The Background

The International Affairs Budget (IAB) is the part of the U.S. budget dedicated to supporting American development and diplomatic programs, including the State Department, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Peace Corps. Established on the success of the Marshall Plan after World War II, the IAB allows the U.S. to develop programs that expand democracy and free markets, fight violent extremism, confront poverty and health crises, and foster positive relationships with America’s allies. At an estimated $49.87 billion, in FY2017, U.S. foreign assistance represented just 1.2% of the total federal budget. Although this funding accounts for a minor proportion of U.S. spending, it is critical for global development. American foreign aid is used around the world to alleviate poverty and health crises, promote education programs, advance gender equality, and support democratic political transitions. International implications aside, aid is a cornerstone of American national security. In a 2017 op-ed for Politico, Admiral Mike Mullen (Ret.) and General James Jones (Ret.) highlighted the relationship between global stability and U.S. interests, writing that our security is, "advanced by the development of stable nations that are making progress on social development, economic growth and good governance; by countries that enforce the rule of law and invest in the health and education of their own people."

On February 9, 2018, following a months long political standoff between lawmakers, President Trump signed into law a two-year budget deal after its passage by Congress. Of note, the deal increased discretionary spending caps by about $300 billion over the next two years, allowing for the expansion of both military and non-defense spending, including the IAB. Congress’s deal did not specify how funding would be directed to the State Department, USAID, or other civilian foreign policy organizations - this is decided later as a part of the annual appropriations process.

The latest

In December of 2018, President Trump caused a partial government shutdown for 35 days after he demanded $5.7 billion dollars in funding for a border wall in an appropriations bill to fund part of the government. This government shutdown resulted in 42% of State Department officials in the United States and 26% of those posted overseas being furloughed. In the midst of this shutdown Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made several overseas trips, including visits to Sudan, Brazil and an 8 country tour of the Middle East.

In March 2019, President Trump released his FY20 budget, which included drastic cuts to the International Affairs budget, 24% from what was passed for FY19. The cuts come from some key areas of the International Affairs budget such as UN Peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance funding, and international family planning. The proposal does not include any Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding, all of which was allocated to the defense budget. Trump’s budget also cuts funding for humanitarian assistance by 34%, contributions to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) by 51%, contributions to UN peacekeeping operations by 27%, and funding for international family planning by 61%. These cuts, if they are approved by Congress, would undermine the U.S. role as a humanitarian actor, and a leader on the world stage, but could also significantly affect Americans’ security, including by weakening the ability of partner states to fight pandemic diseases.


If these budget cuts go forward, it would mean closing USAID missions in countries around the world, laying off diplomats who watch over Americans traveling overseas, and reducing our capacity to prevent new crises before they begin. We simply can't let that happen.

The good news is that Congress is under no obligation to follow President Trump's budget cuts for the State Department and USAID. Call your representatives today at (202) 224-3121 and ask Congress to fully fund the International Affairs Budget. Here's what to say: 

  • President Trump's budget cuts would impose a large reduction in resources for the U.S. diplomatic corps and development programs. That means less money to fight infectious diseases, fewer programs to recruit and retain the next generation of talented young diplomats, and less resources to provide life-saving humanitarian aid in places like Sudan or Venezuela.

  • We also question the President’s motives. If the State Department is weaker, who gains from that? Not the American public.

  • Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made the case for smart, cost-saving investments in State Department and USAID when he said that if the State Department was not fully funded, then he would need to buy more ammunition. In other words, when we don’t invest in diplomacy, it shifts the burden to our military service members and the ballooning Pentagon budget.