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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.


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.


MFAN Statement: SFRC Afghanistan Report Includes Positive Signs, Despite Challenges

Thursday, June 9th, 2011
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Senate Report on Afghanistan Foreign Assistance Includes Positive Signs, Despite Challenges

June 9, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Report on Afghanistan assistance released yesterday contains some signs of progress, as well as compelling evidence that the Obama Administration’s efforts to reform U.S. foreign assistance are moving in the right direction. That said, we agree with the report’s conclusion that policymakers must create a long-term  development strategy for Afghanistan that is more comprehensive and accountable.  We continue to need a similar strategy, which was promised in last year’s Presidential Policy Directive on Development, for broader U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty, improve public health, and spur economic growth in poor countries. In both strategies, policymakers need to make clear distinctions between assistance for security purposes and assistance for development.

Despite the challenges and shortfalls noted by Senate investigators and the intense media focus on the negative aspects of the report, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about  the direction of U.S. development efforts and policy in Afghanistan and more broadly:

  • The authors “recognize the value of foreign assistance in achieving our national security objectives,” while noting that slashing foreign assistance “is not the most prudent solution” and emphasizing the need for adequate State Department and USAID resources “to ensure a smooth transition” in Afghanistan;
  • The report applauds Administrator Shah’s reform initiatives, including USAID Forward, which are bolstering monitoring and evaluation around the world, overhauling procurement practices, and focusing more on building local capacity to deal with development challenges – all of which are at the root of the shortfalls in foreign assistance outlined by Senate investigators;
  • The report also highlights U.S.-backed Afghan development programs that “exemplify the goals of being ‘necessary, achievable and sustainable:’”
    • The National Solidarity Program, which “promotes subnational governance by setting up community development councils and training them to manage small-scale projects funded by block grants,” has been successful in part because of its “transparent, standardized, and streamlined” disbursements, local ownership of development initiatives, and “strong monitoring and evaluation.”
    • The Basic Package of Health Services, which provides public nutrition and maternal and child health services on levels ranging from community health posts to district hospitals, has increased health coverage rates to 85 percent in 2008 (from only 9 percent in 2003) nationwide and reduced infant mortality by 26 percent.
    • The number of children attending school in Afghanistan has increased sevenfold over the past decade.

We applaud SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and his committee staff for producing this timely and thorough report and urge policymakers to continue supporting both Afghan development programs and the Obama Administration’s overarching foreign assistance reform efforts, which aim to make U.S. assistance more effective, accountable, and results-oriented.

To read MFAN’s updated foreign assistance reform agenda, visit