Modern Legislation: Moving From Policy to Practice

Development Reform: A New Chance for Congress to Lead

Below is the first piece in our Modern Legislation blog series from Former Congressman and Ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green. The series explores just one pillar of MFAN’s updated reform agenda, From Policy to Practice. Stay tuned for more!


Over the last ten years, few areas of public policy have undergone more dynamic change than America’s role in international development.

We’ve seen the launch of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment any nation has ever made to combat a single disease internationally. We’ve seen the birth of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an entirely new approach to assistance that partners the U.S. with impoverished nations that demonstrate their commitment to principles of good governance, economic freedom, and investing in people. And we’ve seen the emergence of the President’s Malaria Initiative, an interagency initiative producing historic results by emphasizing proven interventions and measurable, country-driven strategies.

Every bit as dramatic has been the strong, bipartisan role Congress has played in shaping and enacting these programs. While it was a Republican president who launched them, they were refined and enhanced through hands-on leadership from both houses and both parties.

The continuation of this remarkable success story is challenged by two recent developments. The first is economic—the dramatic downturn in the global economy. Money is obviously tight in Washington, around the country, and across the globe.  It’s only natural that voices would emerge to question whether America can still afford to help the world’s poorest. The second is institutional—the loss of so many of the leaders who originally reached across the aisle to craft these innovative measures. Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos, whose working relationship as Chairman and Ranking member of the International Relations Committee was essential to producing these programs, have passed away. We’ve also seen the retirement or defeat of other strong leaders like Bill Frist, Tom Daschle and Denny Hastert.

However, these trends also create an opportunity for today’s policymakers to write their own exciting new chapter. The economic downturn creates a renewed mandate for careful scrutiny of our current programs and practices. The influx of new lawmakers, many of whom have remarkable records of accomplishment and success in the private sector, bring new leadership potential to Capitol Hill. Taken together, these trends give Congress everything it needs to take on a long-overdue mission: reforming our foreign assistance framework.

Like never before, policymakers should seek out innovations that will make our foreign assistance tools more effective and more efficient. They have a clear mandate to demand greater monitoring and evaluation, more streamlining and integration of existing programs and authorities, and an opening up of opportunities for private sector-driven solutions. Taxpayers want their policymakers to not only bolster development outcomes in the field, but also increase economic and diplomatic “return on investment.”

The Administration has started the ball rolling on reform.  President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development elevates the role that development programs play in our international relations. Secretary Clinton’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review makes a number of administrative moves to try to better coordinate development policy. Finally, Administrator Shah has laid out plans to make stronger monitoring and evaluation a cornerstone of his leadership at USAID.

But now, it’s Capitol Hill’s turn. Just as it did when PEPFAR and MCC were introduced by President Bush, members of Congress need to continue the reform process begun by the Administration.  More than that, they need to enhance it by pursuing their own solutions as well.  They should look at every possible idea for making our development tools as effective and innovative as possible.

The loss of Congressional leaders is certainly lamentable, but it also gives rise to new leaders and new leadership opportunities. The relative lack of experience in development among newer policymakers is compensated by the wealth of experience that many of them have from beyond the Beltway . . .from the private sector and from other walks of life.  This is the chance for those fresh eyes and fresh voices to make a difference and to take America’s leadership in international development to new levels.

There are a number of encouraging signs in this regard. Last month, Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA) came together to launch a new Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance.  In their first caucus briefing, they listened carefully to Dr. Shah speak of his plans for more outcome-based administration of USAID programs. They responded by discussing ways in which Congress might review and build upon his ideas.  They also talked about doing whatever they could to help the public—average citizens, business leaders, Members of Congress and others—understand the critical importance of development to America’s leadership and national interests. Most importantly, they reaffirmed that while the Executive Branch is naturally charged with implementing policy in areas like international development, Congress must play an active role to ensure that reforms are not only effective, but fiscally and politically sustainable.

While it rarely makes headlines, Congress has often played a key role in crafting the best innovations in development policy. While our budget constraints and institutional turnover create challenges for any sector, foreign assistance reform is one area where Capitol Hill can, and must, step forward to help America continue its leadership.


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