But what is concerning is how the House Budget Committee proposes to accommodate these reductions. To be clear, final decisions will be made by the Appropriation Committees in the coming weeks, and there is nothing binding about the Budget Committee’s views. These proposals, however, should not be ignored. Several of the nine specific policy options outlined by the Committee, raise real concerns at a time the U.S. Government’s development and diplomacy efforts are under an important transformation to deliver greater results.
The Committee correctly acknowledges sound aid principles adopted by the MCC: requirements that partner governments apply sensible policies and own and lead in their development. The good news is this is exactly the direction USAID has moved the past two years. USAID has created a serious and important monitoring and evaluation system, with a transparent platform for showing Americans where all U.S. foreign aid is spent, and has re-instated multi-year country strategies that are driven by professionals on the ground. All of this is leading USAID from a focus on inputs to one on outcomes and meaningful results, like the MCC.
Feed the Future, on the other hand, aims to reduce the need for large quantities of emergency food relief by expanding agricultural production, raising nutritional standards, especially for children, and increasing household incomes that will lift families out of poverty. It also embraces the principle of country ownership, noted by the Committee as something that should be applied across all US development assistance programs. And, according to USAID, which manages both Feed the Future and food assistance, it is 8 to 10 times less expensive to address food security through sustainable and country-owned programs than through food aid.
The House Budget Committee makes several other recommendations to cut the International Affairs Budget: eliminate the Complex Crisis Fund, reduce resources for international broadcasting, cut funding for Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs (which, by the way, help promote a better understanding and image of the United States abroad), and cut funding to USAID’s International Disaster Assistance account.
We are only in the early stages of the FY2013 budget consideration, a debate that is expected to continue throughout the entire year. There will be significant attention paid to both International Affairs funding levels and how to maximize the impact of those resources. While the goals of the Budget Committee’s policy recommendations may be well-intended, most of these recommendations will not result in more effective U.S. foreign assistance, and in some cases, create unnecessary challenges.