Foreign Assistance Reform in the New Administration: Challenges and Solutions?

By Berman | DISAM Journal, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Foreign Assistance Reform in the New Administration: Challenges and Solutions?


Berman, DISAM Journal


[The following is a transcript of the opening remarks by Chairman Berman delivered to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, April 23, 2008.]

I would very much like to welcome our expert panel of witnesses to the committee today to discuss the daunting task that the next Administration and Congress faces--the reforming and rationalizing of the U.S. foreign assistance system. It is painfully obvious to Congress, the Administration, foreign aid experts, and NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] alike, that our foreign assistance program is fragmented and broken and in critical need of overhaul. I strongly believe that America's foreign assistance program is not in need of some minor changes; but, rather, it needs to be reinvented and retooled in order to respond to the significant challenges our country and the world faces in the 21st century.

This year, our committee will review our foreign assistance program to look at what actions are needed to achieve coherency and effectiveness in the U.S. foreign assistance framework. We will hold a series of hearings on various aspects of foreign assistance reform such as rebuilding U.S. civilian diplomatic and development agencies, the role of the military in delivering and shaping foreign assistance, and improving America's image around the world.

These efforts will help inform this committee on the direction that Congress and the next Administration should take in reforming U.S. foreign assistance. Many experts are calling for a partnership between Congress and the next Administration to come together and work on improving our foreign assistance programs. I'm committed to this partnership and will do everything I can to ensure that it yields results.

Next year, our committee intends to reform and rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. That bill has not been reauthorized since 1985. This antiquated and desperately overburdened legislation--over 500 pages long--doesn't adequately provide the flexibility and necessary authorities for our civilian agencies to tackle global extremism, poverty, corruption, and other threats to our long-term national security goals.

As Congress and the next Administration come together on rewriting this legislation, we must give greater attention to core development programs, particularly basic education, child survival, maternal health, cultural exchanges, and agricultural development programs.

Recently, there have been a few stark examples of poorly performing programs which have resulted in waste, fraud, and abuse, such as the U.S. reconstruction programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our foreign assistance programs have also been crippled by a lack of resources, coordination, and a lack of critical capacity and authorities necessary to support such programs.

As a result, there has been an ad hoc effort to reform our foreign assistance programs through new programs, such as the Millennium Challenge Account, new mandates, and more congressional and administration directives. …

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