Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Future of Foreign Assistance

As many in the Washington, DC policy community look ahead to the reforms and changes that accompany a presidential election, a major point of contention is the future of U.S. foreign assistance. A recent Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing investigated the current state of foreign assistance, and heard expert opinions on the path that foreign assistance should follow in the future. Senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii and Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio presided over the hearing.

The first witness to testify at the hearing was Mr. Richard L. Greene, Deputy Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance at the U.S. Department of State. He offered candid answers to Senator Voinovich and Senator Akaka’s inquiries into the convoluted foreign aid system. Mr. Greene spoke of current efforts for reform within the State Department, citing improvements such as the new Director of Foreign Assistance position. He clarified that reforms have focused mainly on actions that do not require legislation, especially improving communication and cooperation between State and USAID. Congress and the State Department are also often at odds over funding. Uncertainty over Congress's appropriations can delay projects overseas and prevent the State department from distributing much-needed foreign aid. Greene also answered questions about USAID's practice of contracting outside groups, and suggested that increased staffing at USAID would remedy this situation.

The second panel of expert witnesses consisted of Mr. Leo Hindery, Vice Chairman of the Commission on Helping to Enhance the Livelihood of People Around the Globe; Dr. Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center; Ms. Anne C .Richards, Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy of the International Rescue Committee; Mr. Samuel A. Worthington, President & CEO of InterAction; and Dr. Gerald Hyman, Senior Advisor and President of the Hills Program on Governance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These experts took a range of positions on the direction that U.S. foreign assistance should follow in the future. Worthington, a staunch advocate of creating a separate cabinet-level Department of Development Assistance, feels that such action is the only way to increase coordination of foreign assistance on the ground. Mr. Hindery also championed this plan as a way to decrease bureaucracy in the American foreign aid system. Conversely, Dr. Hyman and Dr. Adams argued that separating development from defense and diplomacy is not only impossible but would not significantly streamline operations. Ann Richardson proposed what she referred to as a "hybrid model", calling for a new directorate for foreign operations at the National Security Center, and a stronger USAID that still falls under the State Department.

Senator Voinovich promised that the Subcommittee will continue to investigate foreign assistance reform, and compile their information by the time the next President takes office. During the pivotal first months of the new presidency, America's new leader will use these investigations to guide his policy on foreign assistance.

Read the Member Statements and Witnesses Testimony

Sponsor: Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Affairs
Date: July 31, 2008
Time: 2-4:30 pm
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan

No comments: