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Archive for the ‘Pressroom’ Category

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: Berman Amendment on Goals of U.S. Foreign Assistance Receives Bipartisan Committee Support

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
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July 22, 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:

During yesterday’s mark-up of the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously passed an amendment authored by Ranking Member Howard Berman that articulates clear goals for U.S. foreign assistance. By fostering bipartisan support for the amendment’s passage, Ranking Member Berman, Congress’ most vocal champion of foreign assistance reform, and Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have created important momentum towards a larger goal: rewriting the Cold War-era Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. This is imperative in a world of complex and evolved challenges and tight budgets.

The original Foreign Assistance Act spelled out four clear priorities; 50 years later, that number has ballooned to more than 140 goals, mandates, and overlapping directives.  The lack of clarity and focus hinders our ability to deliver foreign assistance in a focused and strategic way, at a time when we must.

The goals drafted by Ranking Member Berman and adopted by the Committee include addressing global poverty and human suffering and promoting sustainable economic growth through trade and investment.  These echo some of the core pieces of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which Ranking Member Berman helped shape with his work on foreign assistance reform in the last Congress. The clear building blocks for rewriting the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 are in place, and we urge Members to work together on a bipartisan basis to create modern legislation that will ensure that U.S. foreign assistance is being used more effectively and strategically to confront the global challenges of the 21st century.

 

MFAN Statement: Bipartisan Passage of Poe Amendments Creates Momentum Towards Broader Reforms

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
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July 21, 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:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved two reform-focused amendments authored by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) during yesterday’s mark-up of the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.  MFAN applauds the leadership of Congressman Poe in authoring these reform measures, and we also thank Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) for pushing bipartisan support for the amendments, which passed the committee unanimously.

The two amendments, which would enhance transparency and monitoring and evaluation in U.S. foreign assistance programs, represent significant steps toward strengthening U.S. development efforts at a critical time:

  • The Monitoring and Evaluation amendment calls on the President to work with the leading development agencies to develop a clear and common set of guidelines to improve monitoring and evaluation programs for all U.S. foreign assistance programs.
  • The Transparency amendment also essentially codifies and expands the Administration’s new Foreign Assistance Dashboard initiative by directing the President to establish a searchable website for the publication of critical program funding and performance data for all foreign assistance programs.

The passage of the Poe amendments creates positive momentum for bipartisan congressional leadership on foreign assistance reform, and both amendments are designed to complement and improve upon the best practices and reform efforts that are underway within the Administration.

 

MFAN Statement: Foreign Relations Authorization Bill Would Roll Back Critical Reforms

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
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Proposed Foreign Relations Authorization Bill Would Roll Back Critical Reforms

July 20, 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:

The Fiscal Year 2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act (H.R. 2583), which is under consideration by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HCFA) today, advances some useful pieces of the foreign assistance reform agenda, including prioritizing economic growth as a central goal of U.S. engagement with developing countries, fostering greater collaboration with non-government actors on development, streamlining the foreign assistance bureaucracy, and coordinating more effectively with international partners. Concrete steps in these areas would make U.S. foreign assistance more effective, at a time when increasingly complex geopolitical challenges and tight budgets demand that we get as much as possible out of every development dollar we spend.

However, we are concerned that other aspects of the legislation, particularly those having to do with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), would undermine these positive steps and turn back the unprecedented progress that has been made on reform:

  • Sec. 402: Cuts to operating expenses would make it impossible for USAID to move forward with comprehensive and long overdue internal reforms, which have already strengthened accountability and innovation at the agency.
  • Sec. 411: Stripping USAID of its budgeting capacity by defunding the agency’s Office of Budget and Resource Management would make the agency less accountable for results, not more.  The establishment of this office is a key pillar of the USAID Forward initiative and central to making USAID, and the foreign assistance it manages, more effective.

While we appreciate HCFA’s movement towards MFAN’s key goal of passing modern legislation to strengthen the effectiveness and accountability of U.S. development efforts, we urge the Committee not to cut the legs out from under USAID’s unparalleled efforts to reform itself.  Without a strong, empowered U.S. development agency, we will have one fewer tool in our foreign policy arsenal for confronting the global challenges of the 21st century.