President Trump’s administration has ordered two federal agencies to freeze billions in aid dollars, despite the fact that these packages had already been approved by Congress.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to account for “unobligated resources” of foreign aid and to stop spending funds that have not yet been officially designated for certain purposes. Estimates put the amount of money that will be held due to this order between two and four billion dollars.
Understandably, Trump’s decision drew the ire of many policymakers who saw the president overstepping his authority with the decision. “This administration’s contempt for Congress is astounding,” said House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel. “When Congress decides how much we can spend on foreign assistance, it isn’t a suggestion. It’s the law, backed up by the Constitution.” This sentiment has been dovetailed by outside observers as well. InterAction, a global alliance of nongovernmental aid organizations, denounced the order in a statement by its CEO Sam Worthington: “It is both disappointing and saddening that President Trump constantly undermines the decisions that our elected representatives in Congress have made to support foreign assistance.” Worthington added, “Data tells us that the small fraction of America’s budget that goes to foreign aid yields big results. The White House’s repeated political ploys to halt aid threaten the effectiveness of U.S. assistance and put America’s global leadership at risk.”
While there may be outrage from Trump’s apposition, no one can say they were surprised at this development. Trump has made it a central point of his policy to cut foreign aid where he sees the investment is not serving American interests. Furthermore, the administration is not really “cutting” aid as some would suggest. That indeed is the decision of Congress. Rather, Trump’s order to freeze billions in aid dollars is only subjecting these allotments to review before being released. As OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told reporters, federal agencies have a responsibility to appropriately spend the congressionally approved funds. “In an effort to ensure accountability, OMB has requested the current status of several foreign assistance accounts to identify the amount of funding that is unobligated,” said Semmel.