blog logo image

Archive for the ‘Pressroom’ Category

MFAN Co-Chair Jim Kolbe and Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien to Speak on Kojo Nnamdi

Friday, September 16th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

On Monday, September 19th the Kojo Nnamdi Show will feature MFAN Co-Chair Jim Kolbe, former Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Paul O’Brien, Vice President of Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam America to discuss the future of foreign aid and the trajectory of reform, continuing a conversation that began two years ago.

The show will explore foreign assistance in this tense budget environment: “One year ago this week, President Obama elevated global development as a “core pillar” of U.S. foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense. But as Congress and the White House struggle to find billions to cut from the federal budget, some advocates worry Washington’s commitment to reducing global poverty is wavering. We explore the future of American foreign aid.”

The program will air at 1:00PM EST; you can listen to the show here or stream it live on MFAN will be live tweeting, so be sure to follow @ModernizeAid for updates!


MFAN Principal Bill Anderson Warns Against Cuts to USAID’s Operating Budget

Monday, September 12th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for an op-ed from MFAN Principal G. William Anderson, visiting professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs, as he argues against House-proposed cuts to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) operating budget, demonstrating how such cuts would effectively end reform efforts underway while severely impacting U.S. foreign policy for future generations. This piece originally appeared in Devex.


A Make-or-Break Moment for US Foreign Policy

G William Anderson

In the final moments of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the Texan congressman pleads with his fellow lawmakers to provide the most basic necessities to the fragile Afghan government. While his colleagues supported military aid to the mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviet Union, they balk at funding basic education and social development. We all know how that story ended.

We now face another make-or-break moment for U.S. foreign policy and U.S. foreign assistance.

The consequences of massive cuts to foreign aid often take a generation to manifest, but once they do, they are devastating. Following the Cold War, the U.S. Agency for International Development was gutted, pure and simple. Deprived of its resources, human capital and technical expertise, USAID was unable to respond to mounting global challenges. After 9/11, our political class woke up to the realization that our civilian capacity was wholly inadequate to support reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defunding USAID became a classic example of the U.S. government cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Today, the country’s top international development agency once again finds itself in the cross hairs of budget hawks. However, Congress is taking aim at a very different USAID. More than any other government agency, USAID has committed itself to a reform agenda — called USAID Forward — that will make our foreign assistance dollars more effective, efficient, and transparent. It is gradually rebuilding its planning, implementation and evaluation systems so that the agency will be more accountable, not only to the recipients of aid, but to Congress and the American people. However, since foreign assistance is a convenient political football, these reforms may amount to nothing, yet another victim of Washington’s partisan squabbles.

Of all the cuts to emerge from last month’s House Foreign Affairs Committee draft authorization bill and the fiscal 2012 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee bill markup, the cut from USAID’s operating expenses budget may turn out to be one of the most painful for U.S. foreign policy. There are few budget line items less sexy than USAID’s OE budget, and it lacks a vocal constituency among NGOs. It is an easy target. Yet sufficient OE funding for USAID is critical to the execution of U.S. foreign policy, since it funds the salaries and training of our development practitioners, as well as the administrative costs of USAID-managed programs. At the moment, this includes the long-term strengthening of critical programming and accountability systems. The OE budget keeps the lights on in our overseas missions and makes sure that we can replace development practitioners as they retire.

The OE budget is already severely constrained. Any significant reductions in the requested funding will threaten the fundamental capabilities of the agency to manage and account for U.S. foreign assistance.

After a period of neglect and decline, USAID began to claw its way back to health through Bush administration programs like the Development Leadership Initiative, which seeks to recruit new managers and younger technical experts, and the current USAID Forward initiative, which aims to save taxpayer money through improved efficiencies such as contracting and procurement reform. These programs would be decimated by the cuts currently being contemplated. The majority of USAID’s $985 million budget developed by the House of Representatives would be consumed by paying salaries and benefits, assuming that USAID funds their operations at fiscal 2010 levels. Nearly all those hired by the Development Leadership Initiative since 2009 would be laid off, and the next generation of development leaders would be asked to find work elsewhere. Overseas missions could lose as much as 18 percent of their staff. Forget about investing in innovation. Even buying a few new computers would put our overseas missions in the red. Some might not even be able to pay the rent. Is this a vision for global leadership?

USAID’s rebuilding is vital for the U.S. to address successfully the national security, economic, and foreign policy challenges the U.S. faces in the 21st century. However, these strengthening efforts only began in 2008, and the hardest work lies ahead.

The funding levels set by this recent round of reckless legislation will not only roll back the progress made in recent years at USAID. They could potentially break our nation’s foreign assistance system for good. As a USAID senior foreign service officer in the field, I witnessed how the cutbacks in USAID staffing in the 1990s nearly destroyed my agency. The result was a shortage of program managers, planners and technical experts who were critically needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention other poor countries whose growth over time would mean expanding U.S. exports and jobs.

In this era of fiscal austerity, we must avoid the wrong-headed actions of the past that crippled the capacity of our development staff and diplomats to both respond to and prevent crises. If we don’t support USAID’s fundamental institutional capabilities, how can we hope to respond to daunting, unanticipated challenges, such as famine in sub-Saharan Africa or bolstering new Middle Eastern democracies in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya?

Last year’s presidential policy directive on global development elevated development to the same level of strategic importance as diplomacy and defense. If the administration is serious about development, it must make the continuation of USAID’s reform and rebuilding processes a top priority in budget negotiations for 2012 and beyond and insist on adequate OE funding. NGOs, academics, government officials and concerned citizens must speak up now, or our nation’s days as a global leader in alleviating poverty and building stable economies may be numbered.

Should the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee’s OE levels become law, USAID’s reform effort will be dead in the water, effectively derailing the president’s development agenda.

After the near-fatal slashing of the ’90s, USAID has painstakingly been brought back from the brink through bipartisan efforts under both the Bush and Obama administrations. If a second such sundering of the agency occurs, USAID is unlikely to survive as a significant and influential foreign assistance agency. This is a make-or-break moment for U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance.


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

Monday, September 12th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

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.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: ‘American Aid is Lifting Liberia’

Monday, August 15th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

Over the weekend, The Washington Post ran an op-ed by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in which she elaborates on the partnership between Liberia and the U.S. that has helped set her country on a path to recovery, and even growth, following a decades-long civil war. She writes: “Thanks to our partnership with the American people, we are rebuilding roads, clinics, and schools, and expanding access to electricity, water, and sanitation. It is critical that this aid continues in next year’s budget.”

With economic growth averaging 7.2 percent in recent years, President Sirleaf hopes to one day reach a point when American aid is no longer needed—a principle guiding the thinking behind the Obama administration’s development initiatives. Yet, she reminds the reader that time is not yet and the critical support the U.S has offered, whether it’s providing greater access to clean water through the Global Health Initiative or basic infrastructure improvements, is still needed. In closing, she argues for continued U.S. investment, writing:

“Indeed, on a June visit to the United States, I met with congressional leaders and administration officials to make the case for sustained foreign assistance to Liberia. I explained that we are not seeking an open-ended commitment but, rather, support in the next few years of our transition. I am confident that such aid would, within a decade, allow Liberia to sustain its own development and end its need for foreign aid.”

To read the full piece, click here.


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

Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

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.


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.