United States

At a glance

ODA funding trends

  • The United States (US) is the largest donor country, with official development assistance (ODA) at US$42.3 billion in 2021 (current prices; US$40.7 billion in constant 2020 prices), according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). 
  • Relative to economic size, the US’ ODA is low, at 0.18% of gross national income (GNI), placing the US at 23rd out of the 29 donor country members of the OECD DAC. 
  • The overall US foreign assistance funding level for fiscal year (FY) 2022 (October to September) was enacted at US$58 billion, this baseline funding does not include US$29.3 billion in emergency funding that primarily went to Ukraine and Afghanistan. 
  • The US House of Representatives (the House) passed the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) FY2023 appropriations bill on June 22, 2022, which provides US$66.6 billion in funding for US foreign assistance programs, a 15% increase over FY2021 enacted levels. Despite the increase from FY2021, the bill still falls US$1.7 billion (2%) below the Administration’s FY2023 request of US$68.2 billion. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its companion 2023 SFOPS bill over a week later on August 1, 2022, with funding at US$66.5 billion. Beyond the baseline amount, the Senate SFOPS bill also puts forward US$5 billion for emergency funding toward the global COVID-19 response in FY2022 and US$950 million toward pandemic preparedness in FY2023. Passed funding amounts from both the House and the Senate this year are nearly identical, but, historically, approved foreign assistance falls somewhere between the two levels. In addition to the SFOPS bills, the House approved US$2.1 billion for international agricultural programs (Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole programs), while the Senate similarly proposed US$2.1 billion for these same programs, but the proposal has not yet been approved. 

Strategic priorities

  • With the elevation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator to a permanent member of the National Security Council, US President Joe Biden has signaled that he will center global development as a key pillar of his foreign policy, on par with diplomacy and defense. He additionally emphasized the importance of aligning development and security priorities in the 2021 ‘Interim National Security Strategy Guidance,’ in which he noted that “global development is among our best means to articulate and embody our values, [while] simultaneously pursuing our national security interests.” 
  • More specific priorities are outlined in the State Department and USAID's ‘Joint Strategic Plan, 2022-2026,’ which sets goals for global health, climate change, humanitarian assistance, economic growth, governance, and inclusive development. The plan also focuses on evaluation, learning, and impact to ensure greater efficiency, efficacy, and transparency in US development assistance. In addition, USAID Administrator Samantha Power called for a ‘locally-led’ development agenda, “one that is more diverse and willing to engage with new partners, more equitable in its impact, and more responsive to local voices.” 
  • Global health is a priority sector for the Biden Administration, as the US remains the largest global health donor, with over US$9.8 billion appropriated in 2022 to address global health priorities, such as the ongoing COVID-19 response, sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, health systems strengthening, and global nutrition. 
  • Biden has also signaled that his administration will take development in climate seriously. In his April 2021 ‘Leaders’ Summit on Climate’, Biden announced that the US would double climate finance for low-income countries by 2024. He also elevated the role of US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate to a Cabinet position. In late 2021, USAID released a draft climate change strategy, which sets performance targets for 2030 on climate, including CO2 reduction and putting US$150 billion in public and private sector funding toward addressing climate change. 
  • Gender has gained greater attention under Biden. He has elevated a representative for gender equality to a Cabinet level position for the first time, established a White House Gender Policy Council within the Executive Office of the President, and released the first ever US National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality, which applies to both US domestic and international policy. Biden’s 2023 budget request included a US$2.6 billion global gender equality program package; the “largest-ever gender budget request” and more than double the amount requested for 2022. 

Outlook

  • The first budget from the Administration was released on April 6, 2022, and called for a US$9.7 billion increase in US foreign assistance from FY2022 levels. The request totaled US$68.2 billion in “discretionary non-emergency funding” and was 17% above the FY2022 enacted level. The approved House and Senate SFOPS appropriations bills came in at US$66.6 billion and US$66.5 billion, respectively, falling short of the request by roughly US$1.7 billion. 
  • On August 1, 2022, the Senate released its FY2023 SFOPS bill, which, importantly, includes US$5 billion in emergency funding to support the global COVID-19 response in FY2022, as well as US$950 million to strengthen global health security and pandemic preparedness. This is significant, as it has been over a year since Congress approved funding for global COVID-19 response, and US$5 billion in emergency COVID-19 relief funding was pulled from spending proposals in FY2022, signaling a reversed course for the Administration. While this additional funding signals a positive development, Congress must come to a bi-partisan agreement in passing the final budget. 
  • The Biden Administration has reversed many of the moves made by former President Donald Trump to withdraw from multilateral health initiatives and cut US funding to global health works. Biden rejoined the World Health Organization (WHO), pledged support to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), and joined its COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility. 
  • The new Administration also rescinded the ‘Mexico City Policy,’ known as the ‘global gag rule,’ which prohibits overseas global health organizations from receiving US funding if they offer or refer to abortion or “abortion-related” services. In addition, the new House FY2023 SFOPS bill has increased international family planning funding by 37% (US$223 million) from 2022 and includes a provision to remove the Helms Amendment, which was passed in the wake of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the landmark 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court ruling that the US Constitution conferred the right to an abortion, to limit the use of US foreign assistance for abortion, as well as permanently repeal the Mexico City Policy. Despite this, the overturning of ‘Roe v. Wade’ on June 20, 2022, impacts the effectiveness of the removal of the Mexico City Policy, as it could hurt local-level efforts to expand sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), limit funding, and increase stigma around SRHR and related care. 
  • Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the US has provided over US$1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance funding to Ukraine, with just over US$1 billion channeled through USAID. The funding will be used to provide essential supplies and services to Ukrainians directly impacted by the war. This funding comes in parallel with the May 2022 ‘Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022,’ which outlines US$13.6 billion in emergency funding to Ukraine. While this funding is extended to a range of US government agencies, it explicitly outlines humanitarian, economic, and disaster assistance budget lines to Ukraine and its neighbors impacted by the conflict. Emergency funding to Ukraine has affected ODA allocations to other development priorities, and with the ongoing nature of the conflict, it is likely that more funding will be pulled from the larger US ODA budget to assist Ukraine. 

Policy Priorities

The Biden administration is elevating development to be on par with defense and diplomacy; COVID-19 response, climate action, and democratic reforms are top priorities

Overarching priorities for US development policy are set by the White House. The Biden Administration views global development as necessarily tied to diplomatic and defense priorities. President Joe Biden released an ‘Interim National Security Strategic Guidance’ document in March 2021, outlining priorities for his Administration’s global footprint, including: 

  1. Decisively responding to the public health and economic crises triggered by COVID-19, including global health security; 

  1. Reinvigorating and modernizing the US’ global alliances and partnerships; 

  1. Moving swiftly to earn back the US’ position of leadership in international institutions to tackle shared challenges including the climate crisis; and 

  1. Revitalizing the US commitment to democracy. 

In line with these priorities, through its development programs the Biden Administration aims to tackle four important and interconnected challenges: 1) the COVID-19 crisis; 2) the climate crisis; 3) conflict and state collapse; and 4) the erosion of democratic norms. 

These sectoral priorities are more clearly outlined in the State Department-US Agency of International Development (USAID) ‘Joint Strategic Plan (JSP) 2022-26.’ Under the plan, the US government commits to “race to end the COVID-19 pandemic, help nations adapt to climate change, fight corruption and authoritarianism, reduce poverty, enhance food security and nutrition, improve health and education, prevent conflict, protect human rights, promote equality, and provide lifesaving assistance during crises.” In addition to the inter-departmental ‘JSP 2022-26,’ USAID is also in the midst of updating its internal policy through review of its ‘Policy Framework,’ which lays out its overarching policy strategy. The final ‘Policy Framework’ will be released in fall 2022.  

The United States Development Finance Corporation (DFC; US’ development finance institution launched in January 2020) also maintains its own internal strategy and priorities, including investments in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, as well as in development projects that are complementary to US foreign policy, national security, and women’s economic empowerment. Its first development strategy, the October 2020 ‘Roadmap for Impact’ outlines investment priorities and funding targets through 2025, including energy, financial inclusion, food security, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). For Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, DFC requested a budget of US$1 billion, consisting of US$780 million in program funds and US$220 million for administrative expenses “to meet [their] mobilization goals and tackle the complex problems facing the developing world, including climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and gender inequality.“ 

The US supports global health security through its Global Health Security (GHS) Agenda, an interagency initiative by the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and USAID, which drives progress on preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease threats. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the US has passed six emergency supplemental funding bills. The vast majority of the funding allocated to pandemic response in these bills was for domestic relief, but a total of approximately US$19 billion has been allocated to the global response to date. 

As part of its efforts related to conflict and state collapse, the US passed the Global Fragility Act in December 2019.  It included the creation of a 10-year strategy to “contribute to the stabilization of conflict-affected areas, address global fragility, and strengthen the capacity of the US to be an effective leader of international efforts to prevent extremism and violent conflict.” It also included US$200 million for the Prevention and Stabilization Fund and US$30 million for a Complex Crisis Fund over the next five years. 

Gender equality is increasingly central to US development policy

The US is a strong supporter of gender equality, particularly women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In March 2022, President Biden’s proposed budget for FY2023 outlined US$2.6 billion in foreign assistance programs that promote gender equality and equity, more than double the amount requested in the previous year, making it the largest gender equality-focused budget request to date. The announcement aligns with the Biden Administration’s October 2021 ‘National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality,’ which outlines the administration’s commitment to advancing gender-focused initiatives, domestically and globally, and is the first of its kind for the US. USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s November 2021 ‘New Vision for Global Development’ speech, which made doubling USAID’s gender equality commitments a priority was also noteworthy. The focus of the additional budget request will be “to respond to gender-based violence; support the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls, recognize their intersecting identities; and address the gender norms and inequities impacting women and girls, men and boys, and individuals of other gender identities.” The budget also allocates US$200 million toward the Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund, which works to advance economic security for women and girls globally. 

Gender equality has been a priority of the Administration since Biden took office in January 2021. Shortly thereafter, in March 2021, Biden created the first-ever Gender Policy Council within the White House, which has both domestic and foreign policy roles. The council will use diplomacy, development, trade, and defense to promote the needs and roles of women and girls internationally with a specific focus on conflict prevention, peacebuilding, democracy and governance, global health, and humanitarian assistance. Members of the council will include Cabinet-level officers from many US agencies, including the Secretary of the US Department of State and the USAID Administrator. The council will report to Biden. 

DFC initiatives on gender equality include '2X Women’s Initiative,' which has catalyzed US$13.5 billion to provide women in low-income countries, particularly in countries in Africa, with access to economic opportunities, and aims to catalyze an additional US$12 billion by 2025. This initiative has also instituted the ‘2X Challenge,’ which has worked with peer development finance institutions to set a US$15 billion target for “gender-lens investment.”    

ODA Breakdown

Bilateral programs receive the vast majority of US ODA

The US provides development assistance mainly in the form of bilateral support to partner countries. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US channels US$30.3 billion of its official development assistance (ODA) bilaterally, accounting for 84% of its total ODA in 2020 (including US$7.2 billion in earmarked funding through multilaterals, which is reported to the OECD as bilateral funding). This is far above the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 58%, reflective of the US’ long-standing emphasis on bilateral cooperation. According to government budget documents, bilateral funding is projected to increase in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 and FY2023 in line with overall ODA increases. President Joe Biden has proposed a 17% increase in discretionary non-emergency funding for the FY2023 international affairs budget over the enacted FY2022 amount, which will go toward funding increases for projects and accounts focused on areas from humanitarian assistance to global health to climate change. 

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Bilateral spending focuses on humanitarian assistance and health and is channeled almost entirely as grants

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The largest share of US bilateral ODA went to ‘humanitarian assistance’ (US$8.6 billion, or 28% of bilateral ODA in 2020, a slight increase of 4% from 2019 levels. The second-largest sector was ‘health and populations,’ which received US$7.8 billion in 2020, or 26% of US bilateral ODA that year, a large jump of 18% from 2019 levels, which is reflective of significant investments in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Budget documents suggest global health funding will increase further in FY2023. President Biden’s FY2023 budget request includes a total of US$10.6 billion for State Department and USAID Global Health Programs, a US$746 million (8%) increase over the FY2022 enacted level. Nearly all of this increased funding will go to global health security and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund; see sector: ‘Global health’).  

In line with the US’ policy priorities, other major spending areas in 2020 included government and civil society (US$3.3 billion, or 11% of bilateral ODA), in-country refugee hosting (US$1.5 billion, or 5%), and education (US$1.3 billion, or 4%). Spending for agriculture has seen major cuts in recent years, with funding dropping at an average of 15% annually between 2016 and 2019, and by an additional 5% in 2020.  

US bilateral ODA is provided almost entirely in the form of grants, or 99% of total bilateral ODA. In 2020, the US distributed 32% of its bilateral ODA funding through the public sector (DAC average: 46%), 23% through multilateral organizations (as earmarked funding, which is considered bilateral; DAC average: 22%), and 21% through NGOs and civil society organizations (CSOs; DAC average: 19%). The Biden Administration is prioritizing development partnerships at the local level, which US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power has emphasized throughout her tenure, and focuses on supporting “local institutions in the most effective manner and nurtures sustainability, prioritizes the perspectives and preferences of those [the US government] hopes to serve — recipient governments, civil society organizations, and host country professionals.”  

US ODA focuses on the world’s poorest countries, particularly in ‘sub-Saharan Africa’

The US focuses its ODA on the world’s poorest countries: 28% of bilateral ODA went to low-income countries in 2020 (comparable to the DAC average: 27%), a share that has remained essentially stable for the past five years. Regionally, the US concentrates its bilateral ODA on ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ (SSA; meaning the countries of Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern Africa, as designated by the African Union). Between 2018 - 2020, the US provided an average of US$10.7 billion (35% of bilateral ODA) to the region per year, followed by the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region), with US$3.9 billion or 13% of bilateral ODA during that time, and Asia, with US$3.5 billion or 11% of bilateral ODA during that time. Under the Biden Administration, ‘SSA’ will remain a high priority region. 

In 2020, Jordan was the largest recipient of US bilateral spending. It received US$1.2 billion in ODA, a slight 8% increase over 2019. Afghanistan received the second-largest allocation (US$1 billion, a large 30% decrease compared to 2019, when it was the largest recipient; this number is expected to fluctuate in coming years as the US government negotiates development assistance to Afghanistan under Taliban control), followed by Nigeria (US$933 million; a large jump of 40% due to increased humanitarian need in the country), and Ethiopia (US$796 million; a decrease of 10%).  

Multilateral spending centers around health with strong support for the Global Fund

As a result of its focus on promoting national interests and strengthening bilateral relationships, the US channels a lower share of its total ODA to multilateral organizations than other OECD DAC donors. Core funding to multilateral organizations stood at US$5.7 billion in 2020, up from US$4.2 billion in 2019. Core contributions to multilaterals accounted for 16% of the US’ total ODA (DAC average: 42%).  

In absolute terms, the US became the top provider of core contributions to multilaterals in 2021 (US$9.1 billion), according to OECD preliminary data. This marks a jump from 2020, in which the US was the third-largest provider of core contributions to multilaterals, behind Germany and the UK. Top recipients in 2020 were the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund; US$2.1 billion), the World Bank Group (US$1.6 billion), and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi; US$290 million). 

The US is the single largest donor to the Global Fund. By law, the US cannot contribute more than 33% of total Global Fund financing. Historically, its contributions have hovered very close to this ceiling at around 32%, far beyond the closest runners up. The US pledged US$4.7 billion for the 2020-2022 replenishment period. The next replenishment event is scheduled for September 2022. 

The US was also one of six original donors to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) in its founding year of 2000 and has remained a solid supporter since. The US pledged US$1.2 billion to Gavi for 2020-2023. The US’ total contributions and pledges to Gavi in the 2021-2025 period, as of June 30, 2021, total US$4.4 billion, with US$890 million in direct funding and US$3.5 billion to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Advance Market Commitment (AMC), which ensures access to COVID-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. 

Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on the cash-flow basis measurement system. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

For more granular and up-to-date development finance data on the US, including information on where and in which sectors it is spending both ODA and non-ODA funds, please consult the IATI d-portal. IATI is a reporting standard and platform on which organizations and governments voluntarily publish data on their development cooperation.

Main Actors

White House sets high-level direction; Congress, the State Department, and USAID define priorities; USAID leads on administering assistance

Organizational chart USA ODA

The president, Joe Biden (Democrat), sets overarching policy orientations for US foreign assistance, including for development. The president is assisted by several White House offices. The most important for development issues are the Office of Management and Budget (OMB; for budgetary purposes) and the National Security Council (NSC). In consultation with executive agencies, OMB produces the president’s budget request, which outlines policy and funding priorities. The NSC is the principal forum for the president to consider matters of national security and foreign policy. Approximately 25 government institutions contribute to funding or implementing US foreign assistance and development cooperation.

Key institutions include: 

Government departments

The US Department of State (State Department), headed by the secretary of state (Anthony Blinken), is primarily responsible for foreign policy but is also an important party to development policy-setting. Under direction from the White House, it has sole- or joint-policy authority on issues including peacekeeping, democracy, global health, and food security. The State Department manages or co-manages a wide range of bilateral development programs as well as funding to international organizations. In countries where the US has strong foreign policy and national-security interests, the State Department and its embassies play an active role in informing overall development policy in that country. While different approaches and mechanisms are deployed depending on which governmental agency is implementing, the State Department has Integrated Country Strategies (ICS) that strive to encapsulate the government’s foreign-policy objectives into one high-level strategy.

Several offices oversee the State Department’s development-related activity:

  • The Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Ruth Sherman, is the second-ranking officer at the State Department.

  • The Office of US Foreign Assistance Resources is led by the Director of US Foreign Assistance Resources, with Dr. Tracy Carson as the Acting Director. This office assists the Secretary of State in providing strategic direction to foreign assistance resources and coordinates policy and planning of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

  • The Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy (OGAC) administers the State Department’s HIV/AIDS funding and coordinates the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) across the USG. PEPFAR programs are implemented by other US agencies, including USAID, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). OGAC is currently headed by Dr. Angeli Achrekar (acting).

  • The Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Lisa Peterson (Acting), is responsible for US efforts to address threats to civilian security such as extremism, mass atrocities, and weak governance, as well as refugee, migration, and population issues. 

  • The Under-Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat (Acting Assistant Secretary) leads efforts on policies related to economic growth, energy, environment, science, and technology.

  • The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) leads on the US’ work with refugees, migrants, and victims of conflict. It also engages with multilateral organizations. PRM is currently led by Senior Bureau Official Nancy Izzo Jackson.

  • The US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is another key US State Department stakeholder. 

The US Department of Defense (DOD), currently led by Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, manages development spending-funded military assistance programs, some humanitarian assistance, and programs on disease surveillance and health research and development.  

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), currently led by Secretary Xavier Becerra, implements global health programs, including a portion of PEPFAR. HHS has four independent agencies that are especially active in global health: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, further details below), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA).

The US Department of the Treasury (Treasury), currently led by Secretary Janet Yellen, leads US efforts to promote economic growth and poverty reduction in low-income countries.

Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) develops and implements the US’ UN and other multilateral policy. IO has six diplomatic missions located in Geneva, Montreal, Nairobi, New York, Rome, and Vienna and operates under the guidance of Senior Bureau Official Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), currently led by Secretary Tom Vilsack, provides food assistance and finances the ‘Food for Peace Program’, the US’ largest provider of food assistance (see sectors: ‘Agriculture’ and ‘Nutrition’). 

Government agencies

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is headed by Administrator Samantha Power. The agency is technically independent but operates within the parameters of foreign policy guidance from the president, the secretary of state, and the NSC. The agency leads the implementation of US global development programs, though it often shares responsibility for strategy and implementation with the State Department. USAID is organized around programmatic as well as country programs, managed by offices in partner countries (called USAID missions), which are supported by headquarters in Washington, DC. Based on analysis of each partner country, USAID’s overseas missions develop five-year Regional or Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) in cooperation with Washington headquarters and local stakeholders. At the country level, USAID mission directors exercise discretion on some aspects of strategy and implementation.

USAID is in the final implementation stage of an internal reorganization to create a “more field-oriented and functionally-aligned" agency through eight new thematic bureaus and merged policy and budget functions. It is also working towards partner country self-reliance, helping countries to transition away from development assistance. The reorganization is not complete, and it is unclear whether the remaining changes will happen under the new administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of HHS, is the largest government agency worldwide working in disease control and prevention. It operates both within the US and abroad. The Center for Global Health (CGH) was established in 2007 to drive CDC’s work globally. CGH has four divisions: 1) Division of Global HIV/AIDS; 2) Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria; 3) Division of Global Health Protection; and 4) Division for Global Immunization. CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases (OID), comprising three national centers, also participates in US global health efforts.  

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are a collection of 27 research institutes under HHS that comprise one of the world’s top global health research institutions. NIH conducts basic research on diseases and disorders for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.  

The US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is the recently launched US development institution, combining functions of previous investment and credit authorities with new tools, such as equity authority, and increased resources. Led by CEO Dev Jagadesan (Acting), DFC invests in sectors including climate, energy, healthcare, infrastructure, and technology and provides financing for small businesses and women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. The mandate of the DFC is to be strongly development-focused and it plans to target low and low- to middle-income countries in its investments. 


Other US entities are involved in foreign assistance. They include:

  • Other departments: Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, and Department of the Treasury.
  • Other institutions: Peace Corps, US African Development Foundation, Export Import Bank, US Trade and Development Agency

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an initiative to provide development assistance for economic development to low-income countries and lower-middle-income countries that have committed to political, economic, and social reforms. It is currently lead by Mahmoud Bah (Acting) and the programs are administered through partner-country compacts, each of which establishes a Millennium Challenge Account for implementation. It is legally authorized to enter into five-year commitments known as ‘compacts’ with partner countries.   

The US Congress is a key decision-maker on both funding and policy for foreign assistance. With the ‘power of the purse’, the two chambers – the House and the Senate – have a final say on federal spending, including foreign assistance. In particular, the House and Senate Appropriations committees and their 12 subcommittees decide on funding to specific spending areas and therefore exercise considerable decision-making and oversight authority over both foreign assistance spending and policy. In addition, four other congressional committees play a role (albeit less powerful) in authorizing and overseeing ODA-related programs.

  • The House Appropriations Committee: currently chaired by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (Democrat). The key subcommittee is the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS), which oversees the budget for the State Department and foreign operations.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee: currently chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat).  As in the House, the key subcommittee is called SFOPS.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC): currently chaired by Gregory Meeks (Democrat). An important subcommittee is Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC): currently chaired by Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat). Important subcommittees are Africa and Global Health Policy; Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions; and International, Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy.

Budget Structure

The US federal budget is divided into budget ‘functions’, which include all spending on a particular issue across departments or agencies and can include funding lines from multiple appropriations bills. The US does not have a dedicated official development assistance (ODA) budget, but most development-related spending sits in ‘Function 150,’ referred to as the International Affairs Budget. The International Affairs Budget comprises both ODA-related and non-ODA funding, such as funding for operating embassies, military assistance, and promotion of US exports. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, the enacted funding for International Affairs totaled US$68.3 billion, which included US$58 billion in base funding, as well as US$6.9 billion in emergency funding to Ukraine and US$3.4 billion to support Afghan refugees attached to two continuing resolutions. The baseline enacted for FY2022 was lower than the US$64 billion requested by the Administration, but, when combined with emergency funding, exceeded the request by US$4.3 billion. President Joe Biden’s proposed, discretionary non-emergency International Affairs Budget for FY2023 is US$67.7 billion. This is a 17%, or US$9.7 billion, increase from FY2022 non-emergency enacted funding. 

The vast majority of funding included under International Affairs usually comes from the State-Foreign Operations (SFOPS) appropriations bill (97% in the proposed FY2023 budget), with the remainder sourced primarily from the agricultural appropriations bill for food security and food-assistance funding. The proposed US House of Representatives (House) and Senate FY2023 SFOPS include US$66.6 billion and US$66.5 billion, respectively, in funding, a 15% increase over the US$58 billion enacted in FY2022. The SFOPS bill is divided into ‘titles’, each covering a different budget envelope (see ‘Table 2’). The money in these envelopes is mainly, but not exclusively, managed by the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Relevant titles related to global development include: 

  • Title I: Department of State and Related Agency largely funds the management and running of the State Department. It also contributes to the US’ assessed contributions to 44 international organizations, including the United Nations’ (UN) regular budget and its specialized agencies; 

  • Title II: Administration of Foreign Assistance provides operational funds for USAID; 

  • Title III: Bilateral Economic Assistance covers much of the US’ foreign assistance and development activities, accounting for just under half of the entire SFOPS. The largest share goes to global health (36% in the proposed FY2023 budget). This includes most of US’ support to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, support for maternal and child health, and health systems strengthening, as well as the US’ contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund). Programs funded under Title III are jointly managed by the State Department and USAID. Most funding is channeled through the ‘Development Assistance’ envelope, which is broadly intended to foster economic progress and social stability in partner countries, and the ‘Economic Support Fund (ESF),’ which aims to provide assistance to allies and countries in transition to democracy, support the Middle East peace process, and finance economic stabilization programs; and 

  • Title V: Multilateral Assistance includes money for US voluntary contributions for various multilateral organizations, including to the World Bank and global environmental funds. 

Biden released his full budget on March 28, 2022, proposing an overall increase in US foreign assistance of US$9.7 billion, over the FY2022 non-emergency enacted level, for FY2023. 

Table 2 features select funding lines in the SFOPS bill for FY2022 as enacted and FY2023 as proposed. 

Table 2: SFOPS bill overview, selected budget envelopes

International Affairs Budget Line

FY2022 enacted total*

(US$ millions)

FY2022 requested total

(US$ millions)

STATE DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS

16,859

18,236

Admin. Foreign Affairs

12,427

13,023

International Organizations

3,162

3,985

Other

1,271

1,208

FOREIGN OPERATIONS

39,045

47,359

USAID

1,974

2,113

Bilateral Economic Assistance

25,868

29,597

Global Heath Programs

9,830

10,576

Development Assistance

4,140

4,770

International Disaster Assistance

3,905

4,699

Complex Crisis Fund

60

40

Economic Support Fund

4,099

4,123

Democracy Fund

341

291

Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia

500

984

Migration and Refugee Assistance

2,912

3,912

Other

80

202

Independent Agencies

1,405

1,432

Treasury Department

105

105

International Security Assistance

8,899

9,000

Multilateral Economic Assistance

2,374

4,727

Global Environmental Facility

149

150

World Bank – International Bank for Reconstruction and Development

207

207

International Development Association

1,001

1,430

Climate Technology Fund

125

550

Green Climate Fund

0

1,600

Asian Development Bank

0

0

Asian Development Fund

53

44

African Development Bank

55

55

African Development Fund

211

171

International Fund for Agricultural Development

43

43

International Monetary Fund

102

20

Export and Investment Assistance

324

451

Export-Import Bank of the United States (net)

-75

-202

International Development Finance Corp (net)

319

555

Transitional Development Assistance

80

0

Rescissions, across-the-board cuts, and other

-1,904

-65

AGRICULTURE PROGRAMS

1,977

1,970

Food for Peace

1,740

1,740

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education

237

230

OTHER APPROPRIATIONS

112

109

International Affairs Total

57,994*

63,674

Source: USGLC FY2022 Budget Analysis

* Excludes emergency funding. FY2021 IAB spending was US$62.7 billion total including emergency funding.

** Includes only the FY2022 request for the Treasury Department. Another US$625million would be contributed through the State Department's ESF account.

Budget Process

ODA levels and main funding lines can be influenced at various times during the budget process

The US fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. The budget process begins 12 to 14 months (or more) prior to the start of the fiscal year. Most federal spending consists of ‘mandatory spending’ and ‘discretionary spending’ (see box); foreign assistance falls under discretionary spending. The budget process for discretionary spending can be categorized into three separate phases: 1) development of the president’s budget request, 2) congressional budgeting, and 3) congressional appropriations.   

It is worth noting that this timeline has become increasingly variable in recent years due to political deadlocks, often resulting in continuing resolutions that keep the government funding running while an agreement is reached.

USA budget process

Types of spending in US federal budget

Mandatory spendingrefers to programs such as Social Security and other social programs for which legislation defines criteria for participation and the government allocates funds for all who are eligible regardless of annual costs to the Treasury.

Discretionary spending – refers to the share of the budget that Congress decides annually in an appropriations process. This is further divided into defense and non-defense discretionary spending (including foreign and development assistance).


 

Phase 1: Development of the president’s budget request (May - February)

Government departments and agencies begin developing budgets in May and submit funding requests in September/October: From May to September, departments and agencies develop their budgets and set broad parameters for spending on specific programs. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department, for example, negotiate major funding levels and policy decisions for each budget line and then share the proposal with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). From September to November, OMB negotiates funding levels with the heads of government departments and agencies. Engagement with OMB from August to September is important. At this time, it can receive external input to inform its engagement and negotiation with departments and agencies.  

Under normal circumstances, negotiations can take between two and four weeks before the OMB officially passes back the budget request for agency review. In recent years, this stage has taken months rather than weeks, delaying the release of the budget request.  

OMB works to finalize budget request in late fall and the president submits it in February: In November/December, the OMB finalizes the budget request before the president signs off in late December/early January. Traditionally, the president submits his budget request to Congress the first Monday in February. This date is often delayed, particularly when a new administration takes office.  

Phase 2: Congressional budgeting (February - April)

Congress sets spending limits for main budget areas: Once the president’s budget request is submitted to Congress, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) evaluates the request. The House and Senate then each develop, debate, and (in theory) pass a joint congressional budget resolution before April 15. The resolution sets the overall level of discretionary funding for the next fiscal year. This ceiling or “budget cap” is sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Unlike the president’s budget request, which is a detailed proposal – the budget resolution is a short, high-level document. It is not a bill that is signed into law, but instead provides the binding budget cap that appropriators use in allocating discretionary spending. The president’s budget request is a key opportunity for advocates to engage in discussion on the foreign affairs budget with key stakeholders including with Congress, government agencies and departments, and the White House, through meetings, letters, and media outreach.

Phase 3: Congressional appropriations (April - September)

Congress considers appropriations bills that allocate funding to government functions, including foreign assistance, from April 15 to September: After the final budget resolution is agreed to, or after April 15 (whichever comes first), Congress must draft, debate, and pass 12 different appropriations bills, which correspond to different government functions. This includes the appropriations bill for State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs), which funds most development programs (see ‘Budget structure’). During the spring, each of the relevant committees and subcommittees (see ‘Main actors’) holds several hearings on the president’s budget request to debate, amend, and rewrite or “mark-up” the appropriations bills. Prior to this phase, there are several advocacy opportunities, including meetings on Capitol Hill, letters to Appropriations Committee chairs, events, and participation in hearings. 


State-Foreign Operations Bill

The State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill is legislation that allocates funding foreign assistance. It is either passed as a regular appropriations bill or as an omnibus bill, which combines individual appropriations bills on diverse subjects into one large bill. Because of their size and scope, omnibus bills limit opportunities for debate and scrutiny.


House and Senate negotiate final budget; president signs: Once an appropriations bill has passed the House and Senate, a conference committee is formed with representatives from the Appropriations Committees to negotiate the differences between the House‐ and Senate-passed bills. If the House and Senate cannot find an agreement by the end of September, Congress needs to enact an emergency short-term measure – usually a ‘continuing resolution’ – to provide temporary funding to ensure the government continues to operate while the appropriations bills are finalized. Any spending bills are then sent to the president for approval or for veto; vetoes are rare and require an override from two-thirds of both chambers of Congress.