US foreign arms sales slow as shutdown drags on

An ongoing record partial government shutdown is starting to stifle U.S. foreign arms sales – a key focus of the Trump administration.

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Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security at the State Department, acknowledged this week that without a regular correspondence on Capitol Hill, the foreign military sales process is losing ground.

“The last couple of weeks have set us back,” Thompson said, according to Defense News. “We’ll be able to make up some ground, but I am a realist. We have to work harder if we are going to have the numbers we had last year.”

The sales process is complex but requires the State Department to sign off on deals before they are passed on to lawmakers. Employees were furloughed for weeks before being called back to the office last week.

Some export licenses have also been held up, delaying shipments to foreign governments, Defense News reported, while meetings have also been canceled. However, Thompson said she is optimistic the department will be able to handle the backlog once government operations return to full capacity, according to the publication.

Boosting foreign arms sales has been a focus for the Trump administration, which is looking to revive the domestic manufacturing sector. The White House even announced a new arms sales policy in April aimed at streamlining the process and encouraging allies to buy American weapons.

In fiscal 2018, foreign military sales rose 33 percent to $55.6 billion, up from $42 billion in the year prior.

In addition to the State Department, many other departments are either closed or understaffed as budget fighting continues.

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Two separate bills to reopen the government failed in Congress on Thursday. The shutdown has entered its fifth week and is now the longest on record.

Federal workers missed their second paycheck on Friday. An estimated 800,000 federal employees are affected by the shutdown.