The budget that pays State Department salaries, expenses and security costs runs about $1.6 billion, almost invisible in a federal budget that is more than $1 trillion. But it is a highly visible budget in terms of its projection of the United States overseas, in terms of what foreigners see, and in terms of the support that it provides Americans when they are abroad.
Its obvious importance, however, has not been recognized by Congress. Tight budgets combined with rising costs overseas and the declining value of the dollar, which buys less against most foreign currencies that diplomatic posts use to meet local expenses, are forcing cutbacks in American diplomacy that are most unwise.
The appropriations for the current year are back before the congressional committees that are charged with sorting out the deficit-reduction agreement struck last week, so there is no way to predict precisely how much the State Department will receive. But even if it receives what it had this year, it will be forced to make cuts of close to $125 million based solely on the declining value of the dollar and the rising costs of goods and services that are purchased abroad.
In anticipation of further Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bites, the State Department has drawn up a contingency plan that would drop 502 jobs, most of them in Washington but including a number of economic-reporting positions overseas, and eliminate two embassies in Africa and 13 consulates. Budget reductions already have forced an embarrassing cancellation of plans to host the annual meeting of the Organization of American States in California.