The Department of State has spent virtually none of almost a $120 million budget to combat Russian propaganda efforts over the last two fiscal years, it’s been found. Sixty million dollars were allocated by the Obama administration at the end of its term to help the State Department’s Global Engagement Center counter anti-democratic propaganda by both Russia and China.
But seven months into the Trump administration, zero dollars of that money had been spent.
Congress ordered the funds transferred from the Department of Defense to the State Department, and the State Department was supposed to coordinate the government’s efforts against foreign countries among agencies like the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent the first seven months of his term attempting to decide how, or whether, to spend any of those funds. State finally made a formal request to transfer the funds, but officials at the Pentagon decided that time had run out on the request. The U.S. fiscal year ends at the end of September.
With an additional $60 million available for transfer in the current fiscal year, 2018, the State Department and the Pentagon have been debating since October how much of those funds would be transferred.
Only last week was it announced that the Defense Department would be transferring $40 million to the GEC to fund the joint initiative.
An Information Access Fund would be created that will support combined efforts from public and private groups to counter misinformation campaigns from foreign nations. Civil society groups, content providers, private companies and academic institutions, among other groups, will be able to compete for grants to fund their counter-propaganda efforts.
The State Department plans to award $5 million in funding, including $1 million in initial seed money to kick-start the initiative.
“This funding is critical to ensuring that we continue an aggressive response to malign influence and disinformation and that we can leverage deeper partnerships with our allies, Silicon Valley, and other partners in this fight,” he wrote in a statement that was emailed to ITN. “It is not merely a defensive posture that we should take, we also need to be on the offensive.”
Questions have arisen as to whether the GEC is properly staffed to handle the anti-propaganda efforts. Of twenty-three analysts working at the department, none speak Russian. The focus of the group up until this point has been international terrorism. As a result, the analysts work mainly in four languages: Arabic, Urdu, French and Somali.
It is unclear whether any of the initiative’s funds will be directed toward an expansion of the group’s human resources. Amid a hiring freeze, hundreds of jobs at the State Department continue to go unfilled.