I wrote here recently about one way in which President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts could affect American strategic interests—namely by slashing foreign aid and direct funding to organizations like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Concerns have also been raised about the consequences of a Trump budget for any number of nonprofits that receive funding from or partner with the federal government. Even as the White House inevitably compromises on some of its budget goals in order to make it through the legislative process, there’s reason to believe that many of the proposed cuts will survive, with the attendant reverberations felt across the nonprofit sector.
In particular, the budget proposes a 29% cut to State Department funding (the second largest cut to a single agency behind the Environmental Protection Agency). Such a reduction could hobble groups like the East-West Center, which is explicitly targeted by the Trump budget. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, the education and research organization was founded by Congress in 1960 to “promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific.” They do this with a host of special programs, including fellowships, studentships, and exchanges with Asian journalists, academics, and government leaders. About half of the group’s annual funding comes from the federal government—in recent years this has amounted to about $16 million. During his presidency, Barack Obama reduced government funding to the EWC, sometimes significantly, but Trump’s proposed total cuts are being taken as a “warning shot across the bow” by the group’s leader Richard Vuylsteke.
At a time when the Asia-Pacific region becomes more and more pivotal to American strategic interests abroad, private-public research and educational institutions like the EWC serve as a sort of bulwark of American soft power. And with a proposed increase to defense spending of $54 billion, Trump clearly grasps the importance of investing in America’s geo-strategic dominance. The mistake of this budget, however, is to see groups like the East-West Center as somehow distracting from that strategy rather than contributing to it. Hopefully Congress is able to impress upon the administration the importance of maintaining an “all-of-the-above” approach to defense spending, which can’t help but involve support for research nonprofits.