Bureaucrats don’t make the point well. Journalists fail to find the connection

The Cable over at ForeignPolicy.com has a nice little piece about the new Deputy Secretary of State for Management making the point that foreign aid is a vital part of  U.S. national security. (Nides: Foreign aid funding is a matter of national security)

To be sure anyone working the management beat for the State Department should be expected to find as many reasons as possible to prevent the State Department and the rest of the non-military international operation from being gutted.

To the cynic, it sounds as if Tom Niles is grasping at straws or trying to link the unpopular foreign affairs budget (unpopular because it really doesn’t have a constituency like the Defense or Commerce Departments have) with defense of the nation.

But if anyone would spend just a few minutes to think — and thinking seems to be in serious short supply when discussing the foreign affairs budget — it would be clear to that person that funding more civilian foreign affairs activities could mean sending fewer American young people into harms way as soldiers, sailors or Marines.

Programs paid for by The Agency for International Development are designed to build sustainable growth in poor countries. Once the people in those countries are able to earn some discretionary money — money not automatically taken up covering food and shelter — those people will start buying U.S. goods and services. (Oh, and the goods and services that helped bring those people out of poverty through AID programs were all from the United States.)

Development aid helps end poverty. Attacking poverty reduces the breeding grounds for terrorists and other criminal elements. 

So please tell me members of Congress and other short-sighted cutters of the foreign affairs budget: “How is a strong and sustainable civilian foreign service (and its programs) NOT a vital component of national security?”

Just a reminder:

The ENTIRE non-military portion of foreign affairs — all the embassies, all the salaries for the diplomats and support staff, all the foreign aid programs, all the exchange programs, all the export assistance programs — accounts for less than 1% of the entire U.S. budget!

Now, why is this message not getting out?

First, the State Department is notoriously weak when it come to explaining what it does and how its activities benefit people from the farm to Main Street to the factory floor. (Yes, it is getting better but those folks sure do love their acronyms and jargon. And AID is worse!)

Second, damn few reporters take the time to look at how foreign aid affects their local areas. And even fewer look at the context of foreign affairs in the larger economic/budget picture.

It is not the job of a journalist to tell the story of why the State Department and AID are such good guys and gals working to protect democracy. But it is a journalist’s job to but the budget discussions that are taking place into perspective.

Surveys show the American people think foreign affairs consumes about 25% of the budget. These same people thing that a fair amount to spend on foreign affairs is about 10%.  (With that information, the State Department should think about making a deal with Congress to “split the difference” between the actual budget and what people think “is about right” and settle at 5% of the federal budget. Just think of the good work that could be done to prevent wars and improve the American export market.)

So, how about when doing a story about the budget, look seriously at what the programs cost and what the American people get in return? You know, context!

1 Comment

Filed under Connections

One response to “Bureaucrats don’t make the point well. Journalists fail to find the connection

  1. Pingback: American people continue to show ignorance on foreign aid | Journalism, Journalists and the World

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