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Obama Will Send Congress ‘Tough Choices’ Budget, White House Budget Director Says

“President Barack Obama will send Congress a ‘tough choices’ budget next week that would cut some of his own programs in the environment, community development and services for the poor to rein in the deficit,” Jacob Lew, the White House budget director, wrote recently in a New York Times opinion piece, Bloomberg reports.  

“Make no mistake: this will not be easy,” Lew wrote. “We have to cut what we cannot afford,” he added. In the piece, Lew highlights three domestic program reductions that would cut a total of $775 million from Obama’s FY 2012 budget. Bloomberg notes that the total savings “represent a small fraction of a budget whose deficit is likely to exceed $1 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.”

“The three examples cited by Lew are part of Obama’s call for a five-year freeze on discretionary spending outside of national security, for a savings of more than $400 billion over the next decade. Discretionary spending is money approved by Congress each year and accounts for a little more than 10 percent of the federal budget, Lew said,” the news service writes.

“Congressional Republicans are wrestling with their own spending cuts promised in the November elections,” Bloomberg reports. “Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the White House Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and a Republican, said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program [Sunday] that promises to cut earmarks, waste, fraud and abuse and foreign aid are ‘sparrow belch in the midst of the typhoon,’” Bloomberg reports. According to the article, “[t]his year’s budget is projected to end with a record $1.5 trillion deficit, the CBO said Jan. 26” (Runningen, 2/7).

U.S. Civilian-Aid Program In Pakistan Fails To Provide Information To Show It Is Achieving Targets, USG Report Says

“The U.S.’s massive civilian-aid program for Pakistan has failed to show it is achieving its goals since Congress approved a $7.5 billion five-year assistance package in late 2009, according to an official U.S. government assessment [.pdf],” the Wall Street Journal reports.  

U.S. aid officials in Pakistan have “failed to supply data to allow a systematic evaluation of whether” U.S. funds were helping to provide stability in the country, according to the report, which was jointly released by the Office of Inspector General of USAID, the State Department and the Defense Department. “One year after the launch of the civilian assistance strategy in Pakistan, USAID has not been able to demonstrate measurable progress,” said the report, which is an evaluation of the program for the last three months of 2010. “We believe that USAID has an imperative to accumulate, analyze, and report information on the results achieved under its programs,” it adds (Wright, 2/8).

“Failure to show progress could cause problems within Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment is high and many suspect U.S. aid of simply lining the pockets of corrupt politicians rather than helping the poor,” the Associated Press writes, noting that many Pakistanis “lack access to clean water and effective health care and education.”

“One of the reasons the U.S. has struggled is that the embassy in Islamabad has had difficulty staffing the positions it needs to monitor and run its programs, said the report. The USAID office at the embassy remained understaffed by more than 20 percent, or 68 positions, as of the end of 2010, it said,” according to the AP.

The report also notes the problems that have “plagued” USAID’s efforts “to foster development in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border, where poverty and neglect by the central government have contributed to the rise of Islamist militants” (2/8).