Foreign Assistance Reform
U.S. foreign assistance programs provide vital services to many people around the world. However, conflicting goals, lack of coordination and an increasingly burdensome bureaucratic system limit the effectiveness of our foreign aid.
In response to pressure from AJWS and the NGO community to enact meaningful foreign assistance reform, in 2009 the White House and the State Department each undertook far-reaching reviews of the U.S. aid system. The "Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review" or QDDR is a joint assessment of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) capacity and alignment. A QDDR public interim report is due in late spring or summer of 2010, with the final report expected by early fall.
The Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy (PSD) is a broader governmental audit, examining efficiency and effectiveness across the Executive Branch. While the timeline for the report remains unclear, a recent media leak of a PSD draft revealed that many of the recommendations are in line with AJWS proposals for improving U.S. aid policy.
On the legislative side, marker bills exist in both the House (H.R. 2139) and Senate (S. 1524). S. 1524 passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 2009. While it is unlikely that either piece of legislation will be voted on this year, both bills represent important first steps toward demonstrating genuine political will for reform to change our broken foreign assistance system.
In the wake of January's devastating earthquake in Haiti, the world faces a new development challenge. However, Haitian reconstruction efforts present an opportunity to apply the critical principles of foreign assistance reform to do it right this time and build back a better Haiti.
How much do you know about U.S foreign assistance strategy?
MYTH: Fighting poverty is at the top of the U.S. foreign aid agenda.
Reality check: Of the top ten recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, only two (Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo) are among the world's poorest countries. 56% of U.S. foreign assistance goes to just six countries, all allies in the "war on terror" or the "war on drugs." And just a portion of these funds actually provide humanitarian assistance. Much of the rest is slated for domestic interests like economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, military aid.
MYTH: About 25% of U.S. gross domestic product goes to foreign aid.
Reality check: Contrary to this popular estimate the U.S distributes less than 1% of our GDP to aid. Though the U.S. government is one of the largest donors in terms of total dollars given, proportionally to our GDP, we are one of the least generous, behind 20 other countries. U.S. aid, at a fractional .17%, even falls short of the internationally agreed-upon target of .7%.
MYTH: The U.S. foreign assistance program is efficient, designed to make the greatest impact.
Reality check: Actually, the foreign assistance program is a highly fractured, inefficient system of 50 separate bureaus that independently make grants directly to recipient governments. With many other countries doing the same thing, the international aid system is rife with confusion and redundancy! The most efficient way to disseminate aid is to give it through a central organizing body like the U.N. When donors collaborate, every dollar has a much greater impact. Yet the U.S. only gives 8.5% of its foreign assistance through "multilateral" channels, compared to an average 30% for other countries.
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