The ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants to know why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is sitting on millions of dollars in taxpayer money rather than shifting it to the Broadcasting Board of Governors for anti-censorship work in China and other repressive regimes.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) wrote to Clinton on Friday after learning the BBG has yet to receive funding from the State Department. The BBG, which oversees government-sponsored international broadcasting, would like to use the money to ensure its content is accessible. The so-called Great Firewall of China, for example, is a hurdle for Voice of America’s digital efforts.
Lugar expressed disappointment that Clinton has failed to follow the advice of Congress. Democrats and Republicans have asked the State Department to give a portion to the BBG.
“Should Congress take more remedial, legislative action?” Lugar asked in the letter.
The State Department indicated last week it has $28 million remaining for Internet freedom work. Despite its pleas to Congress, the BBG is unlikely to receive any of it. That’s because Congress didn’t give State specific instructions how to spend the money in last year’s budget.
Instead, Lugar and other members of Congress have strongly encouraged Clinton to give a share of the funding to the BBG, given its work in this area.
“No doubt, the [State] Department and USAID have significant functions to play in providing training related to this issue,” Lugar wrote to Clinton. “However, when it comes to technology, given their daily struggles with China, Iran, Belarus, Syria, Venezuela and other closed societies, the BBG is our government’s leading expert on getting through electronic firewalls.”
Lugar would know. He authored a report in January on the BBG’s advances in Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology, urging the State Department to shift at least $8 million to the BBG.
Other members of Congress have suggested the BBG should receive even more money. The House-passed continuing resolution, H.R. 1, transferred $10 million to the BBG. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wanted to shift $15 million. It’s unknown how much money will be included in the compromise deal reached by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama late Friday. That money, however, would apply to the fiscal 2011 budget.
More than 18 months have passed since the fiscal 2010 budget was adopted by Congress. Lawmakers included $30 million for the State Department to pursue Internet freedom measures. There is still about $28 million remaining in the bank account, and it could be several more weeks before the money is spent.
Complicating matters for Clinton are recent reports that the State Department and USAID have given nearly $5 million to the BBC World Service Trust, the BBC’s international charity. The Broadcasting Board of Governors does similar work, raising even more questions about State’s funding decisions.