The U.S. State Department's budget has already taken a hit in 2011, but it appears that its finances will be squeezed even tighter just as the department is trying to regain ground lost to the Pentagon over the past decade.
In the final budget resolution passed for 2011, Congress agreed to provide $48 billion for State and foreign operations. This marked an $8.4 billion reduction from the president's budget request. It was also $504 million less than the department received in 2010.
For 2012 spending, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it plans to cut $11 billion from the State Department and foreign operations budget request of $47 billion. This includes funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Meanwhile, it plans to cut only $9 billion from the Pentagon's requested budget of $671 billion, which includes $118 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The cuts have already forced the department to make tough choices, said Jake Sullivan, director of policy planning at the State Department, speaking at the Center for a New American Security conference in Washington.
In the final continuing resolution for 2011, the department's Economic Support Fund (ESF) lost close to $2 billion from its budget request. The fund provides money to countries around the world to help them overcome short- and long-term political, economic and security problems.
"That is a huge cut when you're talking about the relatively small ESF account, and it has impacts on countries around the world and it's forcing us to make very hard choices about where to invest our dollars and where to cut," Sullivan said.
The cuts also come as the State Department is trying to increase its operational capability so that it can better partner with the military services in the field, he said.
To stave off further reductions, the State Department is making its case to Congress that it needs every possible dollar requested.
"We have to show them that we are finding ways to increase efficiency and deliver more effectively," Sullivan said.
But the case needs to be made beyond Capitol Hill, he said. Recent polls show that Americans support cuts to foreign aid, but they also dramatically overestimate its portion of the federal budget.
"We have to build a broader constituency across the country for what we're trying to do," Sullivan said. "At the end of the day, the dollars that go into the State Department and USAID are national security dollars, and many of those dollars come at a huge savings for what we'd have to spend on military action down the road."
One of the biggest proponents for a bigger State Department budget is outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In February he urged Congress to fully fund the State Department, saying the money was urgently needed in places like Iraq where the military's role is being phased out.
In 2008, he described the "creeping militarization" of American foreign policy and said, "diplomatic leaders - be they in ambassadors' suites or on the seventh floor of the State Department - must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy."