Government Commission Finds Foreign Assistance in Need of Major Revamp

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON – Oxfam America welcomes the ambitious foreign assistance reform goals that the HELP Commission put forth today in its new report, Beyond Assistance.

“U.S. government foreign aid is broken, limiting our country's ability to effectively reduce global poverty,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Over 22 months of hearings and interviews, and not one person appeared before the HELP Commission to defend the foreign aid status quo. Now is the time for the presidential candidates to declare aid reform as a foreign policy priority.”

The Foreign Assistance Act and the agency it authorized—the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—came into being in 1961.

“The original Act was less than 100 pages, now it’s over 2,000 pages. If the US is to be a global leader in helping to build strong economies and alleviating poverty, we need legislation, capacity and an organization that can respond to the humanitarian and development challenges of the 21st century,” continued Offenheiser. “But nothing will happen without presidential leadership. Our presidential candidates need to put aid reform at the center of their foreign policy platforms if the US is to reestablish its global standing.”

While Oxfam embraces the Commission’s call for major reform and most of its specific recommendations, the agency says the Commission did not go far enough in advocating for a cabinet seat for international development alongside defense and state.

“We believe the interests of the world’s poor are best served by giving department level clout to development, on par with the Departments of Defense and State,” concluded Offenheiser.

In its new report, the Commission argues for a new foreign aid business model, based on eight core principles:

  • Development must be locally led and owned;
  • Recognize the importance of private partners;
  • Embrace innovation and include more research and development;
  • Increase flexibility in programming;
  • Reward the graduation of countries out of development aid;
  • Focus on programs leading to economic growth;
  • Improve monitoring and evaluations; and
  • Support democratic principles.

Oxfam supports the following recommendations put forth by the HELP Commission to meet its eight core principles:

  • Rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act to establish a new compact on foreign aid;
  • Align US trade and development policies;
  • Strengthen management capacity of US agencies;
  • Increase the funding given to foreign assistance, and increase investment in the U.S. government’s capacity to deliver effective foreign assistance;
  • Grant duty-free/quota-free access for Millennium Challenge Corporation countries, and for countries with a gross domestic product under $2000 per capita;
  • Promote trade capacity building assistance;
  • Reduce agriculture subsidies in the US and other wealthy countries;
  • Remove physical trade barriers with greater investment in infrastructure, including giving priority to land-locked states;
  • Have the Department of Defense focus on its core competency of defense, rather than its expanding role in development;
  • Protect development funds from being subsumed to short-term imperatives;
  • Substantially increase and better train the US government’s international development direct hire workforce; and
  • Increase support for agricultural development.

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