On the Record: Senator Kerry on Foreign Aid Reform

During his time as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry (D-MA) became a vocal proponent for effective foreign assistance. As his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of State gets underway, we wanted to take a moment to look back on some supportive statements made by Chairman Kerry over the last four years. We hope that Kerry will continue to hold onto his support for foreign assistance and the International Affairs account and look forward to seeing what his leadership may bring for U.S. development efforts.

The following are excerpts from a speech made by Senator Kerry titled “Diplomacy and Development in the 21st Century” delivered at the Brookings Institution on May 21, 2009:

  • “So these realities really do present a brave new world for which we have to dramatically redesign our foreign policy. If we are to meet these challenges, this much is clear: development and diplomacy have to retake their rightful place alongside defense at the heart of American’s foreign policy. And yet today, for all of our past successes, there’s a growing realization that our diplomatic and development capacities are simply not prepared for the task ahead. And when you consider our meager investment in it, it’s easy to understand why.”
  • “We need to clarify the policies and the goals of our foreign assistance. There is no overarching policy for U.S. foreign aid today or for development today.”
  • “Second, we need to bring greater coordination to those aid efforts. We have over 20 agencies implementing a slew of aid programs, often with very diffused and even conflicting goals.”
  • “Third, we must strengthen our professional expertise in capacity and the delivery of aid. The need has never been greater to train and cultivate a generation of highly skilled public servants.”
  • “To attract top talent, we need to promote a results-based culture of accountability in transparency and we need to restore intellectual capacity in policy and strategic planning to ensure that USAID is a place where innovative ideas can take shape and take hold.”
  • “Fourth; we need to streamline outdated laws and heavy bureaucracy in order to untie the hands of workers. The last time the United States Senate authorized the Foreign Assistance Act was the year I arrived in the Senate in 1985. That Bill runs over 400 pages long and is full of confusing directives, reporting requirements, and procedural roadblocks.”
  • “We need to empower country teams to shape programs, to determine needs, and even take calculated risks if they see a real strategic opportunity.”
  • “We need cutting edge programs that push the envelope on ending global poverty and other problems and our development agencies ought to be leading the charge in that effort.”
  • “To that end, we are going to support efforts in legislation to promote the accountability to enhance transparency, to track performance with benchmarks or otherwise, and to distill the lessons that have been learned in a more comprehensive institutionalized way so that it’s not haphazard when you’re recommitting the next error and suddenly someone comes in and you say oh, God, we’ve got to look at what we did.”


The following quote is from Chairman Kerry on the release of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD-6) in September, 2010:

  • “I am pleased to join with the President in support of a new development vision to address the leading moral, strategic and economic challenges of the 21st century.  The President has outlined a comprehensive development policy based on measurable outcomes, country ownership, sustainable economic growth and multilateralism – a policy that will build capacity in the developing world, not dependence.”


The following quote by Chairman Kerry comes from a committee statement on the introduction of the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, of which Kerry was a lead author:

  • “I believe this legislation will go a long way toward improving our immediate ability to deliver foreign aid in a more accountable, thoughtful and strategic manner. We need cutting edge programs that will push the envelope on ending chronic poverty, combating global climate change, reducing hunger, supporting democracies, and offering alternatives to extremism.” “We need cutting edge programs that will push the envelope on ending chronic poverty, combating global climate change, reducing hunger, supporting democracies, and offering alternatives to extremism.”


The following are excerpts from a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act:

  • “A viable whole-of-government approach demands a lead actor who is able to tap into a wide range of capabilities and expertise, but ultimately has the authority to make final decisions about programs, resources, and implementation objectives. The committee believes a more optimal way to ensure whole-of-government expertise while providing for proper coherence and coordination is to consider a ‘centers of excellence’’ approach, which would house specialized capabilities and resources focused on a discrete set of objectives in a specific institution.”
  • “Streamlining, flexibility and prioritization are essential so that agencies know where to focus resources and efforts. The committee believes that streamlining procurement rules, earmarks and restrictions is equally important in order to allow greater discretion and authority for civilian agency leaders.”
  • “Country teams should have a much greater role in determining programmatic and funding priorities in partnership with local actors.”
  • “Development requires better coherence, stronger inter-agency coordination and improved rationalization to determine which agencies will undertake different foreign aid programs. The U.S. needs to provide a unified development voice to demonstrate our commitment to development issues, fighting poverty and hunger and engaging with the world.”
  • “…It is increasingly important that we have the means to evaluate and measure cases of development successes and failures, and to better understand what programs work, which do not, and what are the conditions that determine effectiveness.”
  • “Finding a way to better integrate evaluation with innovation and program design would improve the effectiveness, impact, scope and creativity of our development efforts.”
  • “In order to best achieve foreign assistance objectives, maximize the resources of the United States Government, ensure programming coherence, avoid duplication and fragmentation, and enhance an effective whole-of-government approach, direct responsibility for coordinating all development and humanitarian efforts of the United States Government in a country shall reside with the USAID mission director, under the overall direction of the chief of mission.”
  • “The committee strongly feels that U.S. citizens and recipients of U.S. foreign assistance should, to the maximum extent practicable, have full access to information on U.S. foreign assistance and development programs.”

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