Congressional Funding: The Long Game

AFSA On the Hill


I am happy to have joined the AFSA team as the director of congressional advocacy after nearly five years of working for the U.S. House of Representatives. As a former Capitol Hill staffer, I hope to bring a useful perspective on how to promote understanding of the Foreign Service and appreciation of its vital role to members of Congress and their staffs.

In my first months at AFSA, Congress has seen a busy summer leading up to its annual August recess period.

This spring, the advocacy team turned its focus to appropriations and worked to safeguard Fiscal Year 2019 State Department and USAID funding, helping to overcome the threat of a $4 billion cut resulting from a decrease in spending for Overseas Contingency Operations (known by its acronym, OCO) in the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act.

In an environment where so many differing priorities competed for scarce discretionary funding, AFSA was pleased to see the base budget raised by $4 billion to compensate for the loss of OCO. This is a big win!

However, Congress and its leadership continue to debate FY 2019 funding options as the end of FY 2018 draws near, making the possibility of a continuing resolution ever more likely.

The message was clear: Our trained and experienced diplomats are ready and able to deliver high-value diplomacy for the American people.

Under a continuing resolution, funding would remain at FY 2018 levels, and we would not see FY 2019 funding go into effect until the passage of a comprehensive FY 2019 annual appropriations package. The timeline on this is long and uncertain.

The advocacy team also highlighted for members of Congress the need to restore our core diplomatic capability, emphasizing a field-forward U.S. Foreign Service in embassies and consulates abroad. AFSA made the case that, at a time when China is increasing its diplomacy budget, the ongoing operations of U.S. diplomatic programs cannot be shortchanged.

The message was clear: Our trained and experienced diplomats are ready and able to deliver high-value diplomacy for the American people, and that starts with allowing more of them to serve in positions overseas where they can have the greatest impact.

We disseminated this message through meetings and correspondence with the Hill, making members of Congress aware of what reinforcing this critical American presence abroad could do—from promoting the rule of law to creating framework improvements that would enable American companies to compete on a level playing field—and win.

Over the next few months, AFSA’s advocacy team is continuing to develop and implement a long-term strategy leading up to the 116th Congress. With the retirement of some key champions on the most important congressional committees for AFSA, the advocacy team is focused on building relationships with those expected to succeed current chairmen and ranking members.

There are rare opportunities that come with a large, incoming freshmen class of new members of Congress, and AFSA is preparing to seize them.

Kim Greenplate is Director of Congressional Advocacy at the American Foreign Service Association.