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Major Makeover Proposed for US Foreign Aid

Alison Raphael

WASHINGTON - It's high time to revamp the way Washington delivers foreign aid, since the current system is well past its sell-by date, according to a new report reflecting broad consensus among foreign policy experts, development aid practitioners, and members of Congress.0613 03 1

A bipartisan resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday committing members to consider fundamental reform of the current aid system, reflecting a rapid reaction to Tuesday's release of a comprehensive new proposal for updating and upgrading U.S. foreign aid.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era, but now requires a "dramatic overhaul" to function effectively in a time of climate change, AIDS, globalization, and terrorism, according to the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN).

A clear signal of the problem was U.S. failure to foresee the current global hunger crisis and respond before hunger and poverty began to threaten security in several countries.

This failure reflects the involvement of too many agencies in aid delivery -- 24 at present -- with no one in charge at the top, according to MFAN.

Under the watchword "New Day, New Way," MFAN proposed a new scheme -- for consideration by the new president -- at a packed hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, leading to Wednesday's resolution.

Step one is the appointment of a Cabinet-level foreign aid czar, who would coordinate the disparate efforts of U.S. agencies and deliver aid more effectively and efficiently.

The new leader would also oversee the preparation of a new, more timely and relevant Foreign Assistance Act, with strategic goals in sync with the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Foreign aid, the report and its Congressional supporters argue, is not simply a matter of charity. It is integral to U.S. national security and should reflect American values at their best.

Reducing poverty and improving the global standard of living is widely understood to be vital to American interests, as well as to those of the world's 1 billion poorest people.

For decades, however, aid has been far too politicized and slanted to meet narrow foreign policy objectives, particularly in the Middle East, and now in Iraq and Afghanistan, argue the report's authors. The share of aid going to support other foreign policy objectives is minimal in comparison.

It's time to rethink priorities and evaluate what kind of aid will really contribute to our national security, the MFAN proposal insists.

"By giving development a seat at the foreign policy table we can narrow the gap between the world's haves and have-nots, tackle the challenges posed by climate change, the global food crisis, and the world's weak and failing states, and, most importantly, strengthen the moral foundation from which we lead," said MFAN co-chair Gayle Smith of the Center for American Progress.

Other organizations represented on MFAN include the Brookings and Hoover Institutions, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, OxfamAmerica, InterAction, Bread for the World, Center for Global Development, Academy for Educational Development, and Save the Children.

© 2008 One

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