As part of our “Best of 2009” series, below are of some of the greatest media hits from MFAN and its partners. The past year saw unprecedented momentum for foreign assistance reform, and MFAN’s members offered keen insight into the nuances of the issue, successfully reaching out to a broad audience and strengthening the development voice in policy discussions. Keeping development and reform in the news answers Secretary Clinton’s call to make the case to the American taxpayer and prove that development is a “strategic, economic, and moral imperative” tied to advancing American interests at home and abroad.
- The Advisors Obama Is Missing (ForeignPolicy.com-Ray Offenheiser, January) Despite his public commitments to elevate and strengthen U.S. global development efforts — those that alleviate poverty, fight disease, and create opportunity in developing nations while bolstering our security and prosperity at home — as a critical component of his foreign policy, he has yet to name even one senior official to be put in charge of bringing these critical changes to life.
- The U.S. Can (and Must) Do a Better Job Fighting Poverty, Disease, and Lack of Opportunity in the Developing World (Huffington Post-David Beckmann and Steve Radelet, March 17) We support President Obama’s efforts to elevate development because the prosperity, health, and security of Americans are, now more than ever, inextricably linked to prosperity, health, and security of people in the developing world. We are urging foreign assistance reform because the economic and geopolitical realities of today, and the challenges of the future, demand that we use every dollar as effectively as possible to fight poverty and disease, increase prosperity, strengthen weak states, and further other U.S. strategic interests abroad.
- Reorganization of USAID Is Focus of Senate Bill (CQ, July 29) “There is clear, bipartisan momentum behind efforts to modernize the U.S. foreign assistance system to meet the diverse geopolitical and economic challenges we face,” George Ingram and David Beckmann, co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, an umbrella group seeking a broad reorganization, said in a statement. “While there are many issues to be resolved, we are optimistic about success because both houses of Congress and the Obama Administration are making dynamic progress.”
- Committees Plan to Take Foreign Assistance Back to the Drawing Board (CQ, August 3) “Reducing duplication, mandating reporting and accountability, being able to track resource flows, reducing double counting — those are things that I would anticipate that the appropriators would embrace,” said Todd Shelton, senior director for public policy at InterAction, an umbrella group of aid organizations that contributed to the paper. But rewriting the Foreign Assistance Act is the most important step in an overhaul, said Sheila Herrling, senior policy associate at the Center for Global Development.
- Leadership Vacancy Raises Fears About USAID’s Future (The Washington Post, August 5) “Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said how important development is. Increasingly, it’s a painful contrast between their rhetoric and the reality of having no leadership” at USAID, said Carol Lancaster, interim dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who served as deputy administrator of the aid agency under President Bill Clinton. While development groups and experts have welcomed Obama’s boosting of the assistance budget, many are “very, very disappointed” with the lack of progress in reforming the aid system, said Brian Atwood, who headed USAID in the 1990s.
- Clinton Puts Spotlight On Women’s Issues (The Washington Post, August 18) Ritu Sharma, president of the anti-poverty group Women Thrive Worldwide, said she already sees the results of Clinton’s efforts in the bureaucracy. When Sharma’s staff recently attended a meeting about a new agricultural aid program, she said, one State Department official joked, “We have to integrate women — or we’re going to be fired.” Still, Sharma questioned whether the program would succeed in reaching poor women, especially given the weaknesses in U.S. foreign assistance.
- Reform the right should embrace (The Washington Times-Mark Green, August 20) At a time when our national-security and foreign-policy priorities have become increasingly dependent on effective development, our political leaders must act swiftly and put partisan politics aside in order to enact reforms that will make our foreign-aid programs more efficient, more effective and therefore more capable of supporting and advancing our national interests around the globe.
- Experts Concerned by Leaderless USAID (NPR “All Things Considered”-Ray Offenheiser and J. Brian Atwood, August 27) Mr. OFFENHEISER: The State Department has advanced this quadrennial diplomacy and development review under Secretary Clinton that’s ambitious and potentially visionary, but there isn’t a development voice at the table presently, and that’s what we’re all concerned about. Mr. ATWOOD: It’s a mess. It’s not fair to the taxpayer, but I think more importantly, it’s not fair to the poor of the world that we’re not doing our bit.
- It’s Time for Foreign Aid Reform (Huffington Post-David Beckmann, August 27) The Obama administration has now made ambitious pledges to increase foreign assistance and modernize the system. This is largely because of an unprecedented consensus around the need to make development a pillar of U.S. foreign policy amid the complex and interconnected challenges we face.
- Kerry and Lugar Push Obama on USAID (CQ, September 22) In an effort to expedite the process, the senators encouraged the president to appoint someone who has already been vetted by the Senate for another post or is well-known on Capitol Hill. Neither mentioned any names, but the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a coalition of development advocates, has organized their own unofficial poll on who should lead the agency.
- Ex-Gates Foundation exec named foreign aid chief (AP, November 10) Given that speculation, and the delay in appointing an administrator, David Beckmann, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, said the administration needs to move quickly in defining Shah’s responsibilities. “They’re going to need to give him some clear signals that he has real power,” he said.
- Administration Names Agriculture Official to Run U.S. Aid Agency, Ending Delays (The New York Times, November 11) “This administration has inherited a very weak and fragmented Usaid and aid infrastructure,” said David Beckmann, the president of Bread for the World, a Christian group that advocates for hunger relief. “By getting someone in that position, Mrs. Clinton has taken a step forward.” Mr. Beckmann called for Mr. Obama to restore the agency’s profile by giving Dr. Shah a seat on the National Security Council, and for Mrs. Clinton to give back its independent budget and policy-making authority, which had been subsumed by the State Department.
- Shah meets with Kerry (Politico-Laura Rozen, November 19) “The fact that we have a nominee with huge potential — finally — is a good thing,” O’Brien continued. “But he’s coming late to the conversation. And there’s a real question as to whether he is going to be given the face and authority going forward. The problem isn’t him. The problem is, is development going to be given a real seat at the table.”
- Raj Shah and America’s Development Future (Roll Call-Bill Frist, December 17) Dr. Shah has what is needed to carry on President Bush’s global health legacy and fulfill President Obama’s extraordinary development vision. The Senate should confirm him, and the Obama administration should give him the political support and resources he needs to succeed. Millions of lives will be affected by this choice.
Other notable stories from 2009 include: The Kojo Nnamdi Show with MFAN Principal Sheila Herrling, Center for Global Development, and member Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America; Huffington Post op-ed by MFAN Principal Noam Unger, Brookings Institute; USA Today with quotes by MFAN Principal Carol Lancaster, Montara Center for International Studies, and member Paul O’Brien; All Africa op-ed by Ray Offenheiser, Oxfam America; Huffington Post op-ed by J. Brian Atwood, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; and Huffington Post op-ed by Ritu Sharma, Women Thrive Worldwide.