WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement a committee hearing on the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2016 foreign assistance budget request:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for holding this important hearing. I’ve always been very fond of USAID and the wonderful work that USAID does. Ambassador Lenhardt, Ms. Hyde: thank you for testifying this morning. Thank you both for all your hard work and service to our country.
“As the Chairman mentioned, compared to the entire federal budget, what we’re discussing today represents a drop in the ocean. I have long felt that US Foreign Aid should be increased but a lot of people don’t realize that it’s barely 1 percent of our budget. But it’s a critical part of America’s foreign policy. Our investments in foreign assistance pay huge dividends in terms of our country’s security, prosperity, and values. Our efforts abroad save millions of lives, improve governance, and promote economic opportunity around the world.
“The benefits of foreign assistance are clear. But of course, every tax dollar must be spent wisely. That’s why this Committee’s oversight of USAID, the State Department, MCC, and other foreign affairs agencies is so critical.
“Ms. Hyde, your leadership of MCC has been outstanding, as far as I’m concerned. For more than a decade, MCC has maintained an emphasis on data-driven, accountable, and transparent development efforts. I look forward to continued progress to ensure that MCC maximizes the benefits of this approach.
“I also want to thank you for MCC’s work with my staff to help Kosovo compete fairly within the MCC framework. Thanks to this collaboration, we’ve found a way to generate data on Kosovo that can be submitted to MCC and included on MCC’s scorecard.
“Ambassador Lenhardt, thank you for stepping into the role of Acting Administrator. Rajiv Shah has big shoes to fill, as I’m sure you know, but your distinguished record tells me that USAID is in good hands, remains in good hands. Your leadership comes at an especially challenging time. As we face expanding needs due to conflict and instability around the world, our foreign assistance budget remains constrained.
“I want to thank USAID for its incredible work in responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. After a very challenging year, our strategy is working, but the situation remains critical in Sierra Leone and Guinea. We need smart investments in sustainable health care systems. We need to help countries identify and contain infectious diseases. And we need to help people live healthy, productive lives.
“We must also not forget that treatable diseases continue to kill millions of people every year. Last year alone, hundreds of thousands died from malaria, and 1.5 million succumbed to tuberculosis. I hope Congress will provide robust funding for our global health programs this year.
“Likewise, I’m concerned that we will need more funding for humanitarian relief in the coming fiscal year to deal with crises in Syria, Ukraine, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and many other places.
“More than four years after the start of the horrendous conflict in Syria, the country continues to be a magnet for extremists. ISIL has spread across Syria and deep into Iraq. The Assad regime commits atrocities, just heard of more gas atrocities this morning, atrocities with impunity, and the humanitarian crisis has reached critical proportions. We must do more to help bring this conflict to an end and respond to the immense suffering it has caused.
“On Ukraine, the President recently signed bipartisan legislation expanding assistance across a variety of sectors. Chairman Royce and I have worked in a collaborative process to help Ukraine, as have the members of this Committee. Since USAID is the lead agency for implementing much of this effort, I look forward to hearing your views on these new programs concerning Ukraine.
“I am very pleased by the President’s $1.1 billion proposal to address the root causes of child migration from Central America. I also want to call to your attention to a bipartisan letter I sent you last week along with Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, Mr. Sires, Mr. Cicilline and others, urging USAID to provide direct funding to LGBT human rights groups in Central America. The level of violence against LGBT individuals in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is unacceptable.
“In Africa, increased trade and access to electricity are critical to economic growth and development. USAID is leading with the Power Africa and Trade Africa initiatives. I hope Congress will complement those efforts by passing Electrify Africa and re-authorizing the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and again the Chairman has been a champion on this for many many years. Both of these laws would bolster USAID’s efforts and support innovative and enterprising Africans.
“And finally, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States has spent billions of dollars on roads, agriculture, rule of law, and capacity building. I hope you will focus on how USAID plans to monitor projects in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all American combat troops and assess the continuing value of our aid to Pakistan.
“Ambassador Lenhardt and Ms. Hyde, thank you again for appearing here today and I look forward to your testimony.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here