Voice of America (Washington, DC)

4 March 2014

Africa: U.S Seeks Flexibility With Shrinking Foreign Aid Budget

Washington — The U.S. State Department will be working with $46.2 billion in funding next year under President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, a slight decrease from this year. The proposal includes cuts to foreign aid. The spending plan's release is already having an impact on how diplomats look to distribute it.

State Department officials point out that their funding request amounts to only about one percent of the overall U.S. budget. But a still-struggling U.S. economy and growing concerns about the nation's debt calls for flexibility.

Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom says the proposed budget reflects the challenges the U.S. faces today.

"This budget funds the work that is required to sustain long-term investments in America's security and prosperity while recognizing the significant fiscal constraints we're facing as a nation," says Higginbottom.

The deputy secretary stressed that despite the budgetary restraints, the U.S. will continue to pour resources into places like the Middle East.

"Including our partnerships with key allies like Israel and Jordan and maintains robust support for partners in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Lebanon," said Higginbottom.

That support for Egypt comes even as Cairo's military leaders have sought to strengthen ties with Russia, looking to Moscow for weapons and other assistance.

Still, Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says aid to countries like Egypt often pays off.

"It's a good investment for times of crisis just so that we can have those channels of communication, both formal and informal," says Harrison.

Overall, the proposed foreign aid budget comes to $30.3 billion, a six percent decrease, with funding cuts for Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where U.S. combat troops are set to leave at year's end.

But the State Department plans to spend more money in the Asia-Pacific region, upping funding for programs there by eight percent to $1.4 billion.

And, in places like Africa, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Rajiv Shah says Washington is looking to do more by working with others.

"By leveraging public and private partnerships and leveraging innovation, we're able to deliver better and more focused results," says Shah.

The State Department's proposed budget also is taking aim at disasters that are not man-made, setting aside more than $500 million to help countries adapt and recover from the effects of climate change.

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