PATH’s Emmel blogs that the 1% of U.S. budget spent on aid facilitates economic growth, national security, moral leadership
When the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act was passed in 1961, the world was a very different place. Since then, a proliferation of new laws and regulations has made the goals and activities of foreign assistance increasingly hard to track. Now we face one of the most austere budget environments in our nation’s history, making the need for an efficient, accountable, transparent, effective, and strategic foreign assistance policy all the more important.
Clearly, foreign aid needs to be reformed so that it can do the job it was originally intended for: assisting the people who need it most in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Momentum for reform has been mounting in both Congress and the Administration. This has ranged from proposed new bills, such as a rewrite of the entire US Foreign Assistance Act by Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), to new initiatives such as USAID FORWARD, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plan “to change the way the Agency does business” and the Global Health Initiative.
These efforts are largely complementary, and most of them share certain themes. They represent 50 years of lessons learned.
One of the most prominent is the importance of country partnership: engaging relevant stakeholders, including marginalized populations, in identifying and strengthening their capacity to meet their own needs. Another is the importance of innovation: new approaches and technologies adapted to local requirements, which often means greater impact at reduced costs.
Each reform effort has also focused on women and gender, with the acknowledgement that empowering women and addressing gender norms is critical to saving lives, reducing disease, increasing education and economic growth, and fostering food security.
Other themes include a single development strategy, strengthening country systems and front-line workers, including the public and private sectors, and integrating services when appropriate, which can mean more people are reached more efficiently. Finally, an emphasis on monitoring and evaluation will ensure that programs are driven by evidence and that they are transparent and accountable, both to American taxpayers and to the people they seek to reach.
We spend a tiny amount of money on foreign assistance – only about one percent of the federal budget – yet it has been one of our most effective investments, whether the metric is U.S. economic growth, national security, or moral leadership. As trends in foreign aid reform show, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do a good job even better.
Aaron Emmel is senior policy advisor at PATH.