USAID’s Future Up for Debate

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December 17, 2010; Source:  Devex |  The future of U.S. foreign aid—much of it delivered by U.S. nonprofits—is up for debate when the 112th Congress takes office in January.  The subject of the debate will be the plans for USAID in the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which we have written about previously here and here.  The full QDDR has finally hit the streets, all 216 pages of it, after months of leaks of summary and PowerPoint versions. So far, nonprofits have been generally positive about Secretary Hillary Clinton’s strategy:

  • “A huge vote of confidence,” says George Ingram, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, describing the QDDR’s plan to move the administration’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, and the Global Health Initiative into USAID.
  • The “prioritization of conflict response and conflict prevention as a discipline that requires tools and skills,” says Paul O’Brien, an Oxfam America’s VP.
  • “A triumph of rationality,” according to David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

Although observers like the emphasis on development, the citizen face of American power, some are concerned about how the Department of State will ensure that it doesn’t turn into just words on paper.  “How are they going to make sure that monies spent . . . target humanitarian, not political outcomes?” questions Oxfam America’s O’Brien.  Connie Veillette of the Center for Global Development wonders how all of the development aid programs will be coordinated, indicating that more than two dozen federal agencies run international programs. “How do you get coherent strategies and coordinated activities where programs are not working at cross-purposes?” she asks.

But everyone agrees that Congressional support is crucial for making the reform of American foreign aid work.  As Beckmann said, “The next step is to give some of the reforms the force and durability of bipartisan legislation, so when Secretary Clinton is no longer secretary of state, a reformed State and USAID is an enduring legacy.”

Devex, which provides business intelligence and recruitment services to the development community, suggests that prospects don’t look good, given the control of the House of Representatives by Republicans who “have not been vocal champions of foreign assistance.”  Former Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, now working for the German Marshall Fund (here in the U.S.), said, “You will have a chairman of the [House Foreign Affairs] Committee (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL) who is committed primarily to cutting foreign assistance.”  If nonprofits want a role in U.S. foreign aid, they had better get active lobbying the new Congress to ensure the realization of the QDDR vision of U.S. foreign policy leading with a citizen face.—Rick Cohen