MFAN Co-Chairs: It’s Time to Finish the Job on Foreign Aid Reform

In a new op-ed for Devex, MFAN’s Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram make the case to keep up the momentum for foreign aid reform, underscoring that reform is a bipartisan issue with support from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. The full op-ed is posted below. To comment on the piece, please email Rolf Rosenkranz at or Jenni Rothenberg at Devex members can also sign in to post a comment by clicking here.

George Ingram1David Beckmann1

It’s Time to Finish the Job on Foreign Aid Reform

By the Rev. David Beckmann and George Ingram

With the leak of a summary of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review last week – and President Obama’s announcement of America’s first-ever government-wide global development policy in September – the Obama administration has moved another step closer to an overhaul of the U.S. approach to global development, something no administration has been able to accomplish in the last 50 years.

The fact that we have come this far shows there is a broad, bipartisan consensus in Washington on the need to make U.S. foreign aid more effective, particularly because it is so critical to ongoing national security efforts, but also because we need our development dollars to go further in a time of tight budgets. The administration and Congress now must work together to finish the job, and turn these bold proposals into lasting policies and structures.

As we have worked to bring about development policy reform over the last several years, too much focus in the media has been on bureaucracy and politics, when the urgency for a better approach to development comes from a much deeper place. On our nation’s two most important national security priorities – Afghanistan and Pakistan – foreign policy and military leaders have said that strengthening our efforts to bolster economic growth and the health of vulnerable populations are absolutely crucial to success. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said recently that effective development is “a lot cheaper than sending soldiers,” and David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, added his voice to a chorus calling for increasing U.S. development capacity.

But reform is also about more than security.

It is about building a global economy in which everyone prospers – Americans and our friends overseas alike – and helping to pull our interconnected world out of the depths of this great recession. And it is about our moral call to save and improve lives in places where people are born shackled by poverty and despair. In this sense, the reform dividend can be measured in millions of people. If we don’t capitalize on this opportunity to make sure we can get more out of every development dollar we spend, and to encourage trade, investment, and private-sector partnerships that complement and enhance our efforts, a decade’s worth of progress is at risk:

  • 98 million fewer people went hungry in 2010 compared to 2009.
  • 42 million more children started going to school in Africa between 1999 and 2007.
  • Nearly 4 million Africans have been placed on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS since 2002.
  • The distribution of millions of bed nets has helped save the lives of nearly 750,000 children in 34 malaria-endemic countries in Africa.
  • A new global program to provide immunizations for children has prevented more than 5 million deaths since 2000. (All data courtesy of the Living Proof Project.)

Policymakers and the American people alike should feel immense pride about these numbers, because our leadership and generosity have helped make them possible. But generosity only goes so far when our approach to development dates back to the Cold War and is in dire need of an upgrade. In truth, significant progress has been made despite policy and organizational incoherence, which means we can do far better. With bipartisan interest at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, this moment represents our best shot at maintaining momentum toward a more effective approach to development and ensuring some of the bold and common-sense proposals coming out of the administration endure for decades to come.

The unveiling of the QDDR is an important step in the administration’s long process of reform policymaking: First, President Obama pledged to ensure that “development is established and endures as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy.” Bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate encouraged reform to move ahead. The administration’s marquee Feed the Future program and Global Health Initiative were launched with the core themes of comprehensive approach, coordination and accountability. The administration embarked on the QDDRand a companion review run out the White House. The president announced his landmark new development policy.

But through all of this, one major question has remained: Will the administration recognize that the value of development to the U.S. national interest requires that our development approach be truly whole-of-government led by development experts?

Both the president’s new development policy and the leaked summary of the QDDR have pulled the veil back on some of these issues, and the outcomes are a strong “yes”!

  • The QDDR summary echoes the president’s landmark development policy, which has as its core principles economic growth, recipient country ownership, selectivity of aid, innovation, and measurement of results.
  • It also strengthened America’s premier aid institution, the U.S. Agency for International Development, by giving it immediate control of the Feed the Future program, the Obama administration’s economic growth-focused food security initiative, and eventual oversight of the Global Health Initiative. USAID development professionals, particularly mission directors, will be given a leadership role in creating country-specific development strategies. And USAID’s staffing and capacity will also be bolstered at both headquarters and country level.

Perhaps most importantly, the QDDR proposes to streamline our inefficient aid system so that we know with more confidence that our development dollars are getting to the people who need them and driving results. This is long past due for a system in which dozens of agencies and offices oversee development programs. But in order to ensure meaningful and lasting impact, we need accompanying legislation to make these good intentions come to life and endure.

We are on the precipice of critical reforms that have long eluded policymakers. Key members of the Obama administration – from the president to Clinton to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah – and Congress all agree this needs to be done.

So let’s not allow the moment to pass, because the results will be measured in millions of lives saved and many more futures brightened – including our own.

The Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is interim CEO of the Academy for Educational Development. Together, they serve as co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

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