Why Conservatives Should Care About Foreign Assistance Reform

By Mark Green, Managing Director of the Malaria Policy Center

Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)

Reason #1 Why Conservatives Should Support Foreign Assistance Reform

Last week I wrote that I would post a series of pieces designed to lay out the Conservative case for foreign assistance reform.  I had a lot positive feedback – and also some negative. Some Conservative writers indicated they thought that we should simply end foreign assistance once and for all. But that’s not a reason to oppose efforts at reform – opposing reform just ensures the continuation of the status quo . . . the continuation of a flawed system. As a Conservative (please check out my lifetime American Conservative Union ratings and you’ll see that I more than qualify), I believe the status quo simply doesn’t work – at least not as it should.

So here go the first couple of my reasons:

Number 1: Our current foreign aid system is organizationally incoherent.

Over the last four decades, our foreign aid programs have become fragmented across more than 20 different agencies and over 50 separate offices.  This has led to an administrative maze where programs are administered by offices with overlapping jurisdictions, conflicting rules, and differing cultures.  More importantly, it has given rise to a system where little comprehensive strategic planning is done . . . which means that our development professionals are often working without a clear sense of how program objectives and measurements.

Conservatives have an opportunity, maybe a once-in-a-generation opportunity, to help scrutinize our foreign assistance policies and programs, and make them more effective and productive.

Just as our military underwent a major organizational overhaul twenty-five years ago with the Goldwater-Nichols legislation and the Quadrennial Defense Reviews that followed, so should our development system.  We should work to make it more transparent and more accountable with a clear chain of command.  We should create a clear national strategy on global development (which the recently leaked Presidential Study Directive calls for) that firmly and clearly lays out foreign assistance objectives, and outlines the roles and responsibilities of various offices.

Sounds like a good job for Conservatives — taking sound principles of business administration and applying them to bureaucracy in need of reform.

Reason #2:  We need to reform the system to make our precious taxpayer dollars go much further.

Some observers have said that it’s a difficult time to take up foreign aid reform when we’re facing such obvious fiscal challenges. But I’d argue that this is the VERY time to take this issue on.  The rising deficit should be a wake up call to all of us – with Conservatives in the lead – that we need to scrub every program and every structure to make sure that it is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Foreign aid reform is an opportunity for us to push for strong new tools in monitoring and evaluation.   It’s an opportunity to lock in procedures for periodic review of our assistance programs, and require program advocates to re-justify programs and structures with each review.

Where redundancies exist, they should be eliminated.  Where efficiencies can be found, they should be implemented.  And where programs no longer meet our objectives, they should be ended.

One of the reasons that there are more Conservatives running for office – from Reagan Republicans to Blue Dog Democrats – is that our citizens are angry over government waste.  Foreign aid reform gives us a chance to put that sentiment to work.

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