U.S. Ambassadors Urge Congress to Fund Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs

More than 160 Former U.S. Ambassadors Oppose Cutting Funding for State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Washington, DC (July 18, 2017) – One hundred and sixty-three former U.S. ambassadors today sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging them to support full funding in fiscal year 2018 for the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

ECA funds and oversees a wide range of critical international exchange programs which enable people-to-people diplomacy and promote U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. Funding for ECA is contained in the State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill.

The letter comes as the full House Committee on Appropriations is scheduled to mark-up SFOPS on Wednesday.

“We are former United States Ambassadors to countries across the globe. While we may differ in political ideology, we write today united with one voice to ask that the Senate and House Appropriations Committees support full funding in fiscal year 2018 for the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The unprecedented 55 percent cut called for in the Administration’s full budget would jeopardize our nation’s public diplomacy efforts,” wrote the ambassadors.

“In the countries where we have served, we have seen exchange programs help draw emerging political leaders closer to the United States, provide international scholars with critical information and contacts they need in America, and strengthen the appreciation of our country by exposing hundreds of thousands of people to our culture. These are the soft-power results that complemented our direct diplomacy efforts in countries that are critical to our national security,” they continued.

A copy of the full letter and a list of signers is available here.

“This is an historic show of support for international exchanges by the diplomatic community,” said Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, which organized the letter. “It is significant both for the number of signatures and the broad bipartisan support for educational and cultural exchanges it displays. We thank this distinguished group of high-ranking U.S. diplomats for going on the record and expressing their resistance to State Department exchange program funding cuts.”

“We are grateful that Congress has consistently demonstrated a strong, bipartisan commitment to exchange programs. But the Administration continues to push for dramatic cuts and a reorganization of exchange programs that would significantly narrow their reach. This would be a grave mistake,” added Zherka.

In April, Congress passed (and the President signed into law) a $1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September 30, included an increase of seven percent for educational and cultural exchange programs – just short of the high-water mark of $635 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010.

The House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs last week approved $590.9 million for FY 2018 for Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs. This marks a cut of approximately seven percent compared to the current FY 2017 Omnibus bill funding level of $634 million, and would bring exchange program funding back to the FY 2016 Omnibus funding level.  

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The Alliance for International Exchange is an association dedicated to promoting the growth and impact of exchange programs. Since 1993, it serves as the collective public policy voice for now over 90 nongovernmental organizations comprising the international educational and cultural exchange community in the United States. The Alliance expands awareness of the impact of people-to-people connections.