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                                                                                                     July 29, 2020

COVID-19 and Foreign Assistance: Congressional Oversight

Framework and Current Activities


In March 2020, Congress enacted two supplemental
appropriations measures that included a combined $1.59
billion for foreign assistance programs to prevent, prepare
for, and respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-
19; P.L. 116-123, P.L. 116-136). Congress established
mechanisms to oversee the implementation of these funds,
but concerns some have raised about oversight have
intensified amid media reporting on the implementation of
COVID-19 assistance by the State Department (State) and
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Some reports suggest that planning and spending practices
have left agencies unable to effectively address global
COVID-19-related needs. Other stakeholders have
expressed frustration with the agencies' public reporting,
citing a lack of transparency.


The first supplemental measure, P.L. 116-123, directed that
funds were to be subject to notification procedures as
required by regular appropriations (401). Section 406 of
that act sets additional reporting requirements for the
Secretary of State and USAID Administrator (Table 1).

Table I. Reporting Requirements, P.L. 116-123
         Requirement                 Timeframe
 Joint Strategy to prevent,   Within I5 days of
 prepare for, and respond to   enactment
 coronavirus abroad
 Plan for spending funds to    Within 30 days of
 support the joint strategy    enactment
 Updated spending report       Every 60 days until Sept.
 detailing changes, including new  30, 2020; every 180 days
 obligations and expenditures  after until all funds are
                               expended
Source: P.L. 116-123, Section 406.
Notes: All reports are to be submitted to the House and Senate
Appropriations Committees.

The second supplemental appropriations bill that included
foreign assistance funds, P.L. 116-136, directed that funds
appropriated in that act be subject to the same reporting
requirements outlined in P.L. 116-123 (21003).
This notification and reporting structure is similar to prior
supplemental funding for global health emergencies. For
example, supplemental foreign assistance funds to address
the West Africa Ebola outbreak in FY2015 and the Zika
virus in FY2017 (through P.L. 113-235, Division J, Section
9003, and P.L. 114-223, Division B, Section 203,
respectively) included similar requirements for spending
plans and updates. Neither the Ebola nor Zika supplemental
foreign assistance funding required that the Secretary of


State and USAID Administrator submit a strategy for the
response before funds could be obligated.


On March 24, State issued the Joint Strategy for
Supplemental Funding, which organizes response efforts
under four pillars:

1. Protect American citizens overseas, ensure the
    continuation of U.S. government operations overseas,
    and communicate effectively about COVID-19.
2. Strengthen global health institutions to address the
    spread of COVID-19 and its possible future
    reemergence.
3. Prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 in
    existing and potential new humanitarian settings.
4. Prepare for, mitigate, and address economic, security,
    stabilization, and governance challenges that may
    emerge as a result of COVID-19.
Each pillar largely aligns with a funding account included
in the supplemental appropriations acts. USAID and State
are supporting Pillar One largely through their operational
accounts (not presented in this product). Pillar Two aligns
largely with Global Health Programs (GHP) account
activities; Pillar Three with Migration and Refugee
Assistance (MRA) and International Disaster Assistance
(IDA) account activities; and Pillar Four with Economic
Support Fund (ESF) activities.


Assistance has been committed to over 120 countries,
largely in line with broader foreign assistance spending.
(Congress did not allocate supplemental funds to specific
countries; Figure 1.) Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest
recipient region. Two nontraditional recipients include $50
million in ESF to Italy and over 200 ventilators to Russia.

Figure I. Committed COVID- 19 Assistance by Region

                   == ........... =....... =.  ...........


Source: State Foreign Assistance Bureau.
Notes: East Asia/Pacific includes Afghanistan.


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