Friday, May 15, 2009

Evan's Corner: Summary of Wednesday's House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing

United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Building Capacity to Protect U.S. National Security: The Fiscal Year 2010 International Affairs Budget

Chairman Howard Berman (D-California) opened the hearing by explaining the purpose of the International Affairs Budget. The budget should promote defense, diplomacy, and development. Chairmen Berman noted that in recent years, defense has been given much broader support and funding than diplomacy and development. The new budget represents a reassertion of commitment to diplomacy and development and this will occur in the form of increased funding for USAID and the State Department. Foreign assistance will be doubled by 2015. In a preemptory justification of the increases in the budget, Chairmen Berman explained that preventing failed states is always more cost effective than dealing with them after they fail.

Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew followed Berman’s opening remarks, explaining the increases in the budget. The 2010 fiscal year International Affairs Budget is 53.9 billion dollars. This is a 9% increase from 2009. Lew explained that the Obama administration wishes to prioritize funding for efforts that will help other governments remain “stable and secure.” The budget proposes a 45% increase to USAID programs. There are currently 1000 Foreign Service Officers. This should be doubled by 2012. USAID should also pursue comprehensive civilian programs, coordinated with the military in conflict areas such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. USAID is committed to increasing human capacity in developing nations. Lew also mentioned that the budget strategically focuses on nations with potential for conflict and instability.

Congressman Engel (D-New York) expressed concern that aid money in Gaza might reach Hamas. Deputy Secretary Lew explained that all urgency assistance money is subject to a review process. This process attempts to assure that money goes to the right people.

Congressman Connolly (D-Virginia) addressed the issue of military versus civilian projects. The congressman posited that the military in Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for civilian projects they were neither trained nor equipped to handle. The congressman noted that a significant portion of military spending is going towards these projects, and this money is entirely separate from the International Affairs Budget. Deputy Secretary Lew argued that the military is extremely flexible, and this flexibility is one of its strengths. Military assistance in civil projects is a good thing.

Congressman Boozman (R-Arizona) was surprised that millions of dollars had been cut from refugee relocation funds. However, Deputy Secretary Lew explained that this was simply because the State Department anticipates decreased refugee-creating conflicts in the coming year. This is largely because of the increased refugee numbers in 2009, as a result of the conflict in Gaza.

Congressman Wexler (D-Florida) applauded the State Department for its programs training Palestinian security forces in Jordan. Wexler considered that these young men will soon be the leaders of an elite class in Palestinian society, and will owe their careers to the United States. Deputy Secretary Lew agreed, stating that these programs were specifically designed to foster a powerful moderating force within Palestinian society.

Congresswoman Watson (D-California) stated her belief that the merger of USAID and the State Department was a failure. Watson pointed out that the prerogatives and missions of the two organizations were fundamentally different. Deputy Secretary Lew disagreed. Lew said he did not want to “diminish” the administrator of USAID, but he saw enormous need for coordination between the State Department and USAID under the leadership of the Secretary of State. Lew also said that a problem such as poverty could be seen both as a human rights and national security issue.

Finally, congresswoman Lee (D-Texas) asked how to battle the strangle hold large corporations have on contracts with USAID. Deputy Secretary Lew replied that all USAID contracts are being reassessed. Lew explained that in the past, the State Department and USAID have lacked the human capacity necessary to enact their own policy. The increases in the International Affairs budget seek to increase this human capacity, and the influence of contracted organizations should naturally become less pronounced.

Transcript of hearing

By Evan Barrett

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