This week, a bicameral, bipartisan piece of legislation was introduced to strengthen transparency and evaluation of U.S. foreign assistance. The bill, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2638; S. 1271), was introduced by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
The Congress is overdue in its focus on foreign assistance reform, which the Obama administration has admirably invested in to build on efforts by the administration of George W. Bush. But a late start is better than no start at all, and progress is there for the taking. Transparency and local self-sufficiency and ownership are the most important elements of reform to advance.
The elevation of development alongside diplomacy and defense, the continuing implementation of the USAID Forward agenda, the introduction of legislation like the Rep. Gerry Connolly’s (D-VA) Global Partnerships Act and the Rep. Ted Poe’s (R-TX) Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, and President Obama’s proposal to reform U.S. food aid are all positive signs that the reform agenda is making headway. However, the Administration and Congress must work together to institutionalize these important reforms so that progress is not lost as political winds shift in Washington.
Five US agencies that have a role in US foreign aid now have some—but not all—data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. These five agencies accounted for roughly eighty-six percent of aid spending in 2011. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard expects twenty-two separate US federal agencies and departments to report data.
“I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism.”
We urge Senate leaders to work with the Administration to achieve stronger reforms in food aid programs so that American tax dollars can go farther and American compassion can reach more people in need. On the House side, we remain disappointed that the House Agriculture Committee draft once again fails to incorporate any reforms.
vPresident Obama’s FY2014 budget request proposal to reform food aid has sparked renewed debate on whether the current system could provide food to those in need more effectively and efficiently. The President’s proposal aims to improve the Food for Peace program that distributes emergency food assistance by providing more flexibility to purchase food locally and regionally in addition to shipping commodities from the U.S. Moreover, the proposal would eliminate inefficient practices such as the “monetization” of food aid that occurs when NGOs are provided commodities to sell in local markets in order to fund development projects, rather than funding these projects directly.
ompleting the transformation of U.S. foreign assistance will reposition the U.S. as not just the most generous, but also the most strategic, innovative, and effective player in global development. We have saved and improved millions of lives over the last ten years and our efforts have helped strengthen our image abroad: a new field survey of aid recipient countries by Oxfam America finds that 83 percent of respondents believe the U.S. is a better development partner now than five years ago. The opportunity at hand for the next ten years is to turn progress into lasting change by helping those people take control of their own lives.
The principles the President championed the first day of his Presidency are reflected in the reform and evaluation processes undertaken by key US development agencies – new and better data enables citizens to hold their governments to account, and transparency helps to make programs more efficient. But the commitments the US has made to aid transparency are stifled by the approach it has chosen to meet them. US development agencies need to be encouraged to publish what they can, as soon as they can.
When 870 million people around the world go hungry every day, making every food aid dollar count is not only a responsible use of taxpayer money, it is a moral imperative. For that reason, it is critical that any reforms seek efficiencies rather than cuts, and do not alter the basic programmatic focus of the U.S. food aid program. These programs help to feed 55 million people in need around the world, supporting both emergency responses and addressing chronic hunger.