MFAN Statement: Gutting USAID’s Operating Budget Would Repeat Painful Mistakes of the Past

September 12, 2011 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

In the midst of a misguided and disproportionate effort to slash the international affairs budget, the House of Representatives has proposed to cut nearly 27% ($365million) from USAID’s operating budget for fiscal year 2012. Such a drastic cut would cripple the agency’s ongoing and aggressive internal reform effort, while undermining bipartisan efforts to increase the effectiveness and accountability of U.S. foreign assistance.

With such cuts, the development pillar of U.S. foreign policy—which supports the health, poverty alleviation, and economic growth programs that help strengthen our defense and diplomatic efforts—would be weakened at a time when we need all the tools of U.S. foreign policy to address complex global challenges. Although we acknowledge the fiscal reality America faces, we know that these disproportionate cuts will have unacceptable consequences because we’ve already seen it happen before.

USAID’s operating budget provides funds for basic needs such as the salaries and training of U.S. development professionals, and the costs of operating USAID overseas missions. The operating budget also funds USAID Forward, a comprehensive internal reform initiative that aims to reshape the agency as a more efficient organization for the 21st Century.

In addition, such a steep cut in funding to USAID’s operating budget would mean that:

  • USAID’s ability to more effectively oversee program implementation and monitor accountability and results would be weakened, just as it is being rebuilt;
  • USAID Forward’s aggressive efforts to cut waste and streamline bureaucracy, reform procurement, bolster accountability, and drive innovation would be undermined;
  • USAID could lose as much as 18 percent of overseas staff at the same moment the agency is being called upon to oversee more large-scale projects in more fragile states, including many handed off by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and;
  • The Development Leadership Initiative, a program started by President George W. Bush to infuse USAID with bright young talent to serve America abroad, would be halted and most likely reversed with reductions of those already hired.

The House’s proposed cuts to the overall budget would represent the deepest cuts in two decades: cuts that will hinder the U.S.’s ability to engage in activities and programs that serve the American people.  With respect to the operating budget, these cuts would represent a return to the failed policies of the post-Cold War 1990s, when USAID closed missions, fired staff, and ceded its budget and policy capacity. As a result, when USAID was asked to play a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, the agency lacked the expertise it once had to train new leaders, respond to complex humanitarian emergencies, rebuild long-neglected education and health systems, and revitalize agricultural infrastructure, among other vital tasks. Instead, the military was forced to take on nation building tasks that our men and women in uniform were not trained to execute. We over-burdened our armed forces by under-resourcing our civilian agencies, an avoidable mistake that we risk making yet again.

We urge Congress not to repeat the mistakes of the past by slashing USAID’s operating budget. A strong, capable development agency is critical to the success of U.S. foreign and national security policy.


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