Word from Washington: December 2017

Categories: Featured , Member News

 

By Austin R. Cooper Jr.

 

President Donald J. Trump unveiled a U.S. national security strategy on December 18, which prioritizes U.S. foreign policy, security and interests. The U.S. plan features a section on U.S.-Africa engagement that briefly outlines a policy action that focuses on partnerships with “like-minded states” to promote free market economies, private sector growth, political stability, and peace.

“We will work with nations that seek to move beyond assistance to partnerships that promote prosperity,” the strategy stated. (Read the U.S.-Africa policy section on page 52.)

The President also signed a stopgap-spending bill  or Continuing Resolution on December 8, to avert a government shutdown, one day after Congress submitted it to his desk. The measure funds the U.S. government until December 22, giving congressional leaders two additional weeks to negotiate a broader spending agreement and finalize FY 2018 spending bills.

Democrats and Republicans have been at an impasse over a long-term government spending deal. The two political parties have failed to agree on spending levels. To avert a government shutdown, the congressional leadership must pass another CR that will extend FY 2017 funding levels into January 2018, and allow time for appropriators to complete their work.

The Administration continues to come under bipartisan criticism from Congress on key personal vacancies across the U.S. Department of State. Recently, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) released a fact sheet on how these vacancies are negatively affecting the ability of the U.S. Government to promote and defend American interests across the globe:

  • The State Department has remained firmly in place, despite the lifting of the federal hiring freeze last April. The hiring freeze is impacting the work of other agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development.
  • The slow nomination process has resulted in leadership vacuums at highest levels of the U.S. Foreign Service, leaving key countries, including South Korea and South Africa, without ambassadors. Top leadership at foreign policy agencies, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), still hold the title of “Acting.”
  • Proposed buyouts, retirements and fewer promotions have decimated the top ranks of senior personnel, creating a diplomatic brain drain of talent, skill and institutional knowledge.

In response to such criticism from the Hill and others, the President has downplayed the importance of high-level jobs, including the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, which remains vacant.

Finally,  Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, announced on October 24 that he would not seek reelection in the November 2018 mid-term elections. If the Senate Leadership follows seniority in replacing Senator Flake in this capacity, the next Chairman will likely be Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), when the 116th Congress convenes in January 2019. Currently, the Ranking Member of the subcommittee is Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). No change is expected in this role for Senator Booker.

 

Austin R. Cooper, Jr. is the Director of Government Relations for the Initiative for Global Development and President at Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.