May 17, 2011

Budget cuts field report

Via Wikimedia
So the GOP's frantic evisceration of government has finally hit way out here in the boonies.  Here's the story: President Obama's FY 2011 budget contained $440 million for the Peace Corps, which would have been a $40 million increase.  Originally Peace Corps was preparing to operate at Obama's level, but when it became clear that wasn't going to happen, headquarters revised operations down to a $400 million level.  Thus the South Africa post reduced the numbers of trainees for this year from 130 to 110.

Since Congress never passed a budget, they authorized a bunch of continuing resolutions telling agencies they could function at 2010 levels.  However, during the last confrontation over shutting down the government in April, Congress scraped off an additional $25 million (thus giving Peace Corps a $375 million pot).  The number of trainees here was further reduced to 99, but since we're so far into the fiscal year, a great deal of that money has already been spent, and financial officers have been scrambling to cut costs wherever they can.

Here, for my group of volunteers, the close of service conference has been canceled pending a special disbursement from headquarters.  (The COS conference is to help us start the process of reintegrating into the US, while taking care of a bunch of medical procedures required before we can leave.)  All the volunteer committee meetings (dealing with things like language, volunteer support, etc.) have been put on hold until September 1st at the earliest.  Volunteers also get a small allowance for traveling around in country (for food shopping, meetings, etc).  This has been cut by more than 80%, though they will still pay us back should we go over that allowance if you fill out a pain-in-the-ass form and keep all your receipts.

Now, this isn't so much complaining about personal hardship (though, I'll be honest, that travel allowance cut really sucks).  This is the Peace Corps; we're supposed to be able to deal with it.  It's more that this is no way to run a government.  Uncertainty may suck when you're running a business, but it also sucks when you're running a government agency.  (It's almost like the GOP doesn't care about uncertainty at all.)  The Peace Corps administration had been preparing to deal with a budget increase, but not only is Congress unable to pass a budget telling them for sure how much money they're dealing with, Tea Party ideologues yanked the rug out from under them after the fiscal year is two-thirds over.  After promising not to.  Chumps. 

The deficit may be a serious issue in the medium to long term, but I can tell you for a fact that nickel-and-diming the Peace Corps for $25 million is not going to close the $1.6 trillion budget hole.  (That second number is, like, way bigger.)  Furthermore, it's causing a lot of Americans who are diligently serving their country and the world a lot of unnecessary grief.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you've got it worse down there...We in Azerbaijan haven't lost our travel allowances or COS conference. The only thing I'm aware of that we lost was a bunch of to-be Volunteers. We went from an estimated 70 Volunteers in the next group down to 48. Other than that, PC Azerbaijan is still sticking with it's schedules for conferences and other PC-Paid-For stuff.