International Affairs

Activities of Domestic Agencies Gao ID: T-NSIAD-98-174 June 4, 1998

When policymakers and analysts discuss U.S. spending for international efforts, they focus on the programs and activities funded by the international affairs budget account--known as the "150 account." This account funds U.S. embassies as well as the bulk of foreign aid. It also pays the cost of U.S. membership in international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, and the operations of foreign affairs agencies, such as the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In fiscal year 1998, Congress appropriated about $19 billion for such programs. However, many international activities similar to those funded in the 150 account are conducted by a host of domestic agencies through other budget accounts. This testimony is intended to illuminate the nature and magnitude of U.S. international involvement through programs and activities funded in accounts other than the 150 account, including examples of the associated activities and the agencies. GAO also discusses (1) the increasing participation of domestic agencies in international activities and the complexities of this involvement and (2) how the Government Performance and Results Act could be used to address coordination issues and congressional oversight challenges that emanate from the changing and growing U.S. engagement with other countries.

GAO noted that: (1) the U.S. government is engaged in a wide variety of programs and activities that affect governments, institutions, and peoples of other countries; (2) coming to an accurate understanding of how much money is spent on international activities outside the 150 budget account is difficult because there are no broadly accepted criteria for what constitutes an international affairs activity or foreign assistance; (3) some programs cannot easily be classified as international or domestic because they serve more than one function, and it is often difficult to distinguish between national and international objectives; (4) GAO's analysis of fiscal year 1998 appropriations indicates that non-150 account activities that have international aspects but serve primarily U.S. domestic needs are numerous, varied, and widely distributed across the U.S. government; (5) GAO identified approximately $7.6 billion in appropriations for non-150 account programs and activities that parallel one or more of the international affairs programs and activities in the 150 account; (6) while these programs and activities are related to U.S. international affairs, they directly meet national needs and serve to enhance national defense, agricultural promotion, law enforcement, environmental protection, and other missions; (7) while GAO was not able to firmly establish trends in spending on international-related activities by domestic agencies, GAO determined that these agencies have direct and broad involvement in furthering U.S. policy objectives; (8) the growth in international crime has led to expansion in U.S. overseas law enforcement activities; (9) increasing technical complexity of international issues has necessitated more partnerships between domestic technical agencies and their foreign counterparts; (10) this web of programs and activities presents management complexities, mainly coordination problems among the several agencies that are pursuing their own separate and distinct mandates; (11) in light of this changing environment, congressional oversight over international affairs will necessarily involve a broad view of the variety of activities and amount of spending throughout the government that are aimed at achieving a particular goal; and (12) the Results Act offers a useful framework for identifying cross-cutting issues among agencies and improving coordination and oversight.

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