Six bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have urged the State Department and the Department of Defense to explain why tens of millions in federal funds designated to counter disinformation and propaganda from foreign governments like Russia have not been spent.
The senators’ letter comes in response to a New York Times report that the State Department has not spent any of the $120 million Congress allocated to the department to combat foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
The Global Engagement Center, which Congress gave the statutory responsibility for countering foreign disinformation in 2016, has not received congressionally-authorized funds and lacks sufficient staff to execute its mission. Despite the recent signing of an interagency agreement between the State Department and Department of Defense that will serve as a blueprint for conducting operations, the Department of Defense has not transferred the $40 million to support the effort promised in the agreement and called for by Congress. At the same time, the hiring freeze has handicapped efforts to fully staff the GEC with the personnel it needs to effectively counter Russian and other sources of disinformation and propaganda.
Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut; Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire; and Todd Young, R-Indiana, requested a timeline and spending plan for congressionally authorized funds.
“[Russia’s] activities form part of an ongoing, long-term effort to undermine American institutions, weaken our alliances and manipulate public perceptions,” the senators wrote. “With less than nine months until the 2018 midterm elections and with Russia continuing its extensive influence operations against U.S. allies and interests around the globe, we urge you to take the necessary steps to counter this urgent threat to our nation’s democratic processes, including by fully expending congressionally authorized funds to combat Russian malign aggression.”