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Diplomacy in Action

Background Briefing on the President's FY15 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Department of State and USAID

Special Briefing
Senior State Department and USAID Officials
Via Teleconference
March 4, 2014


MODERATOR: Thank you. And I’d like to thank everyone for joining us this afternoon on this call. This is a reminder that our call today is on background. Our speakers are [Senior State Department Official Number One], who you will refer to as Senior State Department Official Number One; [Senior State Department Official Number Two], who you will refer to as Senior Department – Senior State Department Official Number Two; and finally, [USAID Official], who you will refer to as USAID Official.

We actually will not have brief remarks at the top. We are going to just immediately open it up for your questions. So if the operator can please inform our participants how they can queue up for questions.

OPERATOR: Certainly. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 at this time. You’re going to hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue, and you can remove yourself at any time by pressing the # key. Once again, if you have a question, please press *1.

Our first question comes from the line of Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing the call. Just to start with, is there any reason that this call can’t be done on the record? We’re obviously discussing the budget, which is a public document. The numbers, for the most part, have all now been published, and I think it’s my preference and my new organization’s preference, and I suspect that of our – those of my colleagues, that we do it on the record. Is there any possibility of that?

MODERATOR: Arshad, at this point the call is going to be on background. If there’s anything that can be attributed on the record we’ll let you know, but at this point it is going to be on background.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I’d just like to register my feeling that this ought to be done on the record since it’s been a public matter about budget things. A couple of detailed or specific questions. First, the overall headline number for the budget request, including both the contingency operations and the – so I’m talking about the 46.2 billion figure with the base request of 40.3 and the rest the contingency operations of 5.9 billion. Is that overall figure of 46.2 billion – was that subject to some kind of a cap under the budget deal of a couple of months ago, or not? In other words, did you basically know from that budget deal what was the envelope within which this request would have to fit?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So this is State Department Official Number One. At the time the budget deal was reached last year, we did not know specifically how it would affect us. The portion of our budget that’s subject to the caps is the base budget, the 40.3, which is the same level as we had in the ’14 appropriation. So that got worked out as we worked to formulate this particular budget and this process.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. Second, can you help me understand – and I probably ought to know this by now – why it is beneficial to break the budget into the two portions? Is it essentially to ensure that the base budget does not get eaten into to deal with the sort of unexpected contingencies?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. When we first proposed the Overseas Contingency Operations budget a couple of years ago, it was really to deal with the extraordinary costs of at that time what was happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And over the past several years, with the help of the Congress, we’ve been able to use that portion of the budget to deal with unanticipated contingencies that would be, again, extraordinary to our regular program. And that is the methodology we used in building the Fiscal Year ’15 budget.

QUESTION: And then thirdly, I was very pleased to see that the Congressional Budget Justification was available today, unlike years past where it normally, I think, it not released until quite some time after the budget request is put forward. But I see from the tables that none of the estimated FY 2014 estimates are available for individual accounts. You have the overall numbers but not the detailed breakdown, which makes it very hard to see whether what you are – how what you are requesting compares to what was – what is estimated to be spent in the current fiscal year.

Can you explain, one, why those estimates are not available; two, when you think they will be available; and three, if we ask you for questions for specific countries, for example, let’s say economic support for Egypt, for which your request, I think, is 200 million in the current year, can you give us what is the estimate for FY ’14?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s a good question. So the main reason why we do not have detailed allocations for Fiscal ’14 that’s in the version that went online this morning, was simply that we are still working through the details of the appropriations bill, and given the timing of the budget released today, we still are working that through. We do plan to update the Congressional Budget Justification within the next couple of weeks and will include the details of country allocations for Fiscal ’14 at that time. So we’re just a few weeks away from having that information, but we don’t have that information now and I can’t really give you country by country allocations for specific countries at this point because we’re still working that through internally.

QUESTION: Okay, and then one last question. Both on the base number and on the Overseas Contingency Operations number, there is – there are fairly significant decreases in the requests that you are putting forward. I think on the Contingency Operations, if I’m reading it right, it’s something like $607 million and the headline number I don’t have in front of me, but I’ll find it. Why are you requesting less money overall in both categories?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So when you’re – you’re looking at the numbers compared to the 2013 appropriation, and in 2013 there was much more – I’m sorry, you’re looking at the comparison to the 2014 appropriation?

QUESTION: Correct. Yep.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The – as we – and you’re looking at the total International Affairs Function number, which includes many other agencies that will affect the top line. With respect to our funding, State and USAID, we are requesting less OCO than we requested – than we had in 2013 in many – for two basic reasons: one, because we’re trying to right-size the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and in Pakistan; and two, because in the 2014 appropriation there were things that were included that we will move into the base budget, particularly things that we’ll be funding in the Middle East and what have you. So there is a lot of this happening below the top-line level that is the main reason why our OCO number goes down. But our base appropriation for the State and USAID budget is the same as what it – as what Congress appropriated in the base in 2014.

QUESTION: Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry, I see that now, the 40.308 versus the 40.301. Okay, great. Thanks, that’s all I had. Thanks very much.

MODERATOR: We’ll take the next question, please.

OPERATOR: Okay, that comes from the line of Matthew Lee with Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks. One, first thing, I’d like to echo what Arshad just said about this not being on the record. I think that it’s nearly unprecedented. This press office has just confirmed to me that while, in fact, last year there wasn’t anything on – no questions were answered on the record, it has been the case prior to last year that they have been. And I think I totally agree with what he said.

Anyway, I’ve got three very brief – and I’ll ask them all at once so this doesn’t take much time – three very brief, specific questions. One is: In one of the documents, and I can’t remember which one it is now, it says the OCO funding for Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance Account will support the urgently needed construction of a new secure diplomatic facility in Iraq. I was under the impression that you all had just built the largest and most expensive and most secure embassy in Baghdad. Is this something different? That’s number one.

Number two: The Secretary of State has been very passionate about climate change and the effect that it has on natural disasters and the like. And I’m wondering, in light of that, why it is that there’s such a massive reduction in the International Disaster Assistance Function.

And then third: Am I correct that this is asking for 30 – this budget asks for $30.4 million to support the CTBT office? Maybe I should have asked this question in years past, but the United States has not signed or has not ratified the CTBT; am I correct? And if I am, why are we paying – or why are you guys paying $30.4 million for its headquarters office? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So this is State Department Official Number One, and I’ll address the funding that’s been requested in OCO for Iraq. That funding is being requested for a permanent facility in Basra. Right now we have a temporary facility there.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. That answers that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is Official Number One, on your question about humanitarian assistance and disaster assistance, the reduction in the budget in 2015 for the IDA account that you reference is largely a function of the fact that the Congress gave us so much more than we asked for in the Fiscal Year ’14 appropriations. So between Fiscal ’14 and Fiscal ’15 requests, we have basically what we need to deal with both the known and unanticipated humanitarian disasters that we’re likely to face. And so the – we had to calibrate the Fiscal Year ’15 budget for some of these accounts to what Congress actually appropriated the account level for Fiscal Year ’14. So that’s the answer to your second question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the CTBT question, this is a contribution that we’re making to support international monitoring, and we still engage with the organization even though we haven’t ratified the treaty. So that’s part of our engagement with that institution.

QUESTION: That seems like a lot of engagement – $30 million for something that the Congress won’t let you actually join.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, that’s the contribution we requested in the budget for this year.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, operator, we’ll take the next question please.

OPERATOR: It comes from the line of Janie Boschma with Yomiuri Shimbun.

QUESTION: Hi. I have a two-part question, I guess. The first one is on Asia. The Secretary – Assistant[1] Secretary Higgenbottom mentioned there’s a 1.4 billion request, an 8 percent increase, and I was just wondering if you could explain where that increase is mostly allocated. From just a basic glance, it looks like to support Burma’s democratization and supporting allies in the South – the East China Sea – the South China Sea. And so that’s the first one, and then I’ll follow up with the next one.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is State Department Official Number One. On the assistance and – or program side, the increase goes to a number of areas. We do increase our support for the Philippines and for military training, for officers from Thailand. A fair – you’re right, a fair chunk of the increase goes to support the new government in Burma, and we also provide additional funding as part of this effort to support regional institutions – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ASEAN and other multilateral organizations. So it’s really an effort across the board to increase our engagement with countries throughout the region. And so that makes up the majority of the increase.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. And then my other one, I was wondering if you knew the overall change to the European budget. And also, it seems like the ESF funding for Europe and Eurasia is down by maybe 30 million or so, and I was wondering if that takes into account the recent developments in the last month or so, especially with Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right. So the – let me just get the number real quick, thank you. The – yeah, our total funding in terms of economic support and other assistance for Europe and Eurasia is reduced below 2013 by about $108 million. It was about 18 percent in total from Fiscal Year ’15 to Fiscal Year ’13.

I would just say that when we put this budget together we were basically finished before the crisis in Ukraine occurred. And so this budget does not reflect any special reallocation to deal with the emergency there, but we are looking at existing resources to cover the things that the Secretary announced and that Secretary of Treasury Lew announced today in terms of the loan guarantee and additional programming. That’s urgent and that really can’t wait necessarily for the Fiscal Year ’15 budget to be enacted. We’re looking at what we have right now in our available resources to deal with that crisis.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

MODERATOR: Operator. Can you please remind us how folks can queue up for the question-and-answer line?

OPERATOR: Certainly. Once again, if you do wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 at this time.

MODERATOR: And we’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: And that comes from the line of Lisa Friedman with ClimateWire. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this today. Can someone talk about the increase in global climate funding? It looks, if I’m not mistaken, like it’s up from 481 million last year. Can you talk a little bit about where most of the increases come from, why. And I don’t know, for an issue that Senator Kerry believes is as big a threat as terrorism, why isn’t it getting more?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is official number one again. Again, on the State-USAID assistance side, the number goes up by about 10 percent. And I would say in this budget environment, that kind of an increase is a pretty stark statement of how big of a priority not only the Secretary believes but the President believes. And so we’ve requested over $500 million for climate activities. In addition, there’s money in the Treasury budget to deal with the multilateral aspects of the climate funding.

All told, between State and Treasury and USAID, we have almost $840 million, which is a substantial portion of our budget. And the largest portion of that – or a large chunk of that is for clean energy. But we also allocate money to sustainable landscapes and to help countries with adaptation. And so it’s really on all fronts that we’re working with our partners overseas and our multilateral institutions to help mitigate the impacts of climate.


MODERATOR: Okay. That brings us to the end of this call. I just want to remind our participants that this call has been on background. The call has been recorded, and there will be a transcript that is going to be distributed shortly. And if we didn’t get to your question, please feel to call the State Department Press Office. Thank you very much and have a pleasant afternoon.


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