State Dept. reeling from budget cuts

October 1, 2011

The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks.

Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state in its Bureau of Political Military Affairs, told a meeting last week of the Center for New American Security that the hefty cuts will compromise national security. He noted that the 2012 funding bill for State Department and foreign operations was cut 8 percent by the full Senate Appropriations Committee and a whopping 18 percent by the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had sounded similar concern in March, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee that threatened deep cuts would be “devastating” to her agency.

While overall funding for the department and foreign assistance approved by the panels actually increased from this year’s levels, that is only because they both approved the administration’s separate request for $8.7 billion to handle State’s additional expenses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Senate committee on Sept. 21 approved $44.6 billion for the core State, Foreign Operations budget for next year, which was $6 billion below the original request and $3.5 billion below the current level. The House subcommittee approved $39.5 billion, slashing the administration’s request by $11.2 billion, or 22 percent.

In describing the cut, the Republican draft report on the bill said it preserves national security priorities while making “necessary reductions in spending.”

Among the largest House subcommittee reductions was a nearly 20 percent cut in the funds that pay for Foreign Service officers and the civilians who support them. In justifying this action, the subcommittee report said it eliminated funds sought for 184 new staff because since 2008, some 1,622 Foreign Service officers and 1,001 civilians had been hired above attrition.

“The committee is concerned that this growth is not sustainable,” the report said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also cut this area, but only by $700 million, or about 10 percent.

The House panel took an even bigger cut from the personnel budget for the Agency for International Development (AID), which saw its fiscal 2012 request dropped from $1.5 billion to $900 million. The report notes that 820 new Foreign Service officers have been added to AID since 2008.

With Congress out of session, Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations committee, called the Republican release of the draft report before the full committee could act on it “a significant departure from standard committee procedure” and “a bad precedent.” He said it prevented members from reviewing and offering amendments or adding their views.

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