WASHINGTON — Officials at the State Department are raising concerns about the future of a relatively small, but in their minds, important security assistance fund that is set to expire at the end of 2017.
A joint fund between the State Department and the Pentagon — the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) — was authorized under Section 1207 of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Pentagon chips in up to 80 percent of the cost for a program, with State covering the rest.
Funding is not appropriated but rather can be transferred through congressional authorization. State's funding can come from its Foreign Military Financing, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Peacekeeping Operations programs, while the Department of Defense can take that money from its Operation and Maintenance account.
Projects range in size from $3.5 million to almost $80 million; all told, GSCF has allocated about $208 million to a handful of programs, primarily to train and equip partner nations.
In theory, the funding mechanism means GSCF can react quickly to emerging needs, such as with the decision to fund a training program for 600 Ukrainian national guardsmen. But four years into the creation of the fund, there have been only a handful of programs funded:
- A completed Ukraine national guard training program at $19 million.
- An ongoing western African (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria) border security and counter-Boko Haram program at $40 million.
- An ongoing Philippines maritime security and counterterrorism program worth $40 million.
- An ongoing African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership for Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda at $79.8 million.
- An ongoing program for Bangladesh to do cross-ministerial maritime security and counterterrorism training for $3.5 million.
- An ongoing program to train special forces from Hungary, Romania and Slovakia worth $3.51 million.
There are also two programs for Libya — $7.75 million to train special forces and $14.8 million for border security issues — that are currently paused due to the political situation there. And a new proposal for Ukraine has also been recently submitted to Congress.
The language that created GSCF marked it as a pilot program, one which needs to be renewed by the end of FY17. (Any programs that are funded before that end date will continue through completion.) And at this point, there does not appear to be much focus on Capitol Hill, despite a major attempt by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to rework how security assistance is done across State and DoD.
Which sets up the key question: Given the number of funding streams for foreign military assistance from both departments, is GSCF a program that has shown enough success to merit renewal?
Proponents of the fund believe it provides something unique in the security assistance world — a joint fund that can move quickly to provide whole of government solutions. They point to the fact the funding is not tied into the year-to-year appropriations schedule and note that such budgetary freedom means it can react rapidly to new global situations, theoretically in as quickly as a few weeks.
Over the last four years, "we’ve learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of headway," said a State Department official, making the case that those lessons learned would allow the fund to be even more effective going forward.
Melissa Dalton, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agrees the speed of the fund can, in theory, make it an asset.
"When you’re doing your five-year planning for foreign military financing, you can’t just foresee when you need to rapidly inject funds when a conflict flares up. So the rationale behind it is quite sound," Dalton said.
But, she warned, the execution of the fund has "faltered."
Like Dalton, Loren DeJonge Schulman, of the Center for a New American Security, questions the effectiveness of GSCF.
"The optimistic view is the pooled fund was a great way to get to a lot of the challenges [in security assistance funding] — stovepipes, a lack of prioritization, not a lot of long-term planning," said Schulman, who worked on security assistance issues with DoD. "A pessimist would probably say it’s just a good way to prove all the solutions you have aren’t workable because State will move too slowly or DoD will have different views on what should be a priority."
Schulman said the one of the assumptions behind the fund was that it would be a tool for senior leaders in both departments to highlight priorities and get them quickly funded, and "it hasn’t worked out as people hoped," in part because those senior leader offices are, by nature, simply not nimble and flexible.
That, in turn, means the fund takes longer than ideal to present programs to lawmakers, creating the sense that GSCF has been inefficient.
"That’s probably inevitable — that’s how security cooperation kind of works," Schulman said of the slower process. "It shouldn’t be easy to stand up a special operations group in the Philippines. It should require more thought. But because GSCF had this everything-to-everyone narrative about it, people have grown frustrated that it hasn’t met that expectation."
And in an era of multiple security assistance streams, Dalton warns that the fund may not be a favorite of the Pentagon.
"State really likes it because it gives them an equal say, but from DoD’s perspective they are typically the ones footing the bill," said Dalton, a former policy adviser in the Pentagon. "So there is some resentment on the Pentagon side, and the State Department overvalues it in a way.
"If both parties are given an equal seat at the table, but DoD foots the bill, and on top of it you can’t point to success stories, I think it has made a number of folks in the Pentagon pretty skeptical of the viability of the program."
A spokesperson for the Pentagon, however, said the building officially supports renewing the fund, and noted the administration sought an extension as part of the FY17 NDAA request.
So what are the chances GSCF is renewed before expiration? Schulman isn’t opposed to a renewal, but said the Hill might question the usefulness of the fund.
"It’s hard to convince people to support any authority that has flexibility which doesn’t require justification for spending. Until DoD and State prove that they are able to execute this well, it will always get more questions about why should you have this flexibility," she said.
An SASC staffer confirmed that GSCF is not addressed in either the House or Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. And while it is possible that language could slip in during conferencing on the bill, officials at the State Department aren’t holding their breath.
"My sense is Congress [is] more focused on the uber-authority fight in the SASC, and that’s sucking up all the air" on foreign assistance issues, said one State official.
Dalton believes that any discussion on GSCF will probably need to be tabled until after the security assistance fight sorts itself out in the NDAA.
"I think any emergent needs that may arise, if the NDAA reform passes, would be accounted for in the new system," Dalton said. "If the reforms fall flat, then [renewal] would be worth looking at."
While proponents of the fund would welcome turning GSCF into a permanent funding stream, the State official said the department would be content with another temporary renewal, perhaps for another four-year term.
If it is renewed, Schulman would like to see extra support given to the State office that manages the fund in the hope that could help speed up future programs.
"I think there needs to be recognition that security assistance reforms only work if State and DoD are willing to put the people and time into making them work," she said. More progress would come if, say, [State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs] was given 20 more to be able to help oversee, plan for and assist embassies with [upcoming] activities."
And one potential piece of good news for GSCF could come if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election come November.
The fund was "a pet rock" of Clinton, said a second State official, adding the program got "top-level" focus from Clinton when it was being created.
Joe Gould in Washington contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.