This week the United States federal government was shut down after Congress failed to come up with a budget plan for the new fiscal year. Officials had spent much of the previous week arguing over funding for the President’s legislative centerpiece the Affordable Care Act. With both parties refusing concessions, the United States has found itself in a situation not seen since the mid-1990’s. Over 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed, public parks and museums have been closed, and various agency activities are put on hold. But how does this domestic issue affect U.S. foreign aid agencies like USAID? So far, not very much.
USAID activities are considered an important aspect of the United States’ national security strategy. Because of this their work abroad counts as “essential” and is not subject to the near complete shutdown some other agencies face. USAID outlines what they consider to be “excepted functions” that will continue in a memorandum; “…those necessary to protect life and safeguard government property and records, to conduct foreign relations essential to national security, to carry out the orderly shutdown of operations, and to provide essential administrative support to excepted employees.” In addition, employees working on operations with adequate funding will continue to work until their resources run out or they can no longer provide adequate supervision.
One way USAID stands out from other agencies are multi-year and no-year appropriations. These either extend until the resources run out or are guaranteed past the initial fiscal year. Certain operations funded by these contracts may continue to operate regardless of an agreement on funding for fiscal year 2014. Operations abroad are often funded in this manner as well and should not be affected by the shutdown in the near future. USAID will continue to honor existing contracts; however they are delaying new agreements unless necessary to protect life and property. Travel and events previously organized and funded will continue as planned. New events are discouraged and new travel arrangements must be specifically approved.
Though USAID seems to be operating with little impairment for now, certain operations can only go on for so long without new appropriations. The uncertainty of the future also has a negative impact on the perception of the United States abroad. NGOs funded by USAID are made nervous by the prospect of losing a major budget source due to unrelated domestic issues within the U.S. One would hope that Congress’ inability to pass a budget is not a preview for the upcoming debt ceiling vote which would have a significantly more devastating impact on the global economy.