US ambassador to Germany ruffles State Department with budget stand

US ambassador to Germany ruffles State Department with budget stand
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U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is shaking up the State Department by not asking for an advanced funding increase for the American embassy in Berlin, defying one of Washington's customary budget practices.

Grenell’s stance against requesting a funding increase for future diplomatic operations in Germany isn’t sitting well with some State Department colleagues, but it’s winning applause from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.), a fiscal hawk who's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Speaking to a small group of reporters by phone Thursday, Grenell said he surprised colleagues at State by asking for a zero percent increase in funding in his mission resource request for 2021.

“I have to give credit by saying President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo expect us to be frugal and efficient with American taxpayer dollars. And when I was asked to think about future growth, I felt strongly this was an opportunity to take a stand and to implement exactly what the president and secretary of State said we should be doing,” Grenell told reporters.

The unusual display is getting support from Paul, one of the most outspoken budget hawks on Capitol Hill.

“So often people are fiscally conservative when it comes to somebody else’s budget, but I think it’s extraordinary when we get people who say, ‘You know what? We’re doing just fine with this budget and we can hold the line for another year.' I want to compliment our ambassador Rick Grenell for that,” Paul said on Thursday.

“If we had more people throughout government coming to the conclusion of not asking for more money next year, saying we can make do with what we have, I think we would have a lot less of a debt problem,” Paul added.

Grenell noted that last year the U.S. Embassy in Berlin came in 5.8 percent under budget, reducing costs by $7.7 million in federal funding. But the money isn't returned to the U.S. Treasury; instead, it's sent back to the State Department’s European bureau, where it can be redeployed for other operations.

The embassy's budget for 2018 was approximately $132 million.
 
The State Department and the European bureau take all the mission resource requests from each diplomatic post and use them to calculate the final budget request to Congress.

Grenell said he wants to send a message to other diplomatic posts that “we can deal with zero growth.”

Paul added that the embassy in Germany “could be a model for all the embassies around the world.”

“Everybody’s always saying, ‘Oh, we don’t have enough money for this or that. But like everything else in government, everybody wants more, more, more ever year,” he said.

Grenell’s unorthodox move is ruffling some feathers at the State Department, where annual funding increases are often taken for granted.

A senior embassy official in charge of the budget described “surprise from the bureau level in Washington” when Grenell asked for no increase.

“I like to hope at least this philosophy of ours has sparked a conversation about how we do these resource requests and how we build our overall request at the department,” the official said.

Grenell is one of Trump’s most outspoken and controversial diplomats. 

He made headlines this month by warning German companies they could be banned from the United States if they continue to do business with Iran.

“You can do as much business as you want in Iran, but we have a say with regards to your visa,” Grenell told Bild newspaper. “Because if you do something, we’re not going to agree to let you enter our country.”

He came under fire from German political leaders earlier this year after he criticized Germany for not spending more of its gross domestic product on defense as part of its NATO commitment.

Wolfgang Kubicki, a vice president of the Bundestag, warned, “Any U.S. diplomat who acts like a high commissioner of an occupying power must learn that our tolerance also knows its limits.”