The United States seeks to influence other nations through a variety of foreign assistance programs and initiatives that promote U.S. foreign policy. These programs cover a wide spectrum and include training and equipping foreign militaries, counternarcotics initiatives, and global health programs, among many others. In addition to assistance activities, the US carries out traditional diplomatic engagement, activities to promote cooperation and coordination between governments in a range of areas (e.g., law enforcement, environmental protection, and health), and promotes US interests in business and trade.
Yet, U.S. foreign assistance programs and international activities are not carried out by a single department or agency but are dispersed among multiple federal departments and agencies within the government. In fact, U.S. foreign assistance is currently administered by 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices.
The full and effective integration of all of these foreign assistance programs to achieve policy objectives remains very much a work in progress. Currently, there is no integrated and comprehensive planning process for foreign assistance and no formal, institutionalized strategic planning across the departments and independent agencies involved in American foreign assistance programs. This fragmented structure reduces effectiveness and causes duplication, two of the main reasons Congress often cites when it cuts development funding.
The International Affairs Budget (Function 150) is the largest funding vehicle for U.S. initiatives abroad. Function 150 provides funding to State, USAID, and other independent agencies, including the Peace Corps and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which are separate from State and USAID but are part of the toolkit of American foreign engagement and development assistance.
The management and implementation of these programs is spread across the government. For example, some assistance is planned by State but implemented by USAID. Others are the direct responsibility of USAID. Still others are planned, budgeted, and implemented by other departments or agencies.
A “snap-shot” of US assistance, shown below, demonstrates the relationship between Function 150 accounts and their implementing department or agency partners.
A significant and growing portion of US assistance programs and initiatives take place outside the world of the International Affairs budget. These non-Function 150 programs are planned, budgeted, and implemented outside Foggy Bottom. The Secretary of State relies on Ambassadors to coordinate all activities within their country, whether it involves visiting officials, permanent staffing, or provision of direct assistance. Because nearly every federal department or agency has an international component to its mission, as many as 40 U.S. government ‘entities’ have personnel assigned overseas in at least one country. A sample list demonstrates just a few of these non-150 programs.
In an effort to determine how to coordinate this diaspora of foreign assistance, the executive branch is currently conducting the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the Presidential Study Directive on development strategy, and interagency reviews of security assistance authorities and programs. Congress is also taking on these issues, as both authorizers and appropriators for defense and foreign affairs are considering legislative and statutory provisions that would extend DOD authorities, reform those of the State Department, or reassign responsibilities for such programs. These are important steps, as an agile and effective foreign assistance program is vital to US national security.