Officials Decry Lack of Funding, Attention on Diplomacy to Resolve Conflicts

By Stew Magnuson

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development don’t receive enough funding, or the respect from the American public, when it comes to their roles in preventing international conflict, officials from the agencies said June 24.  

“Foreign affairs investment is about 1 percent of the federal budget . . . people think it’s a much higher investment,” Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of State for management and resources, said at an American Security Project panel discussion on Capitol Hill.  

The remarks came ahead of the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which evaluates the organizational structures of the State Department and USAID. The review examines how the agencies can act more efficiently in budget management and strategic planning to enhance U.S. involvement in foreign affairs.

While one of the main goals of the QDDR is to prevent international conflict and friction, Higginbottom said tight budgets often impede this mission. Limited funds hinder the agencies’ ability to improve current technology and communication systems, making it difficult for the U.S. to remain a global competitor.

“One of the barriers we face to being very successful in this has to do with data and technology and systems. We have to update,” she said.  

The first QDDR, introduced in 2010 by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, similarly focused on neutralizing conflicts before they became violent. It emphasized the importance of “civilian power,” and the role of defense agencies, in promoting public diplomacy and security.

Work continues on producing the 2014 QDDR, which is expected to be released by the end of the year, according to the American Security Project website.

Agencies are looking for more engagement in foreign affairs issues on the part of the public. Strong public involvement is what keeps the United States safe, said Thomas Perriello, who was appointed special representative for the QDDR by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year.

Speakers were asked how the agencies would “sell diplomacy” to the American public to spark citizens’ involvement. Perriello said promoting diplomacy wasn’t as easy as promoting military involvement, but he hoped citizens recognized how critical their participation was to national security.

“We are, frankly, a war-bearing country right now and people are interested in making investments that are going to make us safer and make us stronger,” Perriello said.

The panel addressed the problem of declining budgets.

“How are we going to pay for all of this stuff?” Alexander Their, assistant administrator for policy, planning, and learning at USAID, asked.

The U.S. government “just a generation ago paid for most of our development — 80 percent by some counts. Today that figure is only 10 percent,” he said.

In recent years funding for overseas development has come more from private wealth and philanthropic organizations, rather than taxpayer dollars. Heavy contributions from the private sector have given the United States greater capacity for international development and security, Their said.

Still, budget restrictions and Americans’ disregard of global affairs have obstructed the State Department and USAID from becoming an influential player overseas, and from spreading public diplomacy and safety, Their said.

The success of the QDDR in promoting public diplomacy ultimately depends on the agencies’ ability to gain support from the public.

“We can’t do this without it being a partnership between the Hill and the executive branch,” he said.

Topics: International, Logistics

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