Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Obameter

Strengthen the State Department's ability to respond to conflict


Barack Obama and Joe Biden "will increase the size of the Foreign Service, fully fund the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and create a new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution with senior Ambassadors to support high-level negotiations and provide the expertise and capacity to seize opportunities or address crises as they arise. An Obama administration will also build a ready reserve corps of private civilians that can participate in post-conflict, humanitarian and stabilization efforts around the globe."


Updates

Stabilization efforts continue, but not "fully funded"

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "fully fund the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and create a new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution.”

The department on Nov. 22, 2011, launched the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to take over the portfolio previously handled by the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. Aiming to build "smarter, more effective U.S. engagement with the world,” the new office is focused on such areas as conflict prevention, crisis response, and stabilization activities.

Through offices in 20 "priority countries” -- ranging from Honduras to South Sudan to Burma -- the bureau attempts to break cycles of violence, strengthen civilian security, and mitigate crisis. It seeks to "encourage greater involvement of local civil society – including women, youth, and the media – to prevent and respond to conflict.”

The bureau also relies on the Civilian Response Corps -- a group of civilian federal employees from nine departments "who are specially trained and equipped to deploy rapidly to provide conflict prevention and stabilization assistance to countries in crisis or emerging from conflict.” Participants have backgrounds in public health, law enforcement, engineering, economics and law. (We rated a separate promise on this effort here.)

So the administration has reorganized and placed increased emphasis on the areas addressed by this promise. But what about funding?

Calculating the answer is difficult because the organizational change makes it hard to compare the before-and-after budget picture for more than one fiscal year. In the State Department's budget documents, it says that "conflict stabilization operations” was funded at $35 million in fiscal year 2011 and at $30 million in fiscal year 2012. For fiscal year 2013, the administration requested a big increase, to more than $56 million.

The program's medium-term fiscal outlook is unclear, but comparing fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2011, it's hard to say that the program was "fully funded” when it suffered a $5 million cut. On the other hand, the administration's organizational relaunch and its large request for 2013 have demonstrated an interest in the program. On balance, we rate this promise a Compromise.

Sources:

State Department, budget justification for Conflict Stabilization Operations, Feb. 13, 2012

State Department,fact sheetfor the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, accessed Nov. 7. 2012

State Department, "U.S. Department of State Launches Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations" (news release), Nov. 22, 2011

Stimson Center, "Preparing for Diplomacy in the 21st Century," Feb. 17, 2011

State Department, Civilian Response Corps (home page), accessed Nov. 7, 2012

More money for Reconstruction and Stabilization, but no new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution

In separate promises, we have dealt with Obama's pledge to increase the size of the Foreign Service and to create a Civilian Assistance Corps, both of which are rated In the Works.

Here, we deal with Obama's pledge to "fully fund the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and create a new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution with senior Ambassadors to support high-level negotiations and provide the expertise and capacity to seize opportunities or address crises as they arise."

In its proposed 2010 budget, the Obama administration sought $323 million for the Civilian Stabilization Initiative, "for necessary expenses to establish, support, maintain, mobilize, and deploy a civilian response corps and for related reconstruction and stabilization assistance to prevent or respond to conflict or civil strife in foreign countries or regions, or to enable transition from such strife." That's up from $45 million in 2009. Further, the administration's budget states that the money "may be made available to provide administrative expenses for the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization."

Congress ultimately cut that $323 million request to $120 million in the appropriations process.

Moreover, nothing in the administration's budget documents mentions funding the creation of a new Office of Conflict Prevention and Resolution. And no mention of such an office appears in any public documents available on the State Department's Web site.

So the budget that funds the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization was greatly increased, though it was significantly less than the Obama administration asked for (which would presumably fully fund the office). And we could find no evidence of efforts to create a new Office of Conflict Prevention. President Obama never promised to fully deliver on this promise in the first year, though, so we rate it Stalled.

Sources:

White House Office of Management and Budget, President Budget Fact Sheets: U.S. Department of State and Other International Programs

Budget Insight, "The Civilian Role in Stbilization and Reconstruction," by Stephen Abott, June 11, 2009

USAID Web site, Transitions Initiatives

Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 3288, Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010, Dec. 8, 2009