Brookings, CSIS Issue New Report on Foreign Assistance Reform

Noam UngerBrookingsCSIS logoMargaret Taylor

In a new report – “Capacity for Change: Reforming U.S. Assistance Efforts in Poor and Fragile Countries” – by co-authors Noam Unger (Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution and MFAN Principal), Margaret Taylor (Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project), and Frederick Barton (former co-director of the CSIS Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project), policymakers are presented with key recommendations to inform a coherent and effective national approach to both stabilization and broader development.

As the Obama administration moves through two strategic reviews – the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy and the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review – the report concludes that “there is a stunningly broad consensus that improvement is needed across the board” on how the U.S. government provides foreign aid.  The report also predicts that “new presidential decisions and policies are expected” from the administration this spring on key questions around foreign assistance and the elevation of development as a strong pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

The authors go on to argue that “it is a critical national security priority to develop effective strategies and strengthen the civilian capacity of the U.S. government to better assist poor and fragile countries.”  This includes high-priority conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen, as well as nations ranging from Haiti to Sudan, and Chad to Vietnam.

The report is also critical of the return on investment of donor efforts, including the U.S., in poor and fragile countries.  In particular, it highlights the lack of a National Strategy for Global Development and how “this nonstrategic approach has resulted in a lack of capabilities to effectively direct and implement assistance.”

First, on developing an effective strategy, the report recommends that the U.S. government:

Second, on interagency balance and structural changes, it recommends that the U.S. government:

  • Adopt a unified security budgeting process and increase funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID);
  • Elevate and empower USAID, beginning with the amendment of PPD-1;
  • Divide up and reassign the functions of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, with interagency coordination responsibilities housed at the National Security Council; and
  • Craft a civilian-military road map for transferring assistance authorities and responsibilities to civilian agency control.

Finally, on institutional changes, it recommends that the U.S. government:

  • Build up the cadre of technical experts in partnerships and the design, management, monitoring, and evaluation of projects and programs;
  • Develop robust policy planning capacities at both the State Department and USAID;
  • Prioritize training on assistance issues and preparation to perform assistance functions; and
  • Transform the executive branch’s congressional relations and public communication on assistance issues.

To read the full report, click here.

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