Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I want to thank the organizers of this event for inviting me to address a topic of pressing importance: foreign assistance reform. A few weeks back, several of the people speaking here this morning testified on this very subject in this very room, before the Foreign Affairs Committee. We have made it a top priority.

Calls for foreign assistance reform are at an apex; this is a very encouraging development, and we must not squander the opportunity.

Various proposals are making the rounds, including those that will be announced today by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. While there is no consensus yet on the direction that the reforms should take, there is broad agreement that our foreign assistance program is fragmented and broken, and in critical need of overhaul so it can better respond to the significant challenges of the 21st century.

One key means to that end is for Congress to resume the practice of regularly passing foreign aid and State Department authorization bills. For far too long we have been lax in our efforts to focus congressional attention on such bills, which are essential for strengthening the tools of effective diplomacy.

As I indicated the Foreign Affairs Committee has had one hearing on foreign aid reform in the next Administration. I intend to hold a series of hearings that will help us consider various aspects of foreign assistance reform, such as rebuilding U.S. civilian diplomatic and development agencies and the role of the military in delivering and shaping assistance. We’ll also take a close look at implementation in the field that will address how a U.S. country mission coordinates and harmonizes the various programs and funding for a particular country, including USAID and State Department funding, DoD assistance, and MCA assistance.

History has shown us that reform can only occur when all sides come together, committed to the result as much as to the process. I’m committed to developing a partnership between Congress and the next Administration on reforming the U.S. foreign assistance program.

Next year, I plan on overhauling the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which has not been reauthorized since 1985. Everyone in this room is quite familiar with the shortcomings of this legislation. Thoughtful and comprehensive foreign assistance legislation will provide the U.S. government the authorities it needs to tackle global extremism, poverty, corruption, and other threats to our long-term national security goals.

As this process moves forward, greater attention and resources must be given rebuilding our core development functions, including basic education, child survival and maternal health, educational and cultural exchanges, and agricultural development programs. These core development programs have received little attention and limited resources, in part, because of an expanding number of presidential initiatives. We’ll also have to consider whether to incorporate such initiatives, including the Millennium Challenge Account, into a foreign assistance reform process.

In addition, Congress and the next Administration must closely examine the expanding role of the Department of Defense into foreign assistance, which is of concern and needs to be reviewed carefully. We must examine why in just five years the DoD moved from being responsible for seven percent of bilateral official development assistance to an astonishing 20 percent. DoD activities have expanded to include the provision of humanitarian assistance and training in disaster response, and counter-narcotics efforts. These activities should and must be carried out primarily by America’s diplomatic and development agencies. While we respect and appreciate U.S. military forces, our civilian agencies and their implementing partners must be the public face of America around the world, not the military.

Again, I would like to thank the organizers for the invitation to speak at this launch, and I look forward to working with all of you as the Committee moves forward on foreign assistance reform.

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