Last week, Foreign Policy staff writer Josh Rogin came out with a list of eight foreign policy “fights” Congress will face when it returns from its August recess. Ranked among free trade and the war in Libya is foreign aid reform.
Everyone agrees that the foreign aid system is broken. Over-outsourcing, poor monitoring, and a lack of cohesion and accountability have plagued the U.S. aid system for decades. However, nobody in Congress agrees on exactly how to fix it.
Back in early 2010, there were a lot of good ideas being thrown around. Kerry proposed in a State Department authorization bill to strengthen the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Lugar made big speeches about the need to keep diplomacy and development as distinct disciplines within the government. Meanwhile, the State Department took two years to craft a landmark Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review that sought to join diplomacy and development together bureaucratically and conceptually. Congress and the State Department had different visions on how diplomacy and development should work together, but at least they were both working on the problem.
The November 2010 midterm elections, which brought the GOP to power in the House, dashed many of these grandiose plans. The GOP gains meant that the money needed to reform the aid system and fund new programs vanished. The budget hawks led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)immediately promised to slash aid budgets. Leading Republicans also changed the terms of the aid debate, focusing on the question of whether the United States should give money to problematic allies and complicated territories — most notably Pakistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
In today’s climate, foreign-aid advocates now spend all their time defending their existing programs rather than working on reform and expansion of aid. Meanwhile, the House GOP continues to try to thwart programs, though it doesn’t have the power to do so by itself because its one-sided, partisan bills have no chance of becoming law. The result is a nasty stalemate — a familiar feature in Congress as the country heads into the 2012 presidential season.
We couldn’t agree more. And with last week’s Budget Control Act, which caps security spending even below what the House was considering for security-related spending which includes State/Foreign Operations, foreign assistance and current efforts to reform will face an uphill battle. Read Rogin’s full piece here.