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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.


MFAN STATEMENT: Obama Middle East Speech Highlights Key Elements of Foreign Assistance Reform

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
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May 20, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe:

We commend President Obama for launching a bold new effort to make development, particularly inclusive economic growth, a top priority for U.S. policy in the Middle East. This is critical to helping citizens of the Middle East move from poverty and protest to peace and prosperity; and another example of the strong, bipartisan commitment to elevating development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense.

From a foreign assistance reform perspective, the most important themes of the President’s speech included strengthening local ownership of development, building stronger civil society, providing greater representation for women and children, and increasing citizens’ capacity to hold their governments accountable. These proposed reforms echo both MFAN’s recently released policy paper, “A New Approach to U.S. Assistance in a Changing Middle East,” and our updated policy agenda.

The approach the President laid out in his speech builds on last fall’s Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which provided a roadmap for development to be more strategic, coordinated, and accountable across the U.S. government in the 21st Century. We urge President Obama and Congress to work together to advance the reforms laid out in the PPD and codify them in law. During a time when resources are scarce, reform is critical to making sure we get the most out of every dollar we spend on development in the Middle East and beyond.


Ezra Klein Cites MFAN Principals’ Report in Washington Post

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011
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On his blog earlier today, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein posted a piece about five ways foreign aid could be improved to cost less and be more effective. After establishing that foreign aid makes up just less than 1 percent of the federal budget, Klein writes, “But even though we’re actually spending less than Americans think we should, the perception that we massively overspend makes it easier for politicians to slash foreign aid whenever they need to make some budget cuts.”

Still, there’s hope. He cites a recent policy brief from MFAN Principals John Norris of the Center for American Progress and Connie Veillette of the Center for Global Development who list off five ways the U.S. government can save money on its foreign assistance programs by eliminating earmarks—or as Klein puts it “aidmarks”—doing away with ag subsidies, and getting rid of outdated shipping regulations. Klein makes the point that these measures, being pro-market and putting every dollar to greater use, seem to be exactly the kind of improvements Republicans could get behind. Read his full piece here.


MFAN’s Daily News Clips

Friday, May 13th, 2011
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News Clips 5.13.2011

Note:  You can sign up to receive full text of these articles by clicking here.

Today’s Headline: See our Twitter feed @ModernizeAid for live tweets from yesterday’s overflow event for the newly-formed Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance.


  • Sen. Lugar Raises Afghan Mission Questions (NPR Morning Edition, May 13) INSKEEP: Of course, since bin Laden was found in Pakistan, given where he was found, people have begun questioning that aid again. Do you regret supporting that bill at all? Mr. LUGAR: No, because the Pakistanis always said: You folks are in and out of the place. You have no interest in us. And we said wrong. We’re going to make a commitment for five years. The five years was the big figure, not the $7.5 billion, although that’s a lot of money. However, life is never simple, and when we began to implement the first year of this, Pakistanis said, well, you’re intruding on our sovereignty. Sometimes they said, well, we need really some big dams. And we said, no, we want to deal with schoolchildren and want to deal with health, the strengthening of civil government. And they said well, that really is intrusion. You are really into our box now. So, as a result, the truth of the matter is out of the 1.5 billion in the first year, only 179 million has actually been allocated to four projects. And even that is under some scrutiny as to how it is being spent, how efficient the funds may be. Now, that’s too bad, but it illustrates how tough this job is, even if you offer a very generous thought in terms of foreign assistance. Getting it done in Pakistan is no easy trick. However, there’s still four more years to come into a new relationship with a very important country of 180 million people.
  • Pakistan and questions over foreign aid (Reuters blog-Bernd Debusmann, May 13) Consequently, military and civilian aid is likely to continue flowing and the strained marriage of convenience between the U.S. and Pakistan will survive this latest spat. But giving billions of dollars to a country where, according to President Barack Obama, “we think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden” will probably rekindle a long-running debate over the how and why of foreign aid as a whole.


  • New U.S. Bipartisan Caucus Targets Aid Effectiveness (Devex, May 12) The Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance will examine the “ways the United States currently delivers foreign assistance” to help improve the effectiveness of the country’s aid program and educate members of the U.S. Congress on the the subject, Reps. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), founders and co-chairmen of the caucus, said in a letter they circulated this week inviting colleagues to the launch. Crenshaw and Smith recognized in their letter an argument that the Obama administration has been emphasizing for years: Development aid is in the U.S.’s economic and national security interests. “Development assistance, coupled with defense and diplomacy, makes up the critical balance of America’s national security,” they said, adding that effective foreign aid can help promote accountability, develop stable international partners, reduce poverty, and increase national security, among others.


MFAN’s Daily News Clips

Thursday, May 12th, 2011
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News Clips 5.12.2011

Note:  You can sign up to receive full text of these articles by clicking here.

Today’s Headline: We commend Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA) for launching the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance.  The Caucus is the first of its kind to focus solely on reforming foreign assistance to maximize the impact of the 1 percent of our federal budget that is spent on promoting poverty alleviation, disease eradication, and equitable economic growth in developing countries. Read more of MFAN’s statement on the Caucus launch here.


  • Libyan rebels get first tranche of U.S. aid: 10,000 MREs (FP Blog-Josh Rogin, May 11) The meals are part of the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libyan rebels the White House approved on April 26. That approval came 11 days after the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to spend the funds to help the Libyan rebel army fight off the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. “One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in non-lethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition, is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces,” Clinton said April 21.


  • Obama, Congress ratchet up deficit-reduction talks (Reuters, May 12) Republicans’ are seeking long-term reforms to save money in retirement and healthcare programs for the poor and elderly, achieving more immediate cuts in programs ranging from education to foreign aid, while increasing defense spending. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, testifying to Congress, warned it was “a risky approach to not raise the debt limit in a reasonable time.” A failure by lawmakers to send a debt limit increase to Obama promptly, Bernanke added, would at the minimum result in higher interest rates and at worst “have extremely dire consequences for the U.S. economy.”
  • Republicans say aid efforts in Haiti are a failure (AP, May 11) “The initial response was tremendous,” Shah said. “We would have had more success with rubble removal and housing if we had more specific support from our partners and the government of Haiti. We’re not in charge of Haiti. We’re in a bilateral partnership with Government of Haiti.” “You would be fired” if the recovery efforts showed the same results in the United States, said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said USAID has suffered from budget cuts. But he added: “There is a responsibility to show this committee improvements are being made. I don’t think the patience is going to last forever.” Chaffetz, who chaired the subcommittee hearing, said USAID’s record wasn’t much better in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pointed to a memorandum to Shah from the agency inspector general that concluded wildly inaccurate claims were made about operations in Iraq.


  • The U.S. Should Maintain Aid to Pakistan, Especially in Education (Brookings blog-Rebecca Wintrhop and Anda Adams, May 12) Since 2001, the majority of U.S. assistance to Pakistan – more than $20 billion – has gone to Pakistan’s military. Recognizing this imbalance in support, the 2009 legislation introduced by Senators Kerry and Lugar sought to “promote an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its people” by authorizing $7.5 billion over 5 years in non-military aid for democratic governance, economic freedom, investments in people, particularly women and children, and development in regions affected by conflict and displacement. In addition to being an overt attempt to win “hearts and minds” by focusing on Pakistan’s civilians, the bill also signaled a shift to a more stable allocation of aid to a country that has experienced extreme volatility in U.S. aid levels over the past fifty years as geopolitical interests have shifted.