Congressional news

“Public diplomacy is a matter of grave importance to me,” stated Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she continued her tour of Capitol Hill yesterday to gain support for the President’s budget request for the State Department. The budget request includes $328 million for public diplomacy activities, up from $320 in FY 2005, and $430 million for exchanges funding, an increase of $74 million.

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The Alliance’s fifth annual Advocacy Day was held on February 17, 2005, in conjunction with the Association for International Education Administrators (AIEA), an Alliance member representing the chief international officers on campuses throughout the United States. This was the second year of the successful collaboration between the Alliance and AIEA. The event drew 136 participants to Washington, D.C., the highest number of participants to date. Eighty-two Alliance members and 54 AIEA members attended Advocacy Day. They visited more than 130 House and Senate offices on Capitol Hill, representing 28 states. While most members met with a staff representative in the congressional office, a number of members met directly with their Representative and/or Senator.

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Seeking to reverse the decline in the number of international students studying at American colleges, universities, and high schools, Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the American Competitiveness Through International Openness Now Act of 2005, also known as the ACTION Act of 2005, on February 17. The legislation calls for improvements in visa processing, including allowing U.S. embassies more discretion in waiving visa interviews, amending a 50-year old provision which requires consular officers to presume prospective foreign students are intending immigrants, reducing SEVIS fees for short-term visitors, and providing latitude to consular officers to issue visitor rather than student visas to some short-term English language students. The bill also sets standards for timeliness in security reviews of pending applications.

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The Alliance State Department Task Force convened at the Academy of Educational Development (AED) on February 23, 2005.

After a round of introductions, task force chair Sandra Lauffer (AED) asked Alliance assistant director Sherri Powar to review the President’s FY06 budget request for exchanges. Sherri reported that the total request of $430.4 million is approximately a $75 million increase over current year funding. She added that while little detail is available concerning requests for specific programs, the Bush budget does specify $241 million for academic exchanges, $140 million for professional/cultural exchanges, and $180 million for programming with Islamic countries. Members noted the recent statements by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in support of increased exchanges.

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As part of a substantial increase in the budget proposed by President Bush for fiscal year 2006, the Bush Administration is seeking a 19.4 per cent increase for State Department exchanges, according to Congressional testimony this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday and the House International Relations Committee on Thursday in support of the Administration’s budget request.

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As part of a substantial increase in the budget proposed by President Bush for fiscal year 2006, the Bush Administration is seeking a 19.4 per cent increase for State Department exchanges, according to Congressional testimony this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday and the House International Relations Committee on Thursday in support of the Administration’s budget request.

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In a written statement prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) applauded the Administration’s 2006 budget for increasing education and cultural exchanges by $74 million. He stressed that “to defeat terrorism, we need more cultural exchange with the Middle East. As more Arabs study and visit the United States, they will understand our character and desire to be a force for freedom – not tyranny – in their part of the world. As more Americans visit the Arab world, we will come to understand their culture, and respect their religious choices.”

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President Bush’s FY 2006 budget released this morning, requests $430.4 million for the educational and cultural exchange programs at the Department of State, an increase of $74.46 million over the $355.9 million level enacted in FY 2005. While Congress appropriated $360.75 million for FY 2005, an across the board recession applied to programs in the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations legislation resulted in a funding level of $355.9 million for exchanges. The amount requested by President Bush for FY 2006 is $85 million above last year’s budget request of $345.346 million. The President’s overall budget for FY 2006 cuts discretionary spending other than defense and homeland security by nearly one per cent, eliminating or severely cutting back on as many as 150 domestic programs.

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Following two days of debate, the U.S. Senate today confirmed the nomination of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State. The Senate voted 85-13 to approve the nomination.

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In prepared testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee this morning, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice pledged to increase exchanges and to make public diplomacy a ‘top priority’ for herself and for the Department of State. She also stated that the United States ‘must remain open to visitors and workers and students from around the world’.

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