Washington D.C. – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, gave the following statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s full committee hearing “U.S. Foreign Assistance in FY 2015: What are the Priorities?”
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing. Dr. Shah, thank you for your service and for being here today to review the Administration’s foreign assistance budget request for fiscal year 2015.
“I’d like to begin by reminding my colleagues that the international affairs budget as a whole is only about one percent of the entire federal budget. And the foreign assistance funding that we will discuss today is only a fraction of that amount.
“It’s important that every tax dollar is spent wisely, and one of the key responsibilities of this Committee is to conduct effective oversight of USAID, the State Department, and other foreign affairs agencies. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that we can solve our larger budget issues by slashing foreign aid.
“So what do we get for that tiny slice of the budget that we spend on foreign assistance? We promote American leadership around the world. We support allies in need. We create new markets for American goods and generate jobs here at home. We help impoverished men, women and children suffering from hunger and disease. We prevent wars before they happen. And through all of these activities, we make a critical investment in our own security.
“Dr. Shah, I’d like to commend you for your leadership on so many important issues. The Administration has made some very tough decisions on funding priorities, and I am very impressed by USAID’s ability to accomplish so much on a limited budget.
“As we have discussed, I’m disappointed by the proposed cuts to the bilateral tuberculosis program and to humanitarian accounts. The United States has helped the world make tremendous gains in childhood survival, maternal health and the fight against TB, and I fear that reductions in these areas will make it difficult to sustain the progress we have made.
“Likewise, I’m concerned that we will need more funding for humanitarian relief in the coming fiscal year, not less, to deal with famine and crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and other countries.
“On food aid, I am pleased that the budget request builds on the modest gains we made in the farm bill by seeking additional flexibility that will allow USAID to reach about 2 million more people each year.
“I am concerned that the gains we’ve made on food security will be imperiled unless we mount an aggressive effort to combat the effects of climate change. This budget would help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable populations deal with the impacts of global warming.
“Dr. Shah, your signature initiatives emphasize public-private partnerships and harnessing innovation. Your latest effort, launched just weeks ago, is the U.S. Global Development Lab. I have high hopes for this initiative and would like you to describe some of the lab’s key products and innovations. I’m particularly impressed by the invention of the Pratt Pouch, which effectively prevents the transmission of HIV from mother to child. It costs only nine cents per pouch, can be used anywhere, and will make a big difference in our fight to create an AIDS-free generation.
“With regard to Haiti, this Committee has expanded oversight of U.S. assistance provided to that country since the devastating 2010 earthquake. I am pleased that U.S. reconstruction aid to Haiti has accelerated, and I hope that USAID will focus more intensely on ensuring that our assistance to Haiti encourages investment in the country.
“On Cuba, I have closely followed the recent press reports about our democracy assistance programs, and hope you will use this opportunity to discuss the purpose and effectiveness of these programs.
“In Africa, USAID is leading the Power Africa Initiative, which will increase access to affordable electricity for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. This will help fuel greater economic growth and development across the continent. I hope that the Electrify Africa Act – legislation that Chairman Royce and I authored – will bolster your efforts and extend the life of this promising program.
“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 U.S. combat troops at the end of 2014 and the continuing value of our aid to Pakistan.
“On Ukraine, the President recently signed into law our bipartisan legislation to provide additional assistance, with a focus on strengthening civil society, combating corruption, promoting energy efficiency and diversification, and preparing the country for democratic elections. USAID will be a lead agency in implementing this assistance, and I look forward to hearing your views on how best to manage these programs.
“Finally, I regret that the budget request plans for a long road ahead in Syria. More than three years after the start of this horrendous conflict, the Assad regime continues to commit atrocities with impunity, the country has become a magnet for extremists, and the humanitarian crisis gets worse with each passing day. I believe we should do more to help bring this conflict to an end and relieve the immense suffering of the Syrian people.
“Dr. Shah, I would like to thank you again for being here and I look forward to your testimony.”