Foreign Assistance Reform: Building on Initiatives That Work

By Mark Green,

Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)

I recently began posting a series of pieces with the reasons why I believe (a) America needs foreign assistance reform and (b) Conservatives should take up the cause.  Done right, foreign assistance can play a crucial role in our foreign policy. Unfortunately, with the status quo, it isn’t “done right” or, at least, done as well as it could be.

My first two reasons were:

Reason 1: Our current foreign aid system is organizationally incoherent.

Reason 2:  We need to reform the system to make our precious taxpayer dollars go much further.

And now . . .Reason 3: Foreign assistance reform is a great opportunity for Conservatives to reaffirm values and initiatives we care about. Some of America’s most important foreign assistance tools – like our AIDS and malaria initiatives – were first created during the George W. Bush Administration.  While they now have strong bipartisan support, they would never have happened without Conservative leaders like President Bush and the late Congressman Henry Hyde going to bat for them.

press conf after signing mcc

Presidents Bush and Kikwete speak in Dar es Salaam after signing a Millennium Challenge Compact (2008)

Since efforts to reform our development programs are already underway (as evidenced by the Presidential Study Directive on Development and Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review from the Administration and legislation in both the House and Senate), and those efforts will certainly affect Bush-era foreign assistance initiatives, why wouldn’t Conservatives want to engage in the process and try to shape and reinforce the tools we helped create?

One obvious example of such a program is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  The MCC is an innovative, non-traditional approach to foreign assistance.  The only nations qualifying for its funds are those which meet certain internationally recognized standards of good governance and economic freedom. The good governance measures relate to protecting civil liberties and human rights, building a more accountable and non-corrupt political system, and promoting the rule of law.  The economic freedom measures relate to a country’s trade barriers, its bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles to starting a business, and its credit rating. Funds are distributed to recipient nations under the terms of a compact that obligates them to meet performance measures and to continue making progress on the aforementioned measurements.

In other words, the MCC strives to be an incentive-driven approach to foreign assistance that promotes many of the principles which Conservatives believe are fundamental to prosperity and freedom. As Bret Schaefer of the conservative Heritage Foundation has written, “The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) . . . seeks to maximize chances that aid will be used positively by focusing resources on coun­tries with good policies.”


A Tanzanian woman celebrates her award for helping to launch a “public expenditure tracking” project in her village

Not everyone believes in compact-based assistance. There are some who would probably like to move away from the MCC’s emphasis on performance measures and accountability. Conservative policymakers need to push hard for the MCC and the MCC model, and the foreign assistance reform discussion gives them a chance to do just that.

Mark Green is currently Managing Director of the Malaria Policy Center in Washington, DC.

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