Funding for Foreign Assistance – views from Washington DC

Every dollar of the U.S. discretionary budget is appropriated by one of 12 appropriations subcommittees, but each of these dollars can have more than one purpose. For example, a dollar spent on Education can be viewed as a dollar for a particular school improvement grant, or it can be viewed as a long-term investment in our Nation’s future. A dollar invested for the construction of highways can also be viewed as a dollar toward generating new jobs for unemployed citizens, or a dollar toward replenishing our country’s critical infrastructure.

Two of the appropriations subcommittees – Defense, and State, Foreign Operations , and Related Programs – may at first seem very different from each other. Defense funds the Pentagon (military personnel; operations and maintenance; research, development, test and evaluation for new weapons systems) and the National Intelligence Agencies (such as the CIA). State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies provides funding for State Department activities (such as maintaining our network of overseas embassies) and USAID (whose programs provide much of the U.S. foreign assistance).

Many people, however, are starting to “connect the dots” between these two sets of activities, making the point that both sets of activities are integral to our national security. Tom Nides, the new Deputy Secretary of State for Management, recently made exactly that point in an interview published in “The Cable.” He stated that the State Department and USAID have a national security mandate, and that American diplomats and development experts are part of the front line to keep the country safe and secure. He noted that diplomats and development experts become even more critical in a destabilized world, with potential food shortages and economic turbulence.

In a recent op/ed in the Seattle Times, Washington State representatives Adam Smith and Jim McDermott, along with Global Washington founder Bill Clapp, made a similar argument. “Foreign assistance is the first line of our national defense, making us safer by stabilizing volatile nations,” they said. They also quoted former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as saying, “development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

As Global Washington continues to refine its advocacy strategy, we will work to find ways to explain why foreign assistance spending by the Federal government is an important use of taxpayer funds. Explaining how foreign assistance helps national security is one way of making that case.

On August 30, Global Washington will sponsor a panel discussion with Washington D.C. policymakers including Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) and Gayle Smith (invited), Special Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser, National Security Council, to discuss foreign assistance reform. Please join us for the event!