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MFAN Co-Chairs on the Facts on Foreign Aid

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See below for an op-ed  that ran in POLITICO today from MFAN’s Co-Chairs Rev. David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe.

David Beckmann1George Ingram1Jim Kolbe

POLITICO

The facts on foreign aid

Rev. Beckmann and George Ingram and Jim Kolbe

February 9, 2011

With Egypt leading the news and congressional budget discussions coming to a head, there is an energetic debate now about U.S. foreign assistance.

There are many competing arguments, but one thing is certain: This is too important to get caught up in the usual political back and forth. The American people deserve honest facts about foreign assistance before policymakers rush to judgment.

To start, we must correct a widely held misconception: U.S. foreign assistance is less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Despite repeated efforts to correct this, many Americans still believe we spend as much as 25 percent of the budget on it.

More important, we must stop using foreign assistance as a budget piñata. Development is now a key component of U.S. foreign policy — with defense and diplomacy. Our modest investment in strategic and effective foreign assistance programs pays outsize dividends in terms of our security, prosperity and global leadership.

  • On security: The United States Agency for International Development is a crucial partner of the U.S. military and the State Department in frontline states — including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Civilian development professionals support training of security forces; bolster governance and the rule of law, and improve quality of life for people in areas vulnerable to extremism. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
  • On economic prosperity: Our development programs improve public health, strengthen agricultural output and promote private economic growth, all of which help stabilize communities and open export opportunities for U.S. businesses in the world’s fastest growing markets. One historical example: U.S. support for the “green revolution” in agriculture helped accelerate South Korea’s agricultural development, setting it on a path to becoming the strong U.S. ally and trading partner.
  • On our global leadership: In the last decade, the generosity of U.S. taxpayers and advocacy of policymakers, community leaders and citizens have been responsible for saving and improving millions of lives in Africa and elsewhere. One vaccination program alone has saved five million children.

Even with these facts, foreign assistance still deserves the same scrutiny as other government programs at this challenging economic time. Our foreign assistance must be effective and accountable — so people know where the money is going and what results are being achieved.

Luckily, we are not starting from square one. Over the last two years, the Obama administration has built on the efforts of the Bush administration to change our development business model through a top-to-bottom reform effort.

President Barack Obama has made economic growth, the strongest engine for social progress, the stated goal of U.S. development efforts. He has promised to be more selective about who gets assistance — particularly when it comes to countries not committed to reform. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah has announced a plan to better measure and evaluate programs; “graduate” recipients who no longer need help, and streamline bureaucracy for millions of dollars in.

Most important, a guiding vision has taken hold across the spectrum of public and private players on development. Many developing countries have been able to achieve rapid economic growth and progress against poverty, mainly through their own efforts. For assistance to be effective, it needs to be responsive to local initiative and priorities.

Though a sliver of our overall budget, U.S. foreign assistance delivers a real return-on-investment. The Obama administration and Congress need to support these programs and work together to make them more effective and accountable. And the American public deserves an honest debate about the importance of our foreign assistance.

Rev. Beckmann, a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, is the president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is co-chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Jim. Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona, is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a senior advisor at McLarty Associates. They are co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

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