MFAN Co-Chair Reviews the Global Partnerships Act of 2011

See below for a guest blog post from MFAN Co-Chair George Ingram.

My hat’s off to Congressman Berman and his staff, led by Diana Ohlbaum, for their long-awaited discussion draft of a new foreign assistance act, titled the Global Partnerships Act of 2011. It took three years to complete this draft, and we now know why. Rep. Berman’s staff produced a comprehensive, coherent and thoughtful draft and they did it through a meaningful, consultative process. They did not just clean up the tired old Foreign Assistance Act. They drafted a new law that reflects lessons learned and recent innovations, but most importantly a law that sets U.S. foreign assistance squarely on a path to address the challenges of the 21st century.

There are several innovations that permeate the entire draft. For example, the act is results focused – linking resources and policies to results on the ground instead of budgetary inputs. It brings local ownership front and center in the design and implementation of programs, with the central objective of making development efforts sustainable. And the draft creates a new country-focused funding account, Development Support Funds, that will establish clear criteria for how funds can be allocated.

The draft advances local procurement and puts an emphasis on building local capacity and institutions. It mandates consistent monitoring and evaluation of all assistance activities, including for political and security assistance. And, it provides a persistent focus on gender and the important role women play in lifting communities out of poverty.

In place of 40 or more goals and objectives and an untold number of priorities for foreign assistance, this new act identifies seven distinct purposes for assistance overall, and eight goals that apply specifically to development cooperation assistance. It also sets forth a comprehensive set of principles to govern all U.S. assistance, with a separate set for development assistance.

The Global Partnerships Act of 2011 draft bill also:

  • Requires the full obligation of funds before a program is authorized, thereby avoiding the problem of mortgaging future budgets;
  • Mandates a quadrennial Global Development Strategy to guide U.S. assistance policies and programs, as well as periodical country development strategies, which will become the basis for Congressional review;
  • Establishes a Global Development Council, as recommended in the recent Presidential Policy Review on Development, to advise the government on development policies and programs;
  • Proposes a number of administrative/organizational changes to elevate development and make the assistance process more efficient and effective;
  • Eliminates a separate account for USAID operating expenses by designating that up to 10% of program funds be used for operating expenses; and
  • Calls for a comprehensive career-long program of professional training for all State and USAID personnel, among other recruitment programs.

This list could go on, and others who read the draft bill will come up with other provisions that they find innovative.

But this blog is not intended to convince people to sign off on this exact version of the draft bill. What it is intended to do is acknowledge the debt we all owe to Congressman Berman and his staff for the monumental task they performed. They cast a broad net to bring together the best, most experiential thinking in the assistance community and form it into a coherent draft law, as was done fifty years ago with the creation of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Elements of that law have stood the test of time and are found in the new draft; others that were once relevant have appropriately been cast aside and replaced by new innovations.

Ultimately, this draft provides the focus for a conversation of what should be in a new law. It can serve as the basis for a dialogue between Congress, the Executive Branch, and civil society on what we want from our foreign assistance programs and how these programs can best advance U.S. interests around the world. It took Berman and his staff three years to write this first draft. We should take a year or so to comprehend it, debate it, make recommendations on how it can be improved, and then seek to move it into law within the next three years.

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