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Archive for July, 2011

MFAN Statement: Senate Bill Would Strengthen U.S. Development Leadership and Catalyze Reform

Friday, July 29th, 2011
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July 29, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has introduced the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2012-13, which calls for robust resources for U.S. diplomacy and development programs that are critical components of U.S. foreign policy in a challenging world. MFAN applauds Chairman Kerry for authoring a bill that demonstrates a strong commitment to the civilian tools of U.S. global leadership and pushes forward the vital reforms to U.S. foreign assistance.

The legislation stands in stark contrast to two bills released in the last week by Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and State Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Both called for deep cuts to U.S. diplomacy and development programs, including debilitating reductions of nearly 27% for the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID). Although we acknowledge the difficult fiscal situation in the U.S., we believe that these cuts are detrimental to U.S national security as we face increasingly complex challenges abroad. Turning our backs on poor and struggling people in nascent democracies in the Middle East and fast-growing markets in Africa would decrease our leverage and our credibility, make it harder to drive export growth and opportunity for U.S. businesses, and send the wrong signal about our values as a nation.

The Kerry bill recognizes the importance of our diplomacy and development efforts, and calls for continued progress on reforms that are making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable than ever before:

  • The legislation’s statement of global development policy reflects many principles of effective development that are highlighted in MFAN’s From Policy to Practice reform agenda.  These principles include increasing efficiencies by eliminating wasteful regulations, prioritizing accountability and transparency, incorporating local priorities into development planning, and maintaining the distinctiveness between development and diplomacy. The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a complementary amendment, authored by Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA), that attempts to set out clear goals for U.S. foreign assistance efforts.
  • The legislation supports a strong, empowered USAID that can effectively address 21st century challenges and priorities, in stark contrast to the House bills, which would effectively end the agency’s internal reform efforts by eliminating its budget office, a key tool for increasing accountability in foreign assistance, and cutting more than a third from its operating expenses budget.
  • The legislation calls for similar support for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a landmark program started under President George W. Bush to push economic growth and capacity building in countries that are showing exemplary progress on democracy and free market reforms.
  • The legislation directs the President to develop a rigorous system to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. foreign assistance programs across all agencies, a step the House Foreign Affairs Committee also took by unanimously passing a transparency and accountability amendment authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX).

We urge Members of Congress to support an approach that ensures continued U.S. global leadership on development, advances foreign assistance reform, and honors the commitments we have made to millions of people who are trying to build stable lives and healthier communities in the world’s most vulnerable places.

 

MFAN Co-Chair Underscores Importance of DAC U.S. Peer Review to Move Reform Forward

Thursday, July 28th, 2011
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See below for an op-ed from MFAN Co-Chair George Ingram as he takes a close look at how recommendations from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee Peer Review of the U.S. align with reform efforts moving in the Administration. This piece originally appeared in Devex.

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US Should Heed New OECD Advice on US Foreign Aid Reform

George Ingram

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released a report that gives a more comprehensive look at U.S. foreign assistance from the outside than we have seen in some time. Though these reports seldom get much attention, this one offers constructive input at a challenging time, as the U.S. moves to reform its assistance program and consolidate the last decade’s development gains at a time of falling budgets.

Shepherded by Brian Atwood, chairman of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee and a former administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development, the report notes areas of progress since the last DAC review of U.S. assistance in 2006. Since then, the U.S. has met its commitment on volumes of assistance, while improving coordination between the Department of State and USAID, driving development innovation through the Millennium Challenge Corp., and focusing more sharply on results. Each area of progress has meant more lives saved in poor countries.

The report also devotes considerable attention to the critical issue of foreign assistance reform, which had gained but then lost traction over the last year in Washington. The DAC commends the Obama administration for its efforts to drive reform through new policies, including the first-ever presidential policy directive on global development, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and the Millennium Development Goals strategy, all released in the latter part of last year. In particular, it commends the U.S. for increasing its multilateral engagement on development policy and showing renewed emphasis on key aid effectiveness principles from the Paris Declaration.

But the DAC also echoes the anxiety many development watchers feel about whether the U.S. has the political energy to push the reform agenda forward. For our security, our economic competitiveness, our global leadership, and the well-being of millions of people in the developing world, reform progress is essential.

To keep reform moving, the report advocates changes that align with the agenda being pushed by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a diverse coalition committed to more effective foreign assistance:

  • Modern legislation: Rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, an outdated piece of legislation that contains a proliferation of overlapping and sometimes contradictory statutes. The process of rewriting theFAA would provide a unique opportunity to develop a strategic compact – the so-called “Grand Bargain” – between the Congress and the administration that would give assistance efforts a more stable footing over the longer term.
  • Efficiency and coordination: In addition to outdated legislation, the report notes that as many as 27 U.S. government agencies are involved in foreign assistance programming. To strengthen measurement and evaluation and policy coherence, USAID should have a more pivotal role in interagency development policy coordination.
  • 21st-century development agency: Consistent with the policy of the administration to make USAID a world-class development agency, the report calls for further strengthening the agency by rebuilding its staffing levels and training, expanding opportunities for local staff, strengthening USAID’s role in the budget process, and improving its engagement with civil society and the private sector.
  • Development distinctiveness: The report encourages U.S. policymakers to consider the unique nature of development in makingpolicy. Accountability should not focus so heavily on immediate results and outputs, as it does now, because development is a long-term enterprise and innovation is stifled in the current formulation. The creation of a long-term development strategy, as promised but not delivered by the Obama administration, would go a long way in addressing these issues.
  • Humanitarian assistance – bureaucracy, budgeting and transparency: While recognizing the value of the new Humanitarian Policy Working Group, the report points out that the complicated bureaucratic structures and lack of a cross-government policy hinder the U.S. ability in responding to humanitarian needs in a coherent and consistent way. Predictability on funding for humanitarian assistance, a key concern for developing countries trying to put assistance to good use, is complicated by the dependence on funding via supplemental appropriations. The absence of transparency in decision making leads to the impression that policies are driven by political considerations, instead of strategic interests and local priorities.
  • Fragile states: The report notes the stark contrast in the dual policies of assisting countries that are good performers and engaging more heavily in fragile and post-conflict states, and the concomitant need for the U.S. to create a development strategy that addresses the risks of each.

The DAC is to be commended for writing an informative report that offers constructive and concrete recommendations for advancing foreign assistance reform. The question is whether the Obama administration and the Congress will take the recommendations to heart and work together to finish the job.

 

 

Clinton Warns of Veto on House Bill

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
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In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that she will urge a veto if a House Foreign Affairs committee bill that outlines severe restrictions and cuts to foreign assistance programs reaches the White House. The bill passed through the Republican-dominated committee last week, slashing payments to the United Nations and other international bodies and slapping restrictions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt and others. See below for an excerpt from the article:

In the letter, obtained from a congressional aide by The Washington Post, Clinton criticized the legislation’s “onerous restrictions” on department operations and foreign aid, and the “severe curtailing” of dues owed to international organizations — including the bill’s provision to not pay U.S. dues for the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s main inter-governmental organization.

Clinton wrote that the bill’s ban on aid to countries that don’t meet certain anti-corruption standards “has the potential to affect a staggering number of needy aid recipients.” She also protested the “crippling restrictions on security assistance” to Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Authority.

It is not expected that this bill will pass the Senate.

MFAN Statement: Severe Cuts in House Bill Would Harm Poor People, Set Back U.S. Leadership, Roll Back Reforms

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
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July 27, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

The severe cuts to U.S. foreign assistance proposed yesterday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations (SFOPS) would fall hardest on the world’s poorest people, millions of whom are alive and thriving today because of U.S. leadership on international development over the last decade. Although we acknowledge that the U.S. must confront the budget challenges it faces, in part by making reasonable cuts across the board, we adamantly believe that the less than 1% of the federal budget that is spent on development-focused foreign assistance is a critical investment in our global leadership and an important indicator of our values as a nation.

The U.S. government, under the leadership of President George W. Bush and with bipartisan support in Congress,  drove unprecedented gains in global health and development starting in 2001. Just a decade later, we are on the cusp of turning those gains into sustainable, long-term progress. At the same time, the challenges we face on other fronts are bigger and more complex. Yet the SFOPS bill would lead to a wholesale retreat from the commitments we have made and the partnerships we have forged. It would also roll back the huge progress that has been achieved in making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, impeding ongoing efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are getting into the hands of people who need our help.

We are particularly concerned about a few key pieces of the SFOPS bill:

  • The bill focuses too heavily on development as a security concern. Although we believe development is an important piece of our national security, looking at development solely through a security lens leaves an untold number of countries and people out of the picture whose lives have benefited from U.S. assistance over the past decade. This can cause us to miss opportunities to foster stability in emerging crisis areas before they require expensive and dangerous intervention by the U.S. military, and hinder our ability to open markets to U.S. products and businesses. .
  • The bill would cut the budgets of the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) so severely that neither would be able to invest in staffing, reforms, and innovation needed to deal with the increasingly complex global challenges we face.
  • In particular, the bill also proposes huge cuts to USAID’s Operating Expense account. This would be an incredibly harmful action, because USAID’s operating budget is what is being used to drive reforms that are allowing the agency to do more with every taxpayer dollar it receives for development, including by providing adequate oversight of its programs and measuring their effectiveness. Operating expenses are also used by the agency to prepare its next generation of leaders, and the cuts would force an end to programs like the Development Leadership Initiative, begun under President Bush, which trains some of our best and brightest young people to spearhead engagement with developing countries, the fastest growing markets in the world. Combined with the proposal last week by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to shutter USAID’s budget office, these cuts would make it nearly impossible to reach the goal of rebuilding USAID into the leading development organization in the world.

Should this bill be passed in its current form, the good will that the U.S. has built in the developing world, and the leverage we have gained to open up opportunities for our own economy, would be lost. Given how competitive and complex the world has become, it could take decades of huge investments to rebuild our programs and our influence. During the 1980s and 1990s, we witnessed the profound effects of depleting our development workforce overseas in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa. We urge Members of Congress to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and consider the huge negative impacts that these budget cuts would have on our leadership, our global influence, and the poor people who we have tried to help build better lives.

 

Brookings Event to Roll Out 2011 OECD/DAC Peer Review of the U.S.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
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Below, please see a guest post from Ariadne Medler, Program Coordinator, Development Assistance and Governance Initiative in the Global Economy and Development Program, Brookings, in which she previews the 2011 Development Assistance Committee peer review of the United States. Medler looks at how the peer review will impact reform efforts underway, particularly in the challenging budget environment, while setting the stage for the Brookings event roll out of the report tomorrow.

This week, the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC) will release the 2011 peer review for the U.S., an in-depth examination of the country’s development systems and strategies. This independent critique is intended to assess the effectiveness of aid policies and programs against internationally established principles, to assist in improving performance through mutual learning, and to foster coordination and identify best practices. The assessment falls on the heels of far-reaching policy reforms and important shifts in the U.S. development landscape, lending an international voice to an ongoing domestic dialogue.

The Obama Administration’s agenda for development is a crucial step toward real reform for the world’s largest single donor, and is intended to return the country to a position of global leadership in the development arena. The reform vision outlined in last year’s Presidential Policy Directive on Development (PPD) and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is moving forward in promising ways, but many challenges remain.

Chief among these is their effective implementation and maintaining the momentum of reform. At a time when the country’s politics is being weighed down by heightened budget insecurity, the development community must convince both lawmakers in Washington and the American public that foreign assistance is both effective and necessary. Making taxpayer dollars do more abroad requires focusing seriously on leveraging partnerships and working better with non-state actors, such as NGOs and the private sector, and with Congress.

Recommendations from the last U.S. peer review, in 2006, included refocusing development strategy to center on priority objectives, fostering greater policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach to development, consolidating and streamlining operational responsibilities, and greater engagement with and financing of multilateral development efforts. This year’s review will likely build on these areas for improvement. How large of a focus will be placed on creating a cross-agency development strategy and increasing policy coherence, where much work remains to be done? Compared to the 2006 review, will this year’s assessment garner wider interest, given greater activity and awareness around the foreign aid reform agenda?

To delve deeper into the recommendations and implications of this year’s review, the Brookings Institution is hosting an official launch event, which will include a public panel discussion on Thursday, July 28 with Donald Steinberg, USAID’s Deputy Administrator, J. Brian Atwood, the OECD/DAC Chair, Connie Veillete of the Center for Global Development, and Homi Kharas and Noam Unger of Brookings. For more on the discussion, and to register, please visit the event page here.