to expend all of our remaining ammunition. It was fun for a while, but we were firing so much that it became tedious. When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem.”

The Washington Times reported that in the waning months of the 2012 fiscal year, the Navy paid $51,000 for clarinets and $21,000 for an organ. The Army spent $40,000 on violins. And the Army National Guard reportedly bought $18,000 worth of coffee mugs for recruitment.

This year, we saw some more interesting purchases in kind and volume during the last week of September.  The U.S. Navy spent $135,330.67 for book and overhead scanners. The U.S. Army spent $16,597.46 for kettlebells. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $48,953.58 on trash cans. The Department of Homeland Security used $213,879.72 to leased copiers.

And oh, the U.S. Army spent $4,152,000.00 to purchase GUNS, OVER 30MM UP TO 75MM.

Perhaps the more interesting purchases are $50,937.3 for an E-1 Between US Embassy, Paris, France and Elysee Palace, Paris, France by the Defense Information Systems Agency and $409,305.47 for a Catholic Priest by the Department of the Army, a firm-fixed-priced contract with a base period of one year beginning 1 October 2013 plus four one-year option periods.

Surprised? Me, too.

Anyway, it has been suggested even by the Feds that agencies be allowed to roll over their funds for next year’s funding. But the Liebman-Mahoney paper suggests that “even with rollover authority, there remain incentives for agencies to use up their full allocation of funding. Large balances carried over from one period to another are likely to be interpreted by OMB and Congressional appropriators as a signal that budget resources are excessive and lead to reduced budgets in subsequent periods.”

Given that Continuing Resolutions have now become the norm rather than the exception,  the propensity to hoard funds or to shop till you drop when funds are available is not going to get any better.  The solution might be to regularized funding and not to penalized agencies when they are unable to spend all their allocated funds.

But what do we know.  That’s the way it’s been for a long time now.  And since Congress is busy with some CC or Continuing Craziness of their own making, we are not hopeful that they will find a solution that works soon. For now, the Hill aide can continue being “less than enthused” because obviously there’s no fault in the Congress’ stars.

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