Trump proposes deep cuts in State Department budget

The proposed State Department has two things in common with last year's.

ByABC News
February 12, 2018, 9:31 PM

— -- The Trump administration's proposed budget for the State Department that was rolled out Monday has two things in common with last year's proposal: It calls for a one-third cut to the agency and the U.S. Agency for International Diplomacy — and it's being dismissed already.

"This is not a serious proposal and Congress should do as it did last year: ignore it," said the ONE Campaign's North America executive director in a statement.

"The Administration should stop wasting the time of Congress and the American people with such narrow-minded, illogical proposals that have been rejected by nonpartisan military and civilian leaders," said Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Even Republicans in Congress agree.

"A strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress has already acted once to stop deep cuts to the State Department and Agency for International Development that would have undermined our national security," House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement. "This year, we will act again."

Other key Republican foreign policy players like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker or Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations Chair Lindsey Graham have not put out statements as of Monday evening.

Still, the budget sends a message — and at State, it's that the White House still thinks it's a time to cut back.

"The general messaging for this budget is to still restrain non-defense discretionary spending," Doug Pitkin, director of the agency's Bureau of Budget and Planning, told reporters, adding that the budget Congress passed for the agency last year was unsustainable.

The total budget proposal for State and USAID is $39.3 billion.

That figure is $200 million more than last year's proposal — a 4.5 percent increase that Pitkin celebrated as "positive" — but over $15 billion short of what Congress ended up funding in FY18 — about $55 million. Among the cuts are an approximately 40 percent decrease to democracy promotion efforts and a 44 percent decrease to the U.S.'s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping missions, although the U.S. has determined which ones will face the steepest cuts yet.

Despite threats by Trump and Nikki Haley, the U. S. ambassador to the United Nations, there were no cuts specifically for countries that voted against the U.S. and its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital at the UN in December.

"There's nothing specific just tied to that because that is only one factor," Director of State's Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources Hari Sastry told ABC News.

This year's proposal also saw some increases, including a new $20 million fund to the Global Engagement Center's Disinformation Programs to counter state-sponsored disinformation campaigns by the likes of Russia and increasing embassy security and construction funds by over $515 million.

That jump is not just to boost security after the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, but also because of the Trump administration's plans for a new embassy in Jerusalem.

"The construction of a U.S. Embassy facility in Jerusalem will be among the Department’s highest priority for capital security investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019," according to the proposal.

There are also new funds for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's redesign of the department. After a listening tour and survey of the agency's employees, the project that Tillerson has described as his most important work as secretary, above peace in the Middle East or dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program, is moving into a second phase of implementation.

The reform project has generated fierce criticism of Tillerson inside and outside the organization, with critics accusing him of "hollowing out" the department or sinking morale.

In particular, the budget proposal calls for $96.2 million for the Human Capital and Data Analytics Initiative, the first concrete steps with minor, but popular changes like IT updates and streamlining human resources services.

Still, there's no lift on the department-wide hiring freeze or the slow-walk of promotions, which are very unpopular within the agency. Instead, the workforce will be "sustained" at FY18 levels, according to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, who said it would help "to deliver a smaller, but more effective government that is accountable to the American taxpayer."

There was one announcement that won some praise. The proposal calls for reforming U.S. international development finance by consolidating many government agencies into one. The Development Finance Institution, or DFI, would be a one-stop shop that aims to foster greater private sector investment in developing countries using loans, guarantees, insurance, and other tools.

There is bipartisan legislation forthcoming to do just that.

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