Monday, September 12, 2011

Ideas On Reforming US Foreign Assistance

As the United States labors under the longest economic crisis of recent times, foreign aid has once again come under fire. The American people and their representatives in Congress have questioned whether generous aid programs are paying off, citing cases like Pakistan, a recipient of billions in US taxpayer funds and the home of the late Osama bin Laden, as a prime example. 

But there are also humanitarian demands on the US checkbook, such as the current drought in the Horn of Africa. Under tight budget constraints, it is vital that foreign aid achieves its goals. But is the half-century-old Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 doing the job?

Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) is proposing draft legislation which works to streamline, direct, and accurately measure the success of US foreign assistance. His remarks recently at AEI are presented in video below.

Some commentary from the US Global Leadership Coalition is excerpted below. The full article is here.

For years, the holy grail of foreign assistance reform has been a re-write of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, widely seen to be outdated and cumbersome. After 2008, then-Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman (D-CA) began to work on such a reform bill. Control of the House of Representatives switched in 2010 before it was completed, but now-Ranking Member Berman released a draft recently intended to contribute to the future debate on reform. While he and his staff know their draft is unlikely to become law, the draft makes a significant step forward in thinking on what such a reform could and should entail.

“Aid is not a gift,” Congressman Berman said in his introduction of the Global Partnerships Act of 2011 recently at an event co-hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. “The United States provides foreign assistance because it serves OUR interests. Helping countries become more democratic, more stable, more capable of defending themselves and better at pulling themselves out of poverty is just as important for us as it is for them.”

In today’s climate where most of the foreign assistance conversation is about cutting budgets, the Berman draft bill focuses on the structure and rationale of foreign assistance, driven by fifty years of experience in what makes programs more efficient, more impactful, and more lasting...

This draft, while still a far ways from binding legislation, marks an important first step towards making U.S. assistance as efficient as possible. But it is important to keep in mind, as Congressman Berman pointed out, that we do not have the luxury of slowing down our commitment to our current programs, which have already seen improvements through the USAID Forward initiative and the QDDR. In an ideal world we could “hit pause,” evaluate all the necessary reforms, and then resume our investments in development and diplomacy.

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