Media Misreports Proposed Changes to American Aid

Jun 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Dawn, Dunya, The News

Recent reports of possible cuts to American aid have been in the headlines this week after a committee in the American Congress proposed some budget changes that affect US aid policy. As these proposed changes directly affect aid to Pakistan, this is a legitimate news story. But if we examine the way media groups are reporting the story, it appears that there may be some problems.

An American political newspaper described the proposed changes as a request for greater transparency and accountability in how the Congress is spending American tax payer’s money.

Legislative language withholds three-quarters of the funds until the Defense and State Department come up with a report to Congress on how the money is being used and what metrics are being used to measure progress by Pakistan in rooting out terrorist and Taliban elements inside its borders.

These may be simply accounting details intended to prevent corruption, but this is not how the proposed changes to American aid are being characterised by the media.

On Friday, Dawn misreported proposed changes to American aid in an article titled, ‘Obama to address Pakistan’s concerns’. The Dawn article includes the following claim:

Earlier this week, lawmakers proposed linking 75 per cent of US assistance to Pakistan to its performance in the war against terror.

Dawn is not the only media group to sensationalise the story by characterising it as a punishment or another example of the ‘do more’ mantra. On Thursday, Dunya reported that ‘US Congress seeks to axe Pakistan’s aid by 75%’.

The US Congress Appropriations committee recommended a 75 percent reduction in the US aid to Pakistan.

This claim is incorrect. The American Congressmen did not simply recommend reduction in US aid to Pakistan, but asked only for greater accountability and transparency in how the money is spent. If the money is not being spent properly, then it would not be granted. Looked at this way, the proposal is an anti-corruption measure in the US Congress.

To its credit, The News (Jang Group) reported the story more accurately:

The panel approved the $649 billion in defense spending bill on a voice vote and forwarded it to the full House for consideration, expected later this month. The Senate is still working on its version of the bill. The two houses must pass the same bill before sending it to Obama for his signature.

However it should be noted that The News report was actually taken directly from a report by Reuters without giving attribution. Additionally it should also be noted that The News changed the headline from the original Reuters piece:

‘House panel backs $649 billion in defense spending’

To a different headline that gives a story about the American political process and accountability a different meaning:

House panel puts bar on US aid to Pakistan

The report published by The News may be the most accurate of the stories quoted here, but it should be asked why did Jang Group choose to change the original headline?

Many media groups are reporting that American aid is being ‘barred’ or ‘cut’ when careful examination of the facts reveals that the American Congress appears to be including additional accountability and transparency measures that affect the US White House, not Pakistan. This is an important difference that should be clarified for the people. Unfortunately, the reporting appearing in the media is not clarifying the issue, it is confusing it.

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  1. Thank you for noting this. The situation is slightly more complicated, however.

    In the U.S. Congressional system there are at least four separate legislative items that can affect U.S. military assistance to Pakistan for the upcoming financial year: a House Authorization bill, Senate Authorization bill, House Appropriations bill, and Senate Appropriations bill. The Authorization bills set the terms under which programs can spend money; the Appropriations bills actually direct the U.S. Treasury to make the money available. So an Authorization bill may allow for up to $500 million in spending on a particular program (for example); but the Appropriations committee may only allocate $400 million, and may add additional requirements before it is released (like the reporting requirement added by the House Appropriations committee here; the Authorization bill can have these requirements as well).

    The full House passed its Defense Authorization bill May 26, which already included the reporting requirements on Pakistani mentioned in these news reports. The Appropriations bill, as noted here, also has them, although it has yet to receive debate before the full body, where it may be subject to further amendment. You can read the Authorization bill here (pdf), and the committee’s Appropriations bill here (pdf).

    The specific reporting requirement provisions for aid to Pakistan are found in pages 750-752 (Section 1214: Extension and Modification of Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund) of the Authorization bill linked above and pages 153-154 (Section 9009) of the Appropriations bill.

    The important thing not noted in any of these In both cases, these restrictions are being placed on a specific program, the “Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund” — not all U.S. assistance to Pakistan, military or nonmilitary. That total assistance was about $4.46 billion in 2010, and military assistance alone was about $2.74 billion (not $1.1 billion as some of these reports suggest — that’s the amount being requested for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund). According to figures from the Congressional Research Service (see page 22-23 of this pdf) about $800M was appropriated for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund in the 2010 fiscal year, out of $2.735 billion — it represents about a quarter of appropriated military aid (disbursement figures for that year are unfortunately not yet available).

    No Senate Defense Appropriations bill has yet been voted on in committee. The Senate has only passed its Authorization bill through the Armed Services committee and has not voted on the issue in the Senate, where further changes are possible. A full text of the Senate Authorization bill passed by committee is not yet available but the highlights summary (pdf again) released last week makes no mention of PCF restrictions, and restrictions were not in the draft legislation (pdf again) that was amended before passage by the committee this past week.

    After the House and Senate have each passed their respective versions of the Authorization and Appropriations bills, they will go to a conference committee that must develop a bill that incorporates the provisions from both sides and can pass both bodies; so if Senate bills pass with no restrictions and House pass with them, the negotiators will have to work out an agreement on whether or not to include the language and the compromise text will again have to pass both houses. When passed, this is the final law that goes to the president for signature and enactment.

    I understand that the Congressional appropriations process can be a complicated one, but I hope that the Pakistani press will take advantage of the information available to them in these and other publicly available resources to report accurately and fairly on American assistance to Pakistan in the future.

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