Rescission: The 2019 Version
In early August, reports emerged that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had sent a letter to USAID and the State Department asking for a review of unobligated (unspent) funding for Fiscal Years (FY) 2018 and 2019 for a number of programs, including global health and development assistance, in the International Affairs Budget. During this review process, funding for these programs would be frozen until three days after OMB received the requested information from the agencies. This seemed to be the first step towards the White House sending a rescission package to Capitol Hill, signaling its intent to return unspent funds in these programs back to the Treasury Department.
Funds in accounts included in any rescission package sent to Capitol Hill are frozen until either Congress takes action or for 45 legislative days. With the end of the fiscal year (September 30) nearing, the White House was effectively trying to allow these funds to remain unspent by freezing them and allowing them to expire on September 30. This is a similar tactic that the Trump administration employed last year around this same time, and which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that the administration has no legal authority to strategically time a rescission package to “unilaterally cancel congressionally approved funding.” GAO also ruled that the administration must give sufficient time for “prudent obligation of funds.”
On August 22, the White House backed off from a rescission package after receiving push back from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
While it was reported early on that the White House would not include global health programs in a rescission package, GHC members and other global health organizations signed letters to the House of Representatives and to the Senate expressing their concerns with the impact cuts to other foreign assistance programs would have on global health investments.
For more on rescissions, read this FAQ from 2018.
Transformation of the USAID Global Health Bureau
Also in early August, GHC, in coordination with InterAction, convened a community meeting with senior leadership of USAID to discuss the agency’s plans to “transform” the Global Health Bureau (GHB). Transformation is the process that USAID has undertaken to strengthen the agency, achieve better development outcomes, advance national security, and end the need for foreign assistance. GHB is the last bureau to undergo this process, with the other bureaus having underwent this process last year. As GHB is the largest bureau and most technically complex at USAID, the agency wasn’t ready for GHB to undergo the process with the rest of the agency. However, the agency is now looking at how to better link GHB’s work with other USAID programs and initiatives.
USAID Chief of Staff and Transformation Coordinator Bill Steiger stated that this is an opportunity to think about how the world has changed and where the agency and GHB needs to be in the future. The process is also a chance to consider the overlap between disaster and development programming, the power of data, and how to work with local partners and the private sector.
USAID did not roll out a detailed plan of what the new GHB could look like, but rather discussed the process and timeline for transformation. GHC and InterAction will convene the community again when a plan is ready to be shared.
This post was written by Danielle Heiberg, Senior Manager, Policy & Advocacy.