Will Cutting Foreign Aid Fry America's Bacon?

By Kirkwood, R. Cort | Insight on the News, November 27, 1995 | Go to article overview

Will Cutting Foreign Aid Fry America's Bacon?


Kirkwood, R. Cort, Insight on the News


In an ironic twist, both sides in the debate about the future of foreign aid are talking about how much of the money ends up back home in the United States.

The squealing was predictable when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms of North Carolina pulled out the meat cleaver to cut the fat from the State Department's budget, and moved on to scrapping the Agency for International Development, or AID, while paring the Clinton administration's budget request for foreign assistance during fiscal 1996. But who would have thought both sides in the debate about American foreign aid would use the very same argument to make their opposing cases?

On one hand, says AID, "the principal beneficiary of America's foreign-assistance programs has always been the United States." On the other hand, say critics, AID "has made a virtue of the fact that it spends the taxpayers' dollars at home." There has been a meeting of the minds: AID's budget is a mix of corporate welfare and congressional pork.

President Clinton nonetheless says he'll veto the Helms bill because it would "push the United States into retreat from world affairs" and "would drastically reduce the resources available to meet threats" abroad.

But retreating from world affairs isn't what worries AID's biggest supporters. Newspaper coverage and editorials are more to the point: "Foreign Aid Cuts Could Hit Close to Home," the Los Angeles Times ominously warned. "In the Los Angeles area," the story reported, "there are contractors building houses in Russia, providing health education in El Salvador, improving water and water facilities in Egypt and upgrading government computer systems throughout the world. A West Los Angeles firm is using foreign-assistance money to provide emergency health care in Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia and Bosnia. And Santa Monica's RAND Corp. is in the midst of a government-funded project to collect demographic data in Indonesia."

More than 2,500 miles away in Pennsylvania the story is much the same. "Cuts in foreign aid could hurt state," the Patriot in Harrisburg declared, "Proposal would slash $33 million in Pennsylvania export business." As AID spokesman Jay Byrne has been telling reporters, "We have a Congress full of a lot of people who don't want to even hear the words `foreign assistance.' When they say foreign aid is going down a rat hole, the fact is that rat hole could be their district." One of the agency's impressive publicity efforts is a 50 state survey documenting the billions of dollars flowing either directly from AID to American corporations, academics and consultants or round-tripping from AID to a foreign country and back to American vendors.

How foreign is foreign aid? According to AID's nine-page report, "Foreign Aid for Virginia," a substantial portion of foreign aid contained in multi-year contracts never made it more than five or 10 miles away from AID headquarters in Washington, having stopped in Arlington or McLean, Va. The Old Dominion is in the process of collecting more than $936 million. On the other side of the District of Columbia, Maryland is getting more than $686 million. Massachusetts eventually will cash in on more than $639 million in "foreign aid"; New York can count on more than $889 million.

So AID is selling its budget in Congress as benefiting two groups: legislators and their corporate constituents. Among the corporate recipients of AID's largesse are titans such as IBM, Xerox, Ford and General Motors. Even a small Chevy dealer in Kearny, N.J., made it to the stream to pan just a little of AID's gold. It received a $31,213 contract for a fourwheel-drive Suburban. Round-tripped money has made its way from AID to the Middle East and back to Pillsbury, Otis Elevator and Upjohn. American colleges from the University of Alabama to the University of Alaska receive millions from the agency.

According to AID experts Thomas P. Sheehy and Brian Johnson, both of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, much of this is nothing more than pork. …

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