November 13, 2013
OPTIONS FOR REDUCING THE DEFICIT: 2014 TO 2023

Discretionary SpendingOption 10

150 - International Affairs

Reduce Funding for International Affairs Programs

(Billions of dollars) 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2014-2018 2014-2023
Change in Spending                        
  Budget authority 0 -14 -14 -15 -15 -15 -16 -16 -16 -17 -58 -137
  Outlays 0 -6 -9 -11 -13 -14 -14 -15 -15 -16 -39 -114

Note: This option would take effect in October 2014.

The budget for international affairs funds diplomatic and consular programs, global health initiatives, security assistance, and other programs. In 2012, the cost of those programs totaled $49.1 billion, including $11.6 billion for international security assistance, $7.9 billion for diplomatic and consular programs, $7.7 billion for global health programs, and $1.9 billion for narcotics control and law enforcement programs. Most funding for international affairs is funneled through the Department of State and the Agency for International Development. Several other agencies, such as the departments of Defense, Agriculture, and the Treasury, also receive funding for or implement overseas assistance programs. Eliminating any one program would result in very modest savings, but a broad cut to the entire international affairs budget could yield significant savings.

This option would reduce the total international affairs budget by 25 percent. That change would save $114 billion from 2015 through 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

An advantage of this option is that reducing federal spending on international affairs would allow lawmakers to redirect resources toward critical domestic programs or to avoid some reductions in those programs. Such a shift could also encourage the private sector to take a larger role in providing foreign assistance. Private organizations already provide significant resources for various international initiatives, such as HIV/AIDS research and financial development assistance. Diversifying funding sources for international initiatives could increase their overall success. In addition, some studies have argued that some U.S. foreign assistance is wasted because it is ineffective at promoting growth and reducing poverty. Although some projects and programs are generally considered successful, the Congressional Research Service concludes that “in most cases, clear evidence of the success or failure of U.S. assistance programs is lacking, both at the program level and in the aggregate.”

The primary disadvantage of this option is the potentially far-reaching impact of reducing funding for advancing the international and ultimately the domestic policy agendas of the United States. International affairs programs, which encompass many activities in addition to foreign aid, are key to establishing and maintaining positive relations with other countries. Those relationships contribute to increased economic opportunities at home, better international cooperation, and enhanced national security. Significant reductions in federal funding for international affairs programs would hinder humanitarian, environmental, public health, economic, and national security efforts.