The 115th Congress enacted a range of foreign aid funding and authorizing legislation. Congress passed two State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bills, extended authorizations for several aid programs, enacted a number of reforms to aid programs, and created a new international development finance institution. This report summarizes legislative action related to foreign assistance in the 115th Congress. P.L. 115-31, P.L. 115-141, P.L. 115-44, P.L. 115-167, P.L. 115-198, P.L. 115-254, P.L. 115-256, P.L. 115-266, P.L. 115-305, P.L. 115-334.
The 115th Congress, through a range of foreign aid funding and authorizing legislation, maintained a high degree of consistency with past patterns in U.S. foreign aid policy and funding allocations, despite calls from the Trump Administration for significant changes in these areas. In total, Congress passed two State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bills, extended authorizations for several existing aid programs, enacted a number of reforms to aid programs, and passed a law to create a new international development finance institution. The Foreign Operations titles of the annual SFOPS appropriations bills, together with the international food aid title within the annual agriculture appropriation, establish foreign aid funding levels as well as policy.1 This report summarizes legislative action related to foreign assistance in the 115th Congress.
Foreign assistance policy was not a top priority in the 115th Congress, and as has been typical in recent years, the enactment of appropriations legislation constituted the most significant legislative action related to foreign assistance in the 115th Congress. Nevertheless, the 115th Congress addressed significant across-the-board foreign aid funding cuts proposed by the Trump Administration, including the proposed elimination of several long-standing funding accounts, programs, and independent agencies. It also addressed key funding issues related to responses to protracted humanitarian crises and to the use of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) designation within the foreign aid budget, among other issues. Congress did not adopt the broad and deep foreign aid cuts proposed by the Administration or eliminate whole accounts, programs, or agencies. It did enact cuts to some programs while keeping humanitarian aid levels nearly as high or higher than in the 114th Congress. Likewise, all appropriations bills in the 115th Congress used the OCO designation—albeit for a smaller share of the foreign aid budget than in the past—despite Administration efforts to zero out such funding in FY2019.2
Foreign aid appropriations bills considered in the 115th Congress are summarized below.
FY2017: In early May 2017, the 115th Congress finished work begun under the 114th Congress, passing the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31), which provided $39.44 billion for foreign assistance accounts. Together with $2.59 billion in supplemental funds enacted in December 2016 (P.L. 114-254), total enacted foreign aid funding in the international affairs budget for FY2017 was $40.91 billion, a nearly 7% increase over the FY2016 funding level ($38.28 billion) and about 1% below the Obama Administration's budget request (as amended by a November 2016 supplemental request). Congress designated almost $14 billion (34%) of this funding as OCO. The increase over prior-year funding was largely driven by increases in humanitarian aid in response to famine and near famine conditions in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.3
FY2018: The Trump Administration's first budget request, for FY2018, proposed $27.05 billion total for foreign assistance accounts, a 34% reduction from enacted FY2017 levels. About 30% of requested funds were designated as OCO. Significant reductions were proposed in every aid category, with cuts of more than 40% for several aid sectors, including environmental protection, rule of law and human rights, agriculture, disaster readiness, and family planning and reproductive health programs. The Administration also proposed to merge several aid accounts and eliminate several aid agencies, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Trade & Development Agency, the African Development Foundation (ADF), and the Inter-American Foundation (I-AF), as well as to end the Food for Peace food aid program. The Administration described the proposed changes as an effort to improve efficiency and realign foreign policy to better reflect the goals of promoting U.S. security interests, asserting U.S. leadership globally, and creating U.S. business opportunities.
Notes: Includes only foreign aid in the international affairs budget accounts. Figures are in billions of U.S.$.
Congress largely disregarded the Administration's request for FY2018, enacting $39.92 billion in aid in P.L. 115-141, about a 2.2% cut from the FY2017 funding. About 20% of the enacted funds were designated as OCO. Humanitarian assistance increased by 15% over 2017 levels, and funding for USAID operations and security assistance stayed almost level. Bilateral economic assistance funds were cut by about 12% and multilateral aid by 11%. Food for Peace allocations were cut by about 10% relative to FY2017—when such funding peaked, including as a result of transfers from other accounts—rather than eliminated. None of the proposed account consolidations and program eliminations were adopted, although the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account, which the Administration proposed to eliminate, was nearly zeroed out with an appropriation of $1 million.4
FY2019: For FY2019, the Administration requested $28.60 billion for foreign aid programs within the international affairs (function 150) budget, about 28% less than the estimated FY2018 funding level. This time, none of the requested funding was designated as OCO. As in the FY2018 request, cuts were proposed across virtually all accounts and aid sectors, and the Administration proposed the same account consolidations and eliminations and most of the same agency eliminations, with some exceptions. The Administration also proposed to cut family planning and reproductive health program funds, but not to eliminate them as it had requested in FY2018. It proposed that ADF and I-AF be merged into USAID rather than terminated, and rather than eliminate OPIC, as proposed in FY2018, the Administration requested that the agency's authorities be expanded and consolidated with some USAID programs to create a new and bigger development financing institution.
As in the FY2018 cycle, Congress demonstrated little interest in aid cuts on the scale proposed by the Administration for FY2019. The House and Senate appropriations committees reported bills that would provide $39.5 billion and $40.2 billion, respectively, for foreign assistance accounts, both nearly level with FY2018-enacted funding. Both bills rejected the proposed account changes, with the exception of the elimination of the ERMA account, which the House bill eliminated and the Senate bill sought to fund with $1 million. Both would have funded IAF and ADF at the FY2018 levels while explicitly disapproving of their consolidation within USAID. Congress did support the creation of a new development finance institution to replace OPIC (discussed below) outside of the appropriations process. However, the 115th Congress did not enact final SFOPS legislation before adjourning on January 3, 2019, leaving the final funding question for the 116th Congress.5
Congress has not passed comprehensive foreign assistance authorizing legislation since 1985, but it has created new and updated authorities for specific programs and activities. The 115th Congress enacted legislation on a range of foreign assistance issues, from Peace Corps volunteer health and safety, to aid restrictions in support of sanctions policy, to the creation of a new international development finance institution. Most enacted aid legislation simply extended existing authorities that would otherwise have expired at the end of 2018.
A brief summary of authorizing legislation enacted in the 115th Congress with foreign assistance as a primary focus, ordered by date of enactment, is provided below.
The FY2019 SFOPS appropriation, along with the other funding bills left pending at the end of the 115th Congress, may be among the first legislation considered in the 116th Congress. Beyond that, the outlook for foreign aid legislation is unclear, but appropriations may continue to be the major vehicle for foreign aid policy in the 116th Congress. A new appropriations cycle will begin with the Administration's FY2020 budget request, which is to be released in February 2019. New leadership in the House of Representatives and the foreign affairs authorizing committees in both chambers may priorities new goals, potentially including comprehensive foreign aid reform legislation. Recent congressional precedent also suggests that the 116th Congress may engage on foreign assistance more through oversight activities than legislation. Key issues for Congress could include implementation of the BUILD Act, ongoing Administration-initiated USAID "Transformation" reforms, the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance, the strategic implications of security assistance, and the role of foreign aid in addressing growing concerns about the global influence of China and Russia.
Author Contact Information
This report discusses only foreign assistance in the international affairs budget, which includes funds appropriated through the Foreign Operations accounts in the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill, and the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole accounts in the Agriculture appropriation. It does not include funding from the Department of Defense budget or other budget functions that is included in some foreign assistance reporting.
For more information on the OCO designation, see CRS In Focus IF10143, Foreign Affairs Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Funding: Background and Current Status, by [author name scrubbed].
For more on FY2017 SFOPS legislation and key issues, see CRS Report R44391, State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2017 Budget and Appropriations, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed].
For more on FY2018 SFOPS appropriations legislation and key issues, see CRS Report R44890, Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2018 Budget and Appropriations, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed].
For more information on the FY2019 SFOPS appropriation, see CRS Report R45168, Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed].
For background information on the MCC, see CRS Report RL32427, Millennium Challenge Corporation, by [author name scrubbed].
For more information, see CRS Report R45180, OPIC, USAID, and Proposed Development Finance Reorganization, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].
For more information about the Peace Corps policy issues, see CRS Report RS21168, The Peace Corps: Current Issues, by [author name scrubbed].
For background information on GFSA and Feed the Future, see CRS In Focus IF10475, Global Food Security Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-195), by [author name scrubbed], and CRS Report R44216, The Obama Administration's Feed the Future Initiative, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed].
For more information about PEPFAR reauthorization, see CRS In Focus IF10797, PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act: Expiring Authorities, by [author name scrubbed].
For more information in international food aid, see CRS Report R45422, U.S. International Food Assistance: An Overview, by [author name scrubbed].