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Photo courtesy of InterAction

Sam Worthington visits children affected by the 2004 tsunami in Hambantota, Sri Lanka.

for U.S. Foreign Assistance
By Sam Worthington

Sam Worthington is the president and CEO of InterAction, which is the largest alliance of U.S.-based international
development and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations. With more than 160 members operating in every
developing country, the alliance works to overcome poverty, exclusion and suffering.

T he nature of foreign assistance has grown increasingly
complex since the inception of the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) in 1961. Multilateral
As a consortium of NGOs with more than 60 years of
experience delivering relief and facilitating development
in poor countries, we recognize that collaboration among
institutions—such as the various United Nations agencies these varied actors is crucial to ensuring the effectiveness of
and the World Bank—governments of affluent countries overall foreign assistance in any country. Our experience
and large foundations all invest in development assistance shows that an effective reform of U.S. foreign assistance
as a key component of their operations. In this increasingly should encourage programs that include local ownership
multipolar world of official relief and development, and partnerships with stakeholders in developing countries.
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are major players, Sustainable development is long-term and requires
often garnering more trust and resources than the official commitments that should not be trumped by short- or
institutions. Recipient countries have also sought to increase long-term political goals. U.S. foreign assistance programs
the local effectiveness of development assistance by creating should be coherent, not fragmented. The goals of the U.S.
plans to achieve results that will further their efforts to government, recipient countries and multilateral institutions
achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). including the United Nations must as much as possible be
harmonized and mutually reinforcing. The MDGs, which
United States foreign assistance must be able to operate have been endorsed by President George W. Bush and
effectively within this environment, a world significantly di- adopted by donor and recipient countries around the world,
fferent than when USAID was created. USAID was formed are a good example of internationally agreed-upon steps that
to unite the various nonmilitary foreign assistance programs can be taken to reduce poverty.
initiated by the United States after World War II. Although
attempts to reform or modify USAID have been ongoing in Efforts to improve the well-being of people occur within
the years since its inception, the general structure of USAID a challenging, complex world full of conflict and elusive
as “an independent federal government agency that receives peace, injustice and power imbalances, failing states, human
overall foreign policy guidance from the secretary of state” rights abuses, poor governance, militant ideologies and the
has remained in place for more than 45 years. consequences of increasingly scarce resources—a reality
exacerbated by global warming. All of these challenges
The current administration has recognized that it require greater attention in a more coherent U.S. foreign
needs to significantly transform the U.S. government’s assistance framework.
approach to foreign assistance. In 2006, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice announced a new framework for aid

Photo credit: Dan Gudahl
Copyright: Heifer International
known as “transformational diplomacy,” which emphasizes
rebuilding states in transition and fostering democracy.
In an attempt to consolidate foreign assistance operations,
Secretary Rice announced the creation of the Foreign
Assistance or “F” Bureau within the Department of State
to be headed by the director of foreign assistance, a newly
created position that spans both state and USAID, with the
incumbent serving concurrently as USAID administrator
and holding the title of deputy secretary of state. The overall
impact of this consolidation was intended to “ensure that
foreign assistance is used as effectively as possible to meet
our broad foreign policy objectives; and more fully align the
foreign assistance activities carried out by the Department of
State and USAID.”

Change from Within
For years the U.S. NGO community has called for more
coherence among the myriad disconnected threads in U.S.
foreign assistance and initially welcomed this attempt to
bring a degree of consolidation. But have these reforms
really been effective in streamlining U.S. foreign assistance?
More importantly, have they been aligned with the
development community’s best practices to help lift people
around the world out of poverty?

Photo credit: Darcy Kiefel
Copyright: Heifer International
Both President Bush and
Secretary Rice have declared the
State Department a “national
security agency” alongside
the departments of Defense
and Homeland Security. The
administration also has stated
that U.S. foreign assistance
is one of the key pillars of its
“three D’s” national security
strategy, which targets defense,
development and diplomacy. As
explained in the 2006 National
Security Strategy, “development
reinforces diplomacy and
defense, reducing long-term
threats to our national
security by helping to build
stable, prosperous, and peaceful
societies. Improving the way
we use foreign assistance
will make it more effective
in strengthening responsible
governments, responding
to suffering, and improving
people’s lives.”
improving the well-being of the poor, with the space to shape effective,
If this is to be realized, the development long-term and impartial programs; and programs that enhance local capacity
component must be equal to—not and work to meet mutually agreed-upon results. Together, these factors point
subsumed under—defense and diplomacy to the need for an important institutional step, the creation of a Cabinet-level
and should not be dictated by the strategic department for international relief and development alongside the secretaries of
or political significance of any nation. state and defense.
Despite the best efforts of the State
Department to streamline foreign The model of a Cabinet-level department dedicated to international
assistance, the current arrangement—with development is not new. The U.K. Department for International Development
the director of foreign assistance reporting (DFID) is widely acclaimed as a successful model for elevating international
to the secretary of state—has significant development to an overarching national priority. With a very clear mandate
limitations and can hinder some of the of “leading the British government’s fight against world poverty,” DFID has
principles of effective foreign assistance. placed much of its emphasis on multilateral cooperation and has adopted
Additionally, although the new reform the Millennium Development Goals as the heart of its mission statement.
efforts do begin the process of unifying Despite recent political and military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq,
foreign assistance, the reorganization still DFID has largely succeeded maintaining its focus and funding for poverty
excludes the major presidential initiatives eradication and not allowed potentially competing strategic political objectives
such as the Millennium Challenge Corp. to undermine this goal. A heavy emphasis on public education, combined
(MCC) and the President’s Emergency Plan with DFID’s central focus on poverty alleviation and the broad support of the
for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which account British government, has resulted in an increase in the proportion of the U.K.
for billions of dollars of U.S. foreign population who say they are “very concerned” about development.
assistance each year. In this sense, the
current reforms do not go far enough and DFID does have its drawbacks; however, it is fundamentally solid, and the
must be even more comprehensive. DFID model of a top-level development organization has garnered support
from the academic and NGO community. “Ultimately, a new, empowered
Finding a Coherent Policy department of global development is likely to be the model that holds the
greatest promise of transforming the U.S. foreign assistance enterprise to lead
The keys to the success of any reform in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century,” says Lael Brainard
include coherence across all civilian U.S. of the Brookings Institution in her work “Security By Other Means.” “Only
foreign assistance programs; a focus on

Photo Credit: Darcy Kiefel
Copyright: Heifer International
a new cabinet agency will be able to boost
the stature and morale of the development
mission and attract the next generation of
top talent within the U.S. government. Only
an independent department will be able to
realize the president’s vision of elevating
development as the third pillar, alongside
diplomacy and defense, underpinning
America’s international leadership.”

In order to ensure its independence and to
prioritize the eradication of extreme poverty
through efforts such as the MDGs, such an
independent development and humanitarian
assistance department should be headed
by an official who is a member of the
president’s Cabinet and reports directly to
him. This position should oversee all U.S.
foreign assistance programs including the
MCC, PEPFAR and initiatives currently
administered by other Cabinet departments
and agencies.

In a recent article in The American Interest,
Stewart Patrick of the Center for Global
Development states that foreign assistance
stems from 18 separate accounts in the State
Department and USAID, in addition to
about 20 other federal agencies. He argues
that the current role of the director of
foreign assistance is too narrow to oversee all
of these outlets: “To bring coherence to U.S.
aid policy, the Director of Foreign Assistance
needs the practical capacity and legal
authority to shift funds across accounts
within USAID and State; to roll back
outdated and irrelevant congressional
earmarks on foreign assistance; to
coordinate the independent MCA
[Millennium Challenge Account], and
HIV/AIDS initiatives, and to influence
foreign aid spending by other U.S. agencies,
including the Department of Defense.” Systems should be created to ensure that the new department is
accountable on a number of fronts. This can be done by linking
The NGO community also has pointed out spending to results, measuring results against the interests of the
that several other Cabinet departments— recipient populations and other measurements of effectiveness, and fully
including Agriculture, Energy, Health and integrating gender at the institutional and program level.
Human Services, Labor and Treasury—have
foreign aid programs that currently lie A Cabinet-level department is the best way to ensure that international
beyond the purview of the director of foreign development is a top priority of the U.S. government and all mechanisms
assistance. The establishment of a to achieve global poverty alleviation operate in harmony. Until such an
Cabinet-level development department organization is created, the three pillars of national security—defense,
would not only help streamline these efforts diplomacy and development—will remain unsteady.
but place development at the same level as
State and Defense.
Photographs courtesy of InterAction and Heifer International.