Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at Wednesday's committee hearing, “The FY 2014 Budget Request: U.S. Foreign Assistance Priorities and Strategy."
The statement follows:
Dr. Shah and Mr. Yohannes, as Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I would like to welcome you to the Committee today to testify on the US Agency for International Development and Millennium Challenge Corporation budget requests for fiscal year 2014.
In this difficult fiscal environment, some reflexively turn to the foreign assistance budget as the first place to make cuts.
Regrettably, these efforts are often based on gross misconceptions about our development and humanitarian assistance programs.
Many people erroneously believe that we spend 20% or more of the federal budget on foreign assistance. The reality is that we spend less than 1% of the budget on those programs. In my view, that’s a good investment.
As Secretary Kerry testified last week, diplomacy and foreign assistance are key elements of our national security, and a much more cost-effective way of preventing instability than putting boots on the ground.
Marine General James Mattis, Commander of the Central Command, testified before the Senate that, quote “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Certainly the same can be said of USAID and MCC.
All federal agencies have been forced to tighten their belts, and I’m pleased to see that USAID is continuing the process of rationalizing its overseas presence by withdrawing from certain sectors in some countries, downsizing posts, and closing some missions. We must concentrate our scarce resources in countries and sectors where we can do the most good and achieve truly meaningful results.
I would also like to commend the Administration for its food aid reform proposal. Our current food aid programs waste millions of taxpayer dollars, and often harm agricultural markets in the countries we are trying to help. As former Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, I saw first-hand how these programs – while well-intentioned – had a devastating impact on Haiti’s ability to feed itself.
The Secretary of Agriculture has said this reform initiative will have little to no effect on American farmers, and the Pentagon has made clear that it will have no impact on our military readiness. I look forward to working with Chairman Royce as our Committee examines this proposal in the context of the upcoming Farm Bill.
On the issue of reform, Dr. Shah, I encourage you to continue the reforms begun under USAID Forward, the agency’s signature modernization effort. While these reforms may not get much attention, I believe they are critical for building capacity in partner countries and making USAID a more effective and transparent organization.
Turning now to global health, I was pleased to see the small overall increase in funding for global health programs at USAID, especially for PEPFAR. PEPFAR owes its existence to the vision of President George W. Bush, and has been authorized twice by both Republican and Democratic-controlled Congresses. It is hard to think of a single foreign assistance program that has historically enjoyed such broad bipartisan support and done so much good around the world. While I am disappointed by the proposed decrease in funding for tuberculosis programs, I hope the Congress maintains its commitment to eliminating the global scourge of HIV/AIDS and other treatable diseases, and provides adequate funding for these life saving programs.
Finally, Mr. Yohannes, it’s a testament to MCC that many of the reforms being pursued by USAID and the State Department are based in large part on the MCC model. Clear metrics and transparent benchmarks should be the hallmark of all our foreign assistance programs.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how MCC can address my longstanding concern about how we work with countries that lack data on their respective scorecards. As you know, I have been very disappointed in MCC's handling of Kosovo, a country recognized by the United States, but not a member of the UN. Because of MCC's dependency on UN agencies for much of the data it uses, Kosovo was left with multiple empty, failed boxes on its scorecard – essentially keeping it from competing for a compact or threshold program. I have felt this was very unfair to Europe's newest country. While I recognize MCC’s willingness to accept supplementary data, it is unclear, at best, how MCC uses this information to calculate a country’s scores – and unlike the rest of MCC's process, there is nothing transparent about this approach. I look forward to working with MCC to address this problem so that in the future countries in Kosovo's position will be evaluated and able to compete in the same way as all other countries.
One last point: As you know, Congress has been appropriating unprecedented sums for the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority over the past several years. This is important for maintaining a semblance of stability in the West Bank and in Israeli-Palestinians relations, as well as for humanitarian reasons. But it's no coincidence that this increase in US assistance has occurred during Salaam Fayyad’s tenure as prime minister, a man who won great respect for his emphasis on budget transparency and other aspects of good governance.
Fayyad resigned last week, and we anticipate a replacement will be named soon. I want to take this opportunity to urge President Abbas, in considering Fayyad's replacement, to appoint someone who will continue the positive aspects of Fayyad's approach. Without continuing budget transparency, further US assistance for the Palestinian Authority will not be possible.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this important hearing. I look forward to the testimony.