Partnering with Congress and Others to Defend Our Institution

AFSA On the Hill


As I write this, nine days remain before the Continuing Resolution expires on Dec. 8. By the time this issue of the Journal is published, we’ll know whether Congress has passed its FY 18 authorizations bill or a second CR, or whether instead the government has shut down. Congress faces difficult issues as leaders try to negotiate a deal to lift the caps on defense and non-defense spending, vote on the tax plan, fund disaster relief and deal with immigration issues.

So where does funding for foreign affairs agencies stand in all this? AFSA has been pressing for funding at Fiscal Year 2017 enacted levels. This is a “big ask,” especially after appropriators spared us the 32 percent cut the administration requested, but left us somewhere between the 19 percent cut recommended by the House and the 10 percent cut recommended by the Senate. The only way to fund us fully this late in the game is if the caps are lifted on defense spending, a deal is cut to lift non-defense spending, and some of the new money comes to us. Not easy, and in fact, all budgets remain in peril until a deal on caps is made.

Wherever the numbers end up, however, the dialog is shifting among supporters in both houses and both parties, from pride in avoiding the 32 percent cut to growing consensus for fully funding foreign affairs, concern about the loss of Foreign Service leadership and strangled intake, and consternation about the so-called redesign. Members of Congress also are researching how they can compel the department to spend appropriated funds.

We are witnessing a historic split between the administration’s desire to diminish U.S. diplomacy and the support of many in Congress who know that the world’s best diplomatic corps is a foundation of America’s greatness. No doubt you have seen in the press the letters Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent to the State Department, and the comments of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

They share our desire to maintain U.S. power and influence. We want to see the United States field a winning team.

Let me close with a shout-out to our partners in support for the Foreign Service.

Thank you to the American College of National Security Leaders, a group of retired flag officers, ambassadors and senior executive service members. Your letter to congressional leaders, and the visits we paid them together, sent the clear message that defense and diplomacy are inextricable elements of power. When a retired general and admiral walk in the door of a congressional office with two Foreign Service officers, it sends a powerful message.

Thank you also to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which brings together over 500 businesses and non-profits to advocate funding for diplomacy and development, and with whom we are working closely.

Thank you to the American Academy of Diplomacy, and to the scores of retired diplomats who are making the case for diplomacy both in the press and on the Hill.

And thank you to all active members of the Foreign Service. Time and time again, members of Congress cite their experiences with you in the field as the foundation for their support of the Foreign Service.

Mary Daly is Director of Advocacy and Speechwriting at the American Foreign Service Association.