Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Foreign policy contingency funds

In my work for the Project on National Security Reform, I learned that most executive branch officials felt that the greatest need was for more speed and flexibility in order to implement plans with adequate resources. Most complained that the Congress imposed too many hurdles and limitations, especially on the use of money.

I also learned -- from legislative branch people -- that Congress didn't trust the executive to act without close consultation with lawmakers. They had been burned too many times by commitments to foreign governments or military operations that turned sour. Repeated requests  for contingency funds by presidents over several decades were rejected on Capitol Hill.

To me, the obvious compromise was more flexibility in return for closer consultation and oversight. I pointed out that in 1960-61, Congress approved what would be  $1.5 billion in today's dollars as a foreign policy contingency fund for the President.  After some abuses of the spending authority, Congress cut the fund. In recent years it has been only $25 million.

The new Defense Authorization Bill has a section 1207 creating a "Global Security Contingency Fund" of $300 million. The money requires concurrence of the Secretaries of State and Defense and notification to congressional committees at least 15 days before the fund is tapped.

This strikes me as a good faith effort by Congress to provide a significant measure of flexibility, a confidence-building measure that requires good faith execution by State and Defense.

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