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MFAN Statement: Budget Landscape Increases Urgency of Foreign Assistance Reform

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February 14, 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:

As Congress begins debate this week on funding the government for the remainder of 2011, we support current spending levels in the international affairs budget. Foreign assistance is not a nice-to-have perk in a world where complex challenges defy narrow solutions; it is a must-have pillar of our foreign policy alongside diplomacy and defense. In addition, now more than ever, foreign assistance reform must move forward, in order to make sure we can get the most out of every dollar we spend on development.

We are acutely aware of the dangers a growing deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio pose to economic growth and security in the United States.  But disproportionately drastic cuts in the foreign assistance budget being considered by the House of Representatives this week would undo a decade’s worth of progress against global poverty and disease, and adversely affect our security, prosperity, and leadership in the world.

For around 1% of the federal budget, experts from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other agencies are empowered to work hand-in-hand with our diplomats and members of the Armed Forces to help build accountable institutions and increase stability in “frontline” states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen.  These professionals are also deployed to help boost private-sector and middle-class growth and reduce poverty in developing countries, the fastest-growing markets in the world. Our development efforts in these countries are crucial to opening up export opportunities for American businesses and building stable, long-term trading partners and allies. Were we to pull back, the void left behind would surely be filled by other countries that do not share our values.

We must also finish the job of implementing the serious reforms to U.S. foreign assistance that have been pushed forward on a bipartisan basis over the last decade.  The focus now should be on two key actions, which will increase the effectiveness of all of our development programs, particularly marquee efforts like the Global Health Initiative and the Feed the Future agricultural development program:

  • Enacting USAID Forward: To transform USAID into a modern development enterprise so that it can make the best use possible of limited resources and achieve more dynamic results, the budget should provide strategic resources for strengthening accountability and evaluation; changing inefficient procurement practices; and investing in innovation, science, and technology.
  • Implementing the President’s Landmark Development Policy: To ensure that all U.S. development activities are more coordinated, efficient, and effective, the budget should focus resources on bolstering economic growth and democratic governance around the world, while at the same time being more selective about who gets our assistance and cutting programs in places where U.S. partners are ready to take more ownership and responsibility.

We call on the Administration and Congress to work together to complete the reforms and build a modern development enterprise for the U.S., so that we can maximize the returns on our development investments at a time of complex budgetary and geopolitical challenges.