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Trump Administration's 2020 Budget Request Calls For Closure Of Three RFE/RL Language Services


RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague (file photo)

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has submitted a 2020 budget request that proposes to cut spending on international broadcasting by 22 percent and envisions the elimination of three RFE/RL language services.

A summary of the proposed budget was placed on the website of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees broadcasting by RFE/RL, VOA, Radio Free Asia, and other entities, on March 18.

According to the budget request, RFE/RL's budget would be cut from $124 million in 2019 to $87 million in 2020. That drop envisages sweeping cost-cutting measures, including the proposed closure of RFE/RL's Georgian, Tatar-Bashkir, and North Caucasus language services during the fiscal year.

RFE/RL would also cut its Balkan Service by "discontinuing operations in Montenegrin and Macedonian."

"Last year, RFE/RL reached a weekly audience of 34 million people across Internet, television, and radio -- a 30 percent increase from the previous year. This is testament to the growing need for objective journalism in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and all of RFE/RL's target countries," RFE/RL acting President Daisy Sindelar said.

RFE/RL currently broadcasts to 22 countries in 26 languages. Its mission is to provide objective and professional news and information to countries with restricted media.

VOA, Radio Free Asia, and other USAGM entities also saw substantial cuts in the 2020 budget proposal.

Overall, the Trump budget request is the largest federal budget in U.S. history and calls for $4.7 trillion in spending, including a $33 billion increase in defense spending and $8.6 billion for the construction of physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexican border. It also envisages $1.9 trillion in cuts and "cost savings" from social programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

'First Step In Long Process'

The proposal will now be sent to the U.S. Congress, which holds final decision-making power on the budget and often introduces substantial changes to executive-branch proposals. In 2019 Congress approved a $124 million budget for RFE/RL after a presidential budget proposal of $91 million.

"The FY2020 budget proposal is the first step in a long process," Sindelar said. “As much as critics in some countries might like to see us leave, we look forward to continuing our vital work -- supported by our U.S. stakeholders, as we have been all along."

When the Trump administration presented its proposal to Congress on March 11, many representatives from the opposition Democratic Party flatly rejected it.

"The cruel and shortsighted cuts in President Trump's budget request are a road map to a sicker, weaker America," House speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) said.

Even some members of Trump's Republican Party were cautious.

Senator Mike Enzi (Republican-Wyoming), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said the Trump request was "the first step in the federal budget process."

With reporting by The Washington Post and The New York Times
NOTE: This article has been amended to clarify that the increase in U.S. defense spending is $33 billion
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