FW: Congress to coordinate foreign aid delivery?
MessageJust to stir up the pot a bit more.....
Elizabeth Bell, MPH
STOP Activity Unit
Polio Eradication Branch
Global Immunization Division
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
October 10, 2003
Lawmaker seeks better coordination of foreign aid delivery
By Amelia Gruber
A House lawmaker wants Congress to appoint a commission to study ways federal agencies could better coordinate their efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance overseas.
Taxpayers need assurance that billions of dollars the government spends on foreign aid are reaching intended recipients and making a substantial impact, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said at a press conference Thursday. Over the past two years, Wolf has traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Ethiopia and Eritrea to watch federal agencies and non-governmental groups administer foreign assistance.
Wolf introduced legislation (H.R. 3286) Wednesday to establish a 21-member commission of development and humanitarian assistance experts to study aid delivery and recommend improvements. Among other issues, the commission would look at interagency relationships.
The commission would also suggest methods of evaluating whether assistance programs are achieving intended results. Panel members would study “best practices” from successful programs, and after two years, would deliver a set of recommendations to lawmakers.
“I believe it is time to look at this issue with fresh eyes, assess our development and humanitarian assistance programs, both short- and long-term, evaluate who is receiving the assistance and how that assistance is provided, and determine if changes need to be made to allow the generosity of the American people to be felt throughout the world,” Wolf said.
The administrator of the Agency for International Development would serve as an ex officio member of the commission. AID is still looking over the legislation, and has yet to form an opinion on the value of such a commission, said Luke Zahner, an agency spokesman.
Wolf said he believes the commission would improve the lives of federal workers and others delivering assistance, as well as the aid recipients themselves.
“I have the deepest respect for and admiration for the thousands of U.S. aid workers—both government employees and [employees at] non-governmental organizations—who, often at personal risk, are reaching out to try and help improve the lives of suffering people in every corner of the world,” Wolf said. “I believe this commission can help them do their jobs better.”
Wolf’s office has discussed the bill with the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., but is not aware of any plans for companion legislation in the Senate, said Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling.
Joel Charny, vice president for policy at Refugees International, an advocacy group working with non-governmental organizations, praised the idea of the commission, but said he is not sure how effective such a group would be in practice. A number of panels have recommended ways to improve foreign aid delivery, but most have not achieved any lasting change in assistance administration because there is a natural tendency for bureaucracies to resist reform, he said.
“Does this reflect a new commitment in Congress to really try and get serious about this stuff?” Charny asked. “Or are we just looking at a study that’s not going to result in anything practical?”
In order to provide relevant suggestions for improving aid delivery, the commission would need to look at the increasing role that contractors play in government humanitarian work, Charny said. Leaving contractors out of the picture would be a “big oversight,” he said.
Once recommendations are released, agencies would need to take the commission’s study to heart, Charny said. Congress also needs to look at its own handling of foreign aid, he added. Lawmakers tend to “micromanage” foreign assistance, placing too many strings on funds provided to the agencies delivering aid, he said. Budget bills often have “special provisions to the point where it’s just a nightmare,” he added, making it difficult for agencies such as AID to carry out their missions effectively.