As we begin 2016, several key pieces of global development legislation await Congress, having moved forward during December’s end-of-year rush. These bills on energy access, hunger, and transparency and accountability could have a lasting and positive effect on U.S. foreign assistance. Here’s an update on where they stand in Congress:
CURRENT ACTS IN CONGRESS
Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 525)
According to the World Bank, the largest infrastructure deficit in sub-Saharan Africa is in the electrical power sector, leaving over 600 million people in the region with no access to electricity. The International Energy Agency has estimated it would take an annual investment of $19.2 billion (from 2011 to 2030) to achieve universal energy access in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
In 2013, the Obama administration launched the Power Africa initiative to increase electrical capacity and bring energy access to millions of people. Every dollar committed by the U.S. government to Power Africa has already leveraged six dollars in commitments from the private sector and other governments.
Last fall, the Electrify Africa Act of 2015 was introduced in the House and Senate. This legislation would extend the efforts of the Power Africa initiative by leveraging private sector resources through loan guarantees to extend electricity access throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The bill’s goal is to help 50 million Africans gain first-time access to electricity and to add 20,000 megawatts of electricity to the grid by 2020. The Senate passed its version of the legislation and the bill was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in December 2015. The House bill was introduced in June.
One in nine people in the world are undernourished, and poor nutrition causes 45 percent of deaths in children under five. On the world stage, ending hunger is absolutely a top priority – demonstrated most recently when 193 countries agreed last fall to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with Goal #2 focused on hunger. We have made remarkable progress in reducing the number of hungry people, but more work is needed to not only provide effective food relief in times of emergency, but also to help developing countries improve their long-term food security by providing a hand up not just a hand out.
While the U.S. has been a major provider of food assistance and agricultural development for decades, there are now two bills in Congress that could make more tools available to combat global hunger and malnutrition. One is the Global Food Security Act, which codifies the Feed the Future initiative, authorizing a whole-of-government strategy to help partner nations eradicate hunger through inclusive, sustainable agricultural development, with a particular focus on women and children. The House bill was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April 2015. The Senate bill was introduced in May.
Another is the Food for Peace Reform Act, which would reform U.S. global food assistance programs to enhance America’s ability to provide life-saving food faster and lowering the cost of this assistance. According to USAID, such reforms could help food assistance reach 2 million more people without an increase in funding. The bill was introduced and referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2015.
How the U.S. provides foreign assistance is just as critical as which program or country receives the assistance. Today more than ever, in all sectors, people are looking toward data, transparency, and good governance to achieve more effective results.
While the private sector has long been thought of as number- and data-driven, the government, and foreign aid in particular, has not. However, in recent years there has been a transformation in the development community as noted by Michael Gerson (former senior advisor and speechwriter for President George W. Bush) and Raj Shah (former USAID administrator under President Obama) in their chapter in the new edition of Moneyball for Government by Results for America (RFA). In fact, USAID scored highest in RFA’s “Invest in What Works” index of government agencies using empirical evidence to guide decision making.
Yet there remains room for improvement, particularly when it comes to institutionalizing evaluations, use of data, and transparency in foreign assistance. The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act aims to do just that. This legislation helps codify the game-changing reforms undertaken by multiple Administrations in the past decade, and particularly those embraced by USAID. The House passed its bill in December and the Senate bill was reported out of Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late November. Check out the recent USGLC statement here.
Photo Source: Flickr, USAID – Resilience Enhanced through Adaptation, Action-learning and Partnerships (REAAP)