In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, 45 American State Department employees work in a two-story collection of shipping containers that have been made into offices. The containers have no heat or plumbing. In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the U.S. Embassy uses 1985-vintage vehicles.
And worldwide, the foreign service is using what a two-time ambassador calls a "Rube Goldberg" computer and communication system, which he says has been constructed out of "something glued on top of something else, plugged into something else, which is not compatible with something else."
That probably will not be fixed next year. Congress has drawn up a spending bill for foreign operations that would slash about $2 billion, or 14 percent, from the amount requested by President Clinton for the fiscal year that begins Friday. It would trim a more modest $400 million from the $13 billion appropriation approved a year ago.
Neither this measure, nor related ones for international affairs, includes the more than $1 billion the United States owes in back dues to the United Nations or the $500 million the United States pledged to support the Wye accord between Israel and the Palestinians. And the foreign operations bill would cut money for former Soviet republics by an amount that equals the entire budget devoted to the Enhanced Threat Reduction Initiative to reduce weapons proliferation threats and shortchange the fund to reduce debts for impoverished developing countries.
Clinton is likely to veto the measure, and, faced with opposition from both Democrats and antiabortion Republicans, House leaders yesterday postponed a vote on the bill. But the first draft suggests that Congress is not likely to increase an overall international affairs budget that, when adjusted for inflation, has shrunk 40 percent since 1985 and which State Department officials note accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
"I think the secretary [Madeleine K. Albright] has described this as a meat-ax approach to supporting our foreign policy," State Department spokesman James Foley said yesterday. In a speech Tuesday, Albright complained: "At these levels, we would have no flexibility to deal with emerging threats or respond to urgent crises." She added, "Diplomacy is America's first line of defense. . . . It should be treated as a budget priority."
Democrats complain that their Republican colleagues have made politics their priority. Democratic lawmakers and Clinton administration officials believe that GOP lawmakers want to force Clinton to veto the bill so the Republicans can portray themselves as defenders of domestic priorities. Republicans say they're just living within spending caps.
"We had extreme limitations on what we can spend," said Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. "Basically what the president is saying is take $2 billion from Social Security and give it to foreign aid."
In response, the State Department has tried to portray itself as an organization devoted largely to trade, national security and democracy. Albright said Tuesday, "I have eliminated the words 'foreign aid' from our vocabulary. These two words don't seem to excite a lot of people."
State Department officials stress that 40 percent of department funds are spent in the United States and that money spent overseas helps serve American businesses and tourists, as well as foreigners who want to visit or do business here. One State budgeteer complained that the department needs an additional 800 people to maintain basic embassy political and consular services. Other money, State Department officials say, goes to promoting democracy, curbing weapons proliferation, making embassies more secure and making the world safer.
Veteran diplomats complain that stinginess has sent the foreign service into decline as the world enters a more global era.
But Republican lawmakers say that the bill has enough, and that military spending helps buttress U.S. stature internationally. Callahan says Congress doesn't want "to give money to some dictator who ends up with it in his foreign bank account."
To highlight fiscal rather than ideological differences with Clinton, congressional leaders deleted policy positions usually attached to spending measures, such as forbidding abortions by family planning organizations that receive U.S. assistance. The measure would provide $385 million to nongovernmental organizations as long as they do not use the money to pay for abortions and would give $25 million to the U.N. Population Fund.
"We want to clarify the debate so people really understand it's about spending," explained John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
But that created a problem drumming up enough votes in the House. The bill had too few restrictions to draw support from antiabortion Republicans and too little money to draw support from Democrats. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said the lack of abortion-related funding restrictions gave "some people some heartburn," including him. LaHood added that he, unlike many Republicans, also objected to the lack of funding for the Wye accord.
"It was a significant agreement and it helped toward peace," he said. "We ought to fulfill our obligations."