The Collective Public Policy Voice of the Exchange Community

According to a recent Politico article, the Trump administration may be considering spending less than what Congress has issued. While no evidence exists that this is a deliberate action, the administration has been slow to disburse funds. Specifically, Secretary of State Tillerson has failed to spend funds allocated to fight Russian and terrorist propaganda and has attempted to freeze fellowships for women and minorities. This has led to backlash from Congress and advocacy groups who fear this could lead to cuts that would harm US diplomacy, foreign aid programs, and ultimately national security.

Additionally, the fear of a complete reorganization of the State Department still looms. Not only did the original federal budget proposal suggest a 30% cut from the State Department, many federal positions still remain open, causing speculation that President Trump intends for them to stay empty. One of the few nominations Trump has made is that of Eric Ueland for the next undersecretary of state for management. The article cities this as a concern because “his knowledge of budget rules and procedure is considered formidable, and administration detractors suspect he’s being brought in specifically to help financially gut the State Department in ways that pass legal scrutiny.”

There is a 1974 law in place that forces the executive branch to request permission from Congress to not spend allocated funds. This law requires a specific reason for the request, of which ‘to cut costs’ would not be enough. However, the executive branch has room to maneuver in the unclear language in an authorization or appropriations bills. The administration is able to use this language to be flexible with how the money is spent as well as to slow spending down.

It is already known that the Trump administration’s goal ultimately is to shrink federal spending. The administration might be setting itself up to prove for the next fiscal year that the funds aren’t necessary. By delaying spending, it makes it difficult for an organization to spend the large sum of money in the short amount of time left in the fiscal year once the money is finally granted. According to Heather Higginbottom, a former deputy secretary of state for management and resources, it “makes it look like you have more than you need going into the next fiscal year. Then you can say ‘We don’t need as much.’”