Yesterday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing to discuss reforming foreign assistance.
The hearing comes just in time. US foreign aid has saved millions of lives and helped millions more overcome poverty. But foreign aid is still underperforming and often fails to reach the people who need it most. At the hearing, Oxfam president Raymond Offenheiser illustrated the problem with a story:
During the Asian tsunami in 2004, the U.S. government responded rapidly and effectively with humanitarian relief. But when it came time to rebuild, villagers in Thailand were delivered unsolicited boats from the U.S. government and other aid agencies. Villagers who were day laborers, not fishermen, before the tsunami, felt obliged to become fishermen in order to put the boats to use. One villager told researchers, â€œWe got too many boats and there are not enough people or fishing spots to go to.â€ A fisherman in the village quipped, â€œI think there are more boats than fish.â€
During the hearing, Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) remarked: â€œIt is painfully obvious to Congress, the Administration, foreign aid experts, and NGOs alike, that our foreign assistance program is fragmented and broken and in critical need of overhaul.â€ Republican Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) likened the disorder of the current foreign aid structure to a â€œspaghetti bowl.â€
When the bi-partisan HELP Commission convened to study the issue reported their findings to Congress last fall, they marvelled that â€œnot one person appeared before this Commission to defend the status quo.â€
Much of this mess is enshrined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Over the years, the Act has become a maze of red tape thatâ€™s 1500 pages long. It has 33 stated goals and 247 directives â€“ many in conflict with each other. Itâ€™s a testament to the commitment and talent of our foreign aid professionals that they have managed to work around the system to continue producing results for the poor. However, even their best efforts are stumbling under the bureaucratic crush.
Oxfam America is seeking reform of US foreign aid to make it more focused on ending global poverty. Also testifying at the hearing were Lael Brainard from Brookings, Steve Radelet from the Center for Global Development (CGD), and former Congressman Jim Kolbe from the German Marshall Fund. Oxfam America is part of a group of nonprofits and thought leaders calling for a new Foreign Assistance Act to create a cabinet-level agency out of the hodge podge of agencies and initiatives working on foreign aid today. The movement gains traction every day. Learn more about Oxfamâ€™s aid reform campaign
-Porter McConnell, Aid Reform Campaign, Oxfam America