MR BROWN: Thank you all for joining us today for the rollout of the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request for both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
I’ll just quickly turn this over to the Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and USAID Administrator Mark Green for opening remarks. At the conclusion, we’ll have a few subject matter experts at the podium to take a few of your questions.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BIEGUN: Thank you, Cale, and good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here with you all making my maiden performance from the podium as deputy secretary of state. I’d like to thank Mark Green, the administrator of USAID, for joining me today to present the fiscal 2021 budget for the State Department and USAID.
The President’s 2021 budget requests nearly $41 billion for the State Department and USAID. With these funds, we will protect our citizens at home and abroad, and advance Americans’ – America’s interests and the values of prosperity, freedom, and peace in coordination with our allies and partners around the world.
We are at the forefront of the most pressing foreign policy and national security challenges our country faces. Both our agencies are working hard every day to protect the safety and security of American citizens, to advance U.S. national security and economic interests, to strengthen and build our alliances by providing support to our friends and partners, and to advance democratic values and strengthen democratic institutions around the world. We are working to maintain our status as an employer of choice as we strengthen our global talent and management and our departments, and we are securing our embassies infrastructure as well as modernizing our information technology. These priorities are reflected throughout our budget request.
To successfully rise to these challenges, we need to empower and enable today’s State Department team for our current and future challenges. First and foremost, this budget invests in our people to ensure the State Department and USAID grow and retain a talented global, diplomatic, and development workforce. Critical to our ability to effectively inform and execute the President’s foreign policy objectives is a well-trained task workforce guided by the Secretary’s ethos and the department’s standards of integrity and respect.
Our budget request prioritizes the safety of our diplomatic and development staff overseas, it protects personnel from emerging threats, and it invests in secure, safe, and functional diplomatic facilities. The priority we place on safety and security extends beyond physical facilities to our networks and data. The budget request seeks to strengthen the State Department and USAID IT systems, prioritizing the field-first cybersecurity enhancements that we are undertaking.
Importantly, the budget protects against infectious disease threats at home and abroad by bolstering country capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks and to prevent epidemics from reaching our borders. It also allows us to provide the necessary flexibility to respond to emerging global health threats such as the novel coronavirus and Ebola. We are requesting additional resources to replenish the flexible global health emergency reserve fund to allow us to quickly respond to outbreaks and to prevent potential pandemics from reaching our borders.
Over the past few weeks, I have served as the State Department’s representative on the President’s novel coronavirus task force. While our Health and Human Services and CDC colleagues rightfully lead on the overall response to the outbreak, I have been privileged to lead an incredible State Department effort to protect the safety and security of Americans overseas in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Our State Department team was able to provide consular services and support Americans at the epicenter of this disease in China. Our ability to successfully evacuate Americans was due to the incredible men and women of the State Department and the resources provided by this budget.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the amazing leadership of Administrator Mark Green and his team at USAID in addressing the novel coronavirus risk as well. At the same time that State Department was standing up efforts to advise, assist, and in some cases evacuate Americans at risk, our colleagues at USAID were actively looking over the horizon to anticipate where this virus might next spread and developing assistance strategies to help other nations improve surveillance and resilience. These efforts build on years of smart investments by USAID to improve global health capacity in anticipation of a moment just like this. Well done, Mark, to you and your team.
While we work to address the daily challenges that arise around the world, we must not lose sight of the many opportunities we have to advance American values, to build and sustain our alliances and partnerships. Accordingly, this budget invests in new capabilities to defend our interests and uphold our values across the security, trade, and information domains. This budget deploys U.S. foreign assistance as a vital tool serving America’s national interests and security, providing the resources for the United States to expand our influence and safeguard our economic interests even as competition from rising powers increases. In recent years, we have seen countries protectively applying – proactively applying their power to exert influence that undermines democratic values and institutions around the world. This budget request allows the United States to support economic growth and democratic values in areas where our adversaries seek to exploit, such as Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Central Asia, the Indo-Pacific, and particularly across energy, trade, and regulatory frameworks.
There are few efforts as important to this administration than the safety and security of the American people. The budget supports U.S. border security by strengthening visa vetting, targeting illicit pathways that transnational criminal organizations are using to traffic drugs, money, weapons, and even human beings, and enhancing governance and boosting local economies to discourage illegal immigration.
Our budget request maintains the United States as the single largest donor in humanitarian assistance and global health, while also asking other countries and partners to do more. The President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021 sets our agencies and our country up for success, and I appreciate the opportunity to introduce it to all of you this afternoon.
Thank you again for joining us today. And with that, I’d like to turn the podium over to the administrator of USAID, Mark Green. Thank you.
MR GREEN: Thank you. Thanks, Deputy Secretary, and good afternoon to all of you. The President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021 includes $19.6 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development. These resources will help us reach – reduce the reach of conflict, prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola in the DRC and the novel coronavirus, as well as counteract the drivers of violence, instability, and other security threats.
The budget request supports civil society in the private sector in our partner countries on the journey to self-reliance by strengthening their ability to lead their own path forward. Self-reliance is core to all that we do, as it recognizes every community and every country’s inherent dignity and desire to lead their own future.
The budget request provides the resources for USAID to champion American values by promoting democracy, citizen-responsive governance, and human rights. It supports our efforts to advance international religious freedom, and protect persecuted religious and ethnic minorities such as historic communities in northern Iraq and the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Burma.
We see religious freedom as a fundamental human right, and also critical to a more peaceful, more stable world. We will also continue to support our key U.S. allies and partners to bolster participatory, transparent, and inclusive political processes; enhance transparency and sound public management; and strengthen human rights institutions.
The well-being and freedom of our people and partner countries directly affects our economic and national security interests. That’s why the budget request includes more than $200 million to support a democratic transition in Venezuela.
The budget request will also help USAID protect America’s security at home and abroad, and aim to renew America’s competitive advantage for sustained economic growth and job creation.
As we have since I joined the agency, we will work to engage the private sector to accelerate development solutions while creating opportunities for American businesses. We will expand the reach of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Fund to contribute to economic growth and political stability. When women do well, countries do well, economies do well, communities do well, and families do well.
With the resources in this budget request, USAID will work to counter the effects of crises driven by authoritarian regimes. These crises often give rise to forced migration and refugees. These populations can burden and potentially destabilize countries, and in turn devastate lives, disrupt economies, and strain health systems.
The budget request also includes a significant increase to advance an inclusive and secure digital ecosystem to counter malign influences and advance internet freedom. The new Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance will advance USAID’s mission of delivering food and non-food international disaster assistance in a way that maximizes impact as well as efficiency on behalf of the American taxpayer.
Natural disasters and manmade conflict will continue to plague many parts of the world. But USAID will help governments and civil society reduce the risks of disaster, including early warning systems while we also respond to urgent humanitarian needs.
The budget will maintain U.S. global leadership in the area of humanitarian assistance, while, as the deputy secretary said, also expecting others to do their part and share more of the burden.
The budget request includes resources for USAID to help improve global public health and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We will increase our contribution to Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, to $1.16 billion over four years, our largest ever multiyear commitment, in order to protect an additional 300 million children and prevent at least 7 to 8 million future deaths.
The budget request also supports the implementation of the administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy to promote a free, open, and secure Asia. USAID will promote trade and investment in Africa and open markets for American businesses and exports by increasing resources for the administration’s Prosper Africa Initiative and facilitating partnerships that unlock the African continent’s economic potential.
And USAID will also work hard to counter malign influence and advance bilateral relationships and good governance in Europe, in Central Asia, and elsewhere. USAID will forge strong linkages with the new International Development Finance Corporation to expand the toolkit for supporting partner-driven enterprise growth, free markets, and American interests.
The President’s 2021 Budget Request also helps to build the USAID of tomorrow and maximizes the impact of American tax dollars. We will further increase the effectiveness of foreign assistance by implementing the agency’s internal reorganization – or, as we refer to it, our transformation – to advance a new, more field-centric, field-driven mission, to strengthen our technical expertise, and support our operations and staff.
In summary, with this budget request, the dedicated men and women of USAID will continue to represent the best of the American people. Thank you.
QUESTION: You sure you gentlemen don’t want to take a couple questions?
MR BROWN: Thank you, Deputy Secretary Biegun and Administrator Green. We are now joined by the director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning Douglas Pitkin, the director of Foreign Assistance Jim Richardson, and the director of USAID’s Office of Budget and Resource Management Tricia Schmitt. They are happy to take a few of your questions.
QUESTION: One —
MR BROWN: Great. And we’ll start right there with Matt.
QUESTION: All right, thanks. So I don’t have a question about any specific programs, but I do have a broad – a broader, maybe as a kind of a philosophical, ideological question. But it has a couple parts, but I’ll be very brief.
It is still correct that the Function 150, the International Affairs portion of the budget, is about 1 percent of the entire federal budget; is that correct?
MR BROWN: That’s correct.
QUESTION: And this calls for a 21 percent cut in what was the funding for International Affairs last year, correct?
MR BROWN: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. My question is: Are you – is this a serious budget? Because already for the last three years you’ve got – these proposals have been made. Now, while this is a 21 percent cut and not 34 or 35 percent as in previous years, it’s been laughed off the Hill. In fact, you guys have gotten more money than you – more money than – for things that you tried to eliminate in the past. So do you go into this realizing that people on the Hill are not going to take it seriously and they’re not going to accept this and so you’re comfortable with it, or do you really think that a 21 percent cut in funding total – in total International Affairs funding is responsible and really preserves the U.S. role as a global leader? Thanks.
MR RICHARDSON: I can go ahead and start and then pivot to Doug.
We absolutely stand by this budget. We think it’s – it prioritizes the most important needs identified by the great men and women of the State Department and USAID. This is a bottom-up process of how we come up with the priorities, and so therefore we fully stand behind the budget.
We’ve met with the Hill already. We’ve heard a lot of these same concerns. But we think ultimately what this budget allows to do is two things: really identify where we can – believe we can start pulling back and reinvesting into the domestic accounts here at home; in addition to look for new opportunities, new openings. I think if you look at the budget more detailed, you can look at a specific country to say, you know what, we have here a new opening, a new diplomatic opening, let’s go ahead and invest.
And so I think you do have to look at it in balance, but all in all I think it’s a really strong budget. It meets the needs of the American people and meets the needs of the diplomatic and development core function.
QUESTION: But can I just add one thing? I mean, the chairman of your committee of jurisdiction in the House, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has already tweeted a picture of a garbage can; that’s where this document is headed. There is no reason – there is bipartisan opposition to the kind of cuts that you guys have proposed for the last three years. And I cannot – do you – is this the third or fourth time is the charm and you’re going to ram this – try to ram this through despite widespread opposition from people on the Hill? And I’ll stop there.
MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, I mean, I would think that ultimately the administration and Congress will go through a rigorous process where we will look line by line where we think that there are opportunities to pull back and where we think there are opportunities to invest. And Congress will always have a different view. Ultimately, the President will sign a document at the end of the day, and that will be the budget that we will execute off of. But obviously, there’s a long process from here until there, and we look forward to working with Congress to make it happen.
MR BROWN: Do you want to add?
MR PITKIN: I think the only thing I would add to that is to also look in the context at the top- line reduction in non-defense discretionary spending is about 5 percent, and so every federal agency is being asked to take some reductions. Granted that the State/USAID portion is larger, but that’s also consistent with the messaging you’ve seen for the last several budgets. And the fiscal path, certainly, the administration has laid out, is not sustainable, and so it’s looking for essentially Congress to make some hard choices like the administration has done.
QUESTION: Just a question on the new international humanitarian assistance categories. As far as I understand, it creates a new category for assistance that totals about $6 billion. But if you add up all of the constituent elements that were previously budgeted separately, like refugee assistance, disaster relief, that total came to about $9 billion. Could you talk about what areas under that humanitarian assistance category you felt like could be cut back and why there’s that third of a cut for those programs?
MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, so I appreciate that. So what is happening here is we’re looking to merge portions of the funding for PRM, the MRA Account, into the IDA Account, into the new International Humanitarian Assistance Account. We think this flexibility allows us to respond to crises based upon the actual crisis and the person, not necessarily the designation that’s given to them, whether internally displaced people or refugees. We’re really wanting to try to treat every crisis uniquely and make sure that the right resources end up in the hands of the right people at the right time for the right purposes.
I think overall if you look at the existing resources that we have, a lot of these are no-year money, so I think we have sort of the flexibility built into that. But even at $6 billion, we still are the largest donor into the human assistance space. We think 25 percent of overall contributions is the right percentage for in terms of donor burden sharing. We’re really looking for the rest of the world to step up. We had starting to hit close to 35, 40 percent of overall humanitarian assistance was coming from the American people. That’s just too high, and we think 25 percent is a much more reasonable number, and $6 billion will help us get there.
MR BROWN: Nick.
QUESTION: To go back to Matt’s point, but to ask a specific – about a specific criticism of this budget, Admiral Mullen sent a note up to the Hill saying, “The more we cut the International Affairs Budget, the higher the risk for longer and deadlier military operations.” I’m wondering if you could respond to that.
And over at the Pentagon we’ve repeatedly asked this question, so I figured I’d ask you: How does this budget adhere to the National Defense Strategy or the overall National Security Strategy and shift resources toward China and Russia?
MR PITKIN: I’ll start first by saying certainly that some of the prioritization focused on those elements of our requests in our budget that we think most directly support those programs. So certainly, if you look at the reductions, programs that are not aligned with our National Security Strategy and our Defense Strategy are probably those that are reduced the most. Certainly, in terms of some of the programs at least on the public diplomacy side take some of the larger reductions, whereas you do not see, as you saw in some prior budgets, any reductions to the Department of State/USAID workforce. So our workforce that both domestically and overseas that staffs our embassies, that implements our programs, that manages assistance, those resources, those staff are fully funded in this request.
In terms of our workforce, that continues to be fully funded. And so if you – I think if we go down the list of programs, recognizing his concerns for the overall top line, we’ve tried to prioritize those programs that most directly support, protect our people, protect our borders, and those programs that probably fall less along those lines are those that take the larger reductions.
MR RICHARDSON: Just on the China piece in particular, I think what you see in this budget is about $1.5 billion for the Indo-Pacific Strategy. That matches largely where the Hill has been on this issue, and so I think there is great alignment between where the Hill is and where the administration in terms of specifically countering China. We feel very strongly that countering China is not just an Indo-Pacific region issue; it’s actually global. So you’re seeing additional resources for Prosper Africa in the African region and some resources in the Western Hemisphere as well. So we really do want to have a global response, and I think the resources that we are putting forward in this budget match that.
MR BROWN: Nike.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to kind of follow up in the countering influence from China, Russia, Iran, U.S. statement – Secretary of State Pompeo mentioned that the requested budget intends to counter influence from those countries. Could you please highlight some of the programs for this purpose? And you just mentioned 1.5 billion. Is that a – the total amount, or if possible, could you please quantify the increased budget request for (inaudible)? Thank you.
MR RICHARDSON: Yeah. So for the Indo-Pacific region, we’re at one – that’s the 1.5, or the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which is the administration’s signature strategy in terms of countering China in that region. So that’s at 1.5. That’s – matches essentially what Congress did in FY ’19 and is about 20, 30 percent above where the administration was just last year. So I think it’s a good sort of shift.
In terms of programming, I think what you really start looking at is obviously we firmly believe in bilateral assistance to regions around the world, so we really have tremendous post and USAID missions around Southeast Asia and in the Pacific Islands, so you’ll see a lot of additional resources for the Pacific Islands, for Papua New Guinea, for Laos. So there’s some specific – and for Burma. There’s some specific countries where we think that we’re – it’s really important for us to up our game, to provide these countries with a viable alternative than going into China. We think the strategic partnership with the United States is a really compelling argument to be made, and we want to make that argument, make it strong, and that’s why we’re continuing to invest in a lot of these key areas.
QUESTION: The budget sees cuts to most of the think tanks, so USIP would go down 65 percent, the National Endowment for Democracy 77 percent. It would kill all funding to the Asia Foundation and the East-West Center. It would also cut cultural exchange programs by almost 60 percent. Does this mean that you do not see that learning and research is an important thing for the department to be investing in?
MR PITKIN: Those are important efforts and I think part of the communication in this budget is that there are other sources of funding for those programs, and in some cases those are nonprofit organizations that receive a direct appropriation that does not go through the type of competitive process that many of the other organizations in Washington, around the world have to compete and show their case for specific funding. And so particularly for the Asia Foundation, the East-West Center, those are well-respected programs.
The – we at the department and AID will have a partnership with those programs even if this budget is passed, but I think the concern that we’ve raised in the last several budgets is they essentially have a direct appropriation that, while it goes through the process with the administration and Congress, we think could benefit from a more competitive approach by accessing other programs. The Asia Foundation has access to other resources outside the direct appropriation that’s provided in that act. That is going to be presented in the budget, and essentially we’re looking for them to increase the amount of fundraising and partnering and grants competition that they do with others. So we value those type of programs. We just think there’s a more efficient, more effective way to receive those resources.
National Endowment for Democracy, also the principle there is in the past several budgets the administration has raised the point that there are several organizations within it, and so we – essentially we’re providing funding for the core endowment and then asking the other organizations within the NED to compete for funding from other sources across State, AID, and other sources.
And then lastly, education and cultural affairs – that is held essentially at the same level you’ve seen in the last several budgets. As the administration went through its difficult prioritization of resources, simply the view was that there are other programs and fund sources across the federal government for providing scholarships and international travel and training, whether they’re in other agencies or in the education sector. And so that was part of the difficult choices we made is to essentially rely on other sources of funding to cover those programs going forward.
MR BROWN: Humeyra.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about China assistance and the one that you actually – the State Department announced on Friday. Is that hundred million dollars going to be in direct aid? Is it going to go into R&D for treatments or vaccines? Can you just detail how it’s going to be spent? Thank you.
MR RICHARDSON: Sure. Yeah, so we don’t have a lot of details as of yet. I mean, so, the hundred million dollars is a ceiling of which the Secretary of State has said that we’re prepared to spend, up to $100 million in order to counter the coronavirus. The coronavirus obviously is – the epicenter is China, but it is seeing itself manifest in a lot of the frontline states, especially in Southeast Asia. And really, our assistance will be targeted, it will be appropriate, and we’re looking at the full list of requirements and needs out there, and then we’ll prioritize based upon that.
There’s not been a specific decision to – outside of a couple key areas in terms of assistance to Laos, I think, finally went through over the weekend, and so you’ll start seeing more announcements as we start tallying up how much assistance is needed for the various pieces. But it’s mostly for, actually, response, containment, and that type of stuff. The stuff on the vaccines, that’s all HHS side, so ours is really focused on trying to stop the outbreak where it is and make sure it doesn’t come to our shores.
MS SCHMITT: Now just to clarify it, is the funding – yesterday, USAID had, in consultation with the World Health Organization, support for PPE for Lao.
MR BROWN: All right, time for two more. Jennifer.
QUESTION: Thank you. With regards to coronavirus, this budget proposes a huge cut to the World Health Organization. Are you concerned about that having a negative impact on the global response to coronavirus? And then, separately, it proposes a $36 million cut to Afghanistan for certain operations and activities being drawn down. What specific activities are being cut as part of this?
MR PITKIN: I think there’s a two part. So if the – WHO you’re referring to the assessed part of the budget, so I think that’s, again, consistent. We believe that each of the international organizations has a need for greater accountability and efficiency, and so certainly in the request that you’ve seen for our contributions to the UN, OAS, and WHO, all which have important missions and do important roles, we believe each of those can do more to be accountable and effective in executing its resources, particularly for its core budget. We have other mechanisms, as Jim and Tricia just mentioned, for providing resources – a targeted outreach and targeted efforts to reach specific diseases and health crises. We’re often more concerned about the administrative, the bureaucratic overhead budget that’s paid for in the headquarters of those organizations, while prioritizing some that we do continue to see as a high priority, such as NATO.
In terms of the operational reductions in Afghanistan, as you probably know, the department has consolidated its presence over the last several months, wanted to have a more safe, secure, and compact diplomatic compound. We had two or three other locations around Kabul that we’ve essentially pulled in and either had some reductions – temporary reductions in people on the ground, and then a more consolidated presence is less costly to operate, lower administrative cost, lower security cost. So that 36 million really is an efficiency savings from a more compact diplomatic compound, but still one that is capable of engaging with their counterparts in the Afghan Government and executing our programs in the country, subject to the security conditions and engagement with the Afghan Government.
MR BROWN: Okay. Last question.
MR RICHARDSON: Let me just – let me – sorry, let me just – on the WHO question. So the United States is the largest donor overall to global health around the world. Historically, we’re about 40 percent of the world’s assistance to other countries in global health – that comes from the American people. We do think that it’s important to balance the multilateral against the bilateral assistance. Both are important, but it is important for us to make sure that we get the appropriate reforms out of the multilateral while delivering the best assistance we can – possibly can on the grounds, and that’s often through bilateral work.
MR BROWN: Last question (inaudible).
QUESTION: As the administration seeks to and is actively negotiating to withdraw its military presence in Afghanistan and places like Syria as well, does the administration see a need then to fill that void with a greater imprint in those areas? Or is this a overall smaller footprint for the United States once the U.S. begins to draw down its military component? Will we then continue to see subsequent drawdowns of international development aid and State Department presence?
MR RICHARDSON: I’ll speak – I mean, just specifically on Afghanistan, you’ll see this budget, this budget still represents that Afghanistan is one of the top five recipients of U.S. foreign assistance in the entire world, and there’s over a hundred countries we provide aid to. So I think proportionally we’re still very strongly supporting Afghanistans. I think the type of assistance that they require, the type of assistance we can give continues to evolve, and so we’re always constantly looking to evaluate our programs against current policies, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here.
MR BROWN: Okay. Thank you all.