U.S. Foreign Aid Reform Meets the Tea Party

December 3, 2010 By John Glenn

“Can U.S. foreign aid reform and a Republican-led House of Representatives coexist?” asks John Norris of the Center for American Progress.  Where some see gridlock, Norris suggests the chances may actually be good.  In a recent report, he points out that there is actually a good deal of common ground between President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD) and the anticipated agenda of the 112th Congress.   Both focus on economic growth as a means of reducing poverty, aid effectiveness, modernizing an unwieldy tangle of inter-agency authorities, and being more selective in our investments.

Norris lays out the case that assistance can be made more effective, and be better deployed to serve U.S. interests abroad. But the question remains, how can a Republican House focused on deficit reduction be convinced to take steps towards foreign aid reform?  To date, Congress hasn’t felt that it has been adequately consulted in the debate during the lengthy internal process that led to the PPD, as well as the State Department’s nearly complete Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.  This is unfortunate, Norris observes, but therein lies the opportunity.    

Implementing reform is different from articulating it, and Norris argues the Administration will have to make a more concerted effort to work with Congress for its reforms to be effective and sustainable.  Draft reform legislation has already been introduced in both houses in the 111th Congress.  By dispensing with controversial and cumbersome issues, such as the creation of a cabinet level aid agency, and instead focusing on increased effectiveness, more strategic partner selection, and a focus on broad-based economic growth, aid reform can become an issue that could have wide bipartisan appeal.