Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the below remarks as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah.
The statement follows:
Madam Chairman, I join you in welcoming Dr. Shah before the Committee this morning. I appreciate this opportunity to consider the President’s FY 2013 budget request for humanitarian and development assistance, and to review efforts to reform the way USAID does business.
As you yourself have noted, Madam Chairman, “the total, cumulative FY13 International Affairs request of $56.37 billion is $5.1 billion below last year’s request, and represents less of an increase over 2012 spending levels than the current, annualized inflation rate.”
Moreover, I would add, International Affairs spending represents only about one percent of our overall federal budget – and development and humanitarian spending is less than half of that amount.
Despite these facts, there continues to be a widespread misunderstanding about the size of our foreign aid program. Polls show that most people think it is upwards of 20 percent of the budget – and that cutting foreign aid will somehow balance the budget. What’s interesting is that the amount people think we should be spending on foreign aid is about 10 times more than we are actually spending.
It bears repeating that we give humanitarian and development aid not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do. Addressing hunger, disease, and human misery abroad is a cost-effective way of making Americans safer here at home. And it is infinitely cheaper to address these problems with economic and technical assistance now, than to wait until fragile states collapse or conflicts erupt in wide scale violence, and we have to resort to costly emergency aid or even military action.
Reducing global poverty is not a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike want to usher in an AIDS-free generation, expand access to clean water and sanitation, respond to natural disasters, help countries hold free and fair elections, and build new markets for U.S. exports. In fact, some of the biggest contributions to global health and development were spearheaded by Republican presidents, such as PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which were both created by President George W. Bush.
Still, in this difficult economic climate, we have a special obligation to ensure that the funds are spent as efficiently and effectively as possible, and that they best serve our national interests.
To do so, we must revise and update the framework of foreign aid laws and procedures that were designed for the last century, and fail to reflect the many lessons we’ve learned over the past 50 years.
For instance, we know that our programs have a much greater impact in countries that devote significant resources to improving the lives of their own people. Our dollars go much further if we and other donors work along with host countries in a coordinated way, instead of setting up parallel institutions that are duplicative or leave gaps. But our system of stovepiped accounts and earmarked funds makes it very difficult to respond to local needs and priorities.
Another thing we’ve learned is that we need to be strategic about our investments. That means not only having a clear plan of what we are trying to achieve and specific indicators to measure success, but also being more selective and focused with our funding.
Despite the need for improvements, I think we have some good stories to tell. Since its founding 50 years ago, USAID has played a critical role in lowering child deaths by 12 million a year. It helped bring global coverage of basic childhood vaccines from 20 percent to 80 percent in most countries. The money we invested in agricultural research led to the Green Revolution, which saved hundreds of millions from hunger and famine. And just recently the World Bank announced that the first Millennium Development Goal -- halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day -- has been reached ahead of schedule.
But unfortunately this message is not the one that dominates our headlines. After many years of providing aid, the public is skeptical that aid really helps. They are concerned that the problems are too big for us to be able to make a difference. And they don’t have a clear idea of how the aid is actually used.
In order to ensure that our money is being effectively spent and achieving the desired results, we need to collect solid empirical data about what works, and we need to make it available to the public. Without evidence that our programs are having a significant, positive impact, we will lose the support and confidence of the American people.
Some seem to think we can keep cutting back on staff and salaries without hurting our programs. Naturally, no one wants to waste money on unnecessary overhead costs. But it’s time to realize that development is a discipline, and that our dedicated aid professionals, Civil and Foreign Service alike, have important skills and experience that we want to retain and build upon. If we don’t invest in our human resources, we will pay dearly in the long run.
One thing that can be done to put our aid programs on a sounder footing is to replace the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 with legislation better geared to the needs of the 21st century. Last September, I released a draft of the Global Partnerships Act, which lays out a vision for how to make foreign assistance serve our national interests more efficiently and more effectively. Dr. Shah, I hope by now you’ve had a chance to review this draft, and I would ask that your staff begin sitting down with us to discuss how we can improve it. Madam Chairman, I make the same offer to you and your staff, so that we can have the benefit of your views and suggestions before introducing it later this year.
Before I close, I would just like to say a few words on behalf of our late colleague, Don Payne, who devoted so much of his career to serving the poor and downtrodden, particularly in Africa. Dr. Shah, I welcome your recent launch of the Donald Payne Fellowship Program, designed to attract outstanding young people to careers in international development. I know that Don had been working with you for the last year on your draft diversity and inclusion plan and this will be an important element of it.
But I also want to bring to your attention the last piece of legislation that Don introduced. H.R. 4141, the Food Assistance Improvement Act of 2012, is designed to improve the nutritional quality and cost effectiveness of United States food assistance, based on a number of recommendations made by the GAO. Don wanted to ensure that the food we provide is of the right type, quality and nutritional value not just to prevent starvation, but to maintain and restore health for the most vulnerable populations. I think that one of the best ways we can honor Don’s life and memory is to move this legislation through the process in a cooperative and bipartisan manner.
Thank you, and I look forward to your testimony.