Cuts to USAID Budget

by Kenneth Anderson

The one sure answer for any presidential candidate of any party, so it has seemed for several election cycles, when asked what to cut in the budget is … foreign assistance.  The New York Times has a story today on cuts to USAID’s budget in both the Republican–controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.  The damage to programs that substantial numbers of very poor people rely upon, such as retrovirals in Africa, over modest amounts of money is real – still, as Bill Easterly observes, the picture of development as run through USAID is always very muddy.  As Easterly tweets, “Tragic Hubris: USAID acted with impunity up to the moment that its budget was butchered.”

Spending on international affairs, including foreign aid and the State Department’s operating budget, reached $55 billion in the 2010 fiscal year, Mr. Obama’s first full year in office, but declined by the end of the 2011 budget to $49 billion.

The administration proposed spending $59 billion in the fiscal year that began on Saturday, including $8.7 billion in a newly created contingency account for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those operations will expand significantly when the State Department takes over more tasks as American troops withdraw from Iraq at the end of the year and prepare for a drawdown in Afghanistan beginning next summer.

While the final budget for the year remains uncertain given the politics surrounding the special Congressional committee charged with finding more than $1 trillion in cuts over all, it is clear that foreign aid will decline for a second year.

(As a side note, the mention above of the State Department taking “over more tasks” as the US military draws down in Afghanistan and withdraws from Iraq raises big questions about institutional capacity, but that goes beyond simply questions about the foreign aid budget.)

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