Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More on the President's Budget

U.S. Diplomacy has this piece on the President's proposed budget:

President’s FY 2009 Budget Increases Funding for State Department

After the gloomy report this blog gave last January that the State Department would be forced to cut its diplomatic posts by 10%, good news comes through the wire:

“Bush Aims To Hire More Diplomats“

February 4, 2008–President Bush wants to hire nearly 1,100 new diplomats to address severe staffing shortages and put the State Department on track to meet an ambitious call to double its size over the next decade, according to administration officials.

The additional positions are part of Bush’s budget for fiscal 2009, which he will submit to Congress today, according to documents described by officials. The spending request is subject to congressional approval.

Bush’s proposal envisions adding 1,076 jobs at the State Department and diplomatic missions overseas in what officials believe would be one of the largest one-year boosts to the ranks of the foreign service.

The department is facing a critical shortage of diplomats, and many embassies are operating at 70 percent of their desired staffing levels. Last fall, the department said 10 percent of vacant positions would have to remain unfilled this year because of a lack of personnel.

The plan includes 450 jobs to free up current diplomats for intensive language and national security training; 350 posts for a new Civilian Stabilization Program, which would work to improve conditions in post-conflict zones; 200 diplomatic security agents; and 50 political advisers for military commands…”

The Details

Out of the $3.1 trillion dollar budget plan, funding for the State department and other international programs would increase $5.4 billion to $38.3 billion, a 16.5% increase from 2008.

Reuters published a list of foreign affairs highlights from the budget proposal: ... also offers a summary of the budget’s highlights according to government agency:

“The State Department’s proposed $5.4 billion increase in discretionary spending would help fund the hiring of an additional 1,524 new employees. New hires would include 300 Foreign Service officers proficient in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, 200 employees dedicated to working with the Defense Department and other federal agencies to counter major national security threats, 70 employees to improve security at embassies and consulates, and 130 employees to improve security of visas and passports.

And the Agency for International Development wants to add 300 more Foreign Service officers to the thousand or so it now has. Richard Greene, State’s deputy director of U.S. foreign assistance, said AID should have about 2,000 Foreign Service officers by 2011.

“AID’s work force has simply not kept up with its programmatic responsibilities,” Greene said. State would also boost its border security staff by about 10 percent, to total 5,215. The agency plans to hire 300 employees to adjudicate increasing numbers of passport requests and 121 employees to fight passport and visa fraud, and 27 other support positions in fiscal 2009.

The budget calls for $844 million to start building 11 new embassies, including compounds in Kabul, Afghanistan; Bangkok, Thailand; and Krakow, Poland. State has slated $1.8 billion for embassy security, construction and maintenance in fiscal 2009, $364 million more than the previous fiscal year.

State plans to spend $249 million on a new Civilian Stabilization Initiative, an interagency program that would help stabilize countries as the transition from war to peace. The initiative would help develop the rule of law in transitioning countries, as well as help set up police forces, public administration and infrastructure.

The budget also would provide $414 million for information technology such as a messaging and archiving project that aims to consolidate old cables, memoranda and e-mails into a single platform that can be easily accessed around the world. State will also work on content management and electronic medical record systems that can be used worldwide.”

The State Department published the transcript of a press conference it held on Monday discussing what the budget means for the Department...

...While administration officials described “fierce behind-the-scenes battles over spending in the final Bush budget,” the increase in funding for diplomatic activities was apparently due to persistent lobbying by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Washington Post reports that Secretary Rice “went back three times to the internal budget review board — which includes Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and National Economic Council Director Keith Hennessy — to appeal for more funds. In the end, she also spoke directly with Bush to secure an increase of $700 million for the State Department, 6.5 percent over last year’s budget.”

This is a shining example of why it is desirable that the Secretary of State be one who shares a tight bond with the President and his confidants.

We’ll keep our eyes peeled as this budget makes its way through Congress. The budget will, as per usual, spark a partisan showdown on Captiol Hill. The Washington Post reports that the President’s top officials were on Capitol Hill today “defending President Bush’s $3.1 trillion budget plan from complaints by Democrats that it adds almost $800 billion to U.S. debt and doesn’t pay for the war in Iraq.”

Stay tuned, and keep your fingers crossed that Condi can continue to deliver on the State Department’s $38.3 billion dollar question.

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