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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers January 11, 2013

Obama boosts military's humanitarian aid budget

In 2008, Barack Obama promised to boost a tiny corner of the nation's defense spending — humanitarian assistance.

When we say tiny, we mean tiny — roughly one-hundredth of 1 percent of a Pentagon budget worth hundreds of billions. That's because most humanitarian aid is handled through civilian agencies. But candidate Obama said humanitarian work by the military was important to "build friends and allies." So he promised to expand the annual budget so that help for things like disaster assistance wouldn't require grabbing other money.

Defense budget experts told us to look at funding for Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid, known as the OHDCA account.

We found that the government now routinely budgets 60 percent more for such aid than under President George W. Bush, up from $70 million to nearly $110 million a year.

"It has happened. Success," said  Russell Rumbaugh, director of budgeting for foreign affairs and defense at the centrist Stimson Center.

We credit Obama starting with fiscal year 2010, when his administration would have been most involved. (It was a strange time because of the financial crisis, which meant Obama had a hand in some major spending for fiscal year 2009. But we assume President George W. Bush's Defense Department played the lead role for 2009.)

Most years under Bush, the government had go back to the trough during the budget year. For example, in fiscal year 2006, the administration originally asked for $61.5 million but ultimately got authority to spend $121 million. Under Obama, that only happened in fiscal year 2010, after a January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The Haiti disaster was so catastrophic, no administration would have handled it without asking Congress for more funding, said Larry Nowels, an expert in civilian foreign assistance. The military ultimately got an additional $775 million to help.

Obama promised to expand annual budgeting for military humanitarian aid. His administration has budgeted significantly more for such aid than the previous administration. We rate this Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Interview with Russell Rumbaugh, Stimson Center, director of budgeting for foreign affairs and defense, Jan. 11, 2013

Interview with Laura Peterson, senior policy analyst, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Jan. 10, 2013

Interview with Jacob Stokes, research associate, Center for a New American Security, Jan. 9, 2013

Interview with Larry Nowels, consultant on foreign assistance, Dec. 20, 2012

Defense Department, "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," January 2012

USAID, "Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review," updated June 15, 2012

Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief & Mine Action, accessed Jan. 10, 2013

Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), Defense Budget Materials, accessed Jan. 11, 2013

Department of Defense, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, "Fiscal Year 2011 Report on Humanitarian Assistance," January 2012

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley December 10, 2009

Humanitarian missions included in Obama's proposed budget

The message outlining the Obama administration's proposed 2010 budget -- titled "A New Era of Responsibility" -- pledged to impose transparency in the budget and cited humanitarian aid as a prime example.

"The Budget reduces reliance on emergency supplemental appropriations by increasing key accounts and programs for which funding is predictable and recurring," the president's message stated. "For example, the Budget includes increased funding for humanitarian assistance accounts and U.N. Peacekeeping Missions that reflect ongoing costs. While emergency supplementals may be required in the future, they should focus on truly unanticipated events and not be used to fund regular programs."

That was borne out when the White House released a more detailed budget proposal in April that included $27 million more for expenses relating to the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid programs of the Department of Defense. And the proposed State Department budget sought to increase funding for international disaster relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance from $350 million to $880 million.

The budgets have not all been approved and appropriated, but we think Obama's proposed budget is true to the spirit of this promise. We move this one to In the Works.

Our Sources

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