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New bipartisan congressional bill promises renewed hope for US foreign assistance and global poverty reduction

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WASHINGTON, DC — A new foreign assistance reform bill introduced today by Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), takes great strides toward breathing new life into a US foreign assistance system in need of strategy and purpose, said international agency Oxfam America.

"Congressman Berman has long sought to make reform of US government global development programs a priority," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. "Reform is necessary to restore America's leadership in fighting global poverty. Both he and Congressman Kirk should be applauded for identifying reform as one of America's top foreign policy challenges."

"With the right reforms, the US foreign assistance system can help poor people get the tools they need to lead their own development, spur economic growth and create a more prosperous world for everyone. This bill is an important first step to making sure the United States has the right tools to fight global poverty."

The bill, the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009, focuses on three critical areas of foreign assistance reform: creating a US national strategy for global development, refocusing its monitoring and evaluation approach, and increasing transparency on where assistance dollars are going.

"Creating a national strategy for global development will help coordinate our disjointed US foreign assistance system, establish poverty reduction as its primary goal and provide developing countries and their citizens more ownership over their own development agenda," said Offenheiser. "By taking the time to listen to the poor people and countries we are trying to help, and by giving them more control over their own futures, US foreign assistance is more likely to make a long-lasting impact."

Tracking funding and ensuring assistance dollars are getting to people in need is one the biggest challenges facing US foreign assistance programs said Oxfam. There has been little chance to date that developing countries could get critical information needed to plan effectively for their own development projects. The portions of the bill focused on transparency promise US taxpayers and developing countries long-awaited clarity on how foreign assistance dollars are being distributed.

"Greater transparency in US foreign assistance programs is an important step to creating true partnerships with developing countries and their citizens," said Offenheiser. "When developing countries get access to information they need to effectively plan their own futures, they are empowered to work alongside the US as equal partners."

The monitoring and evaluation portion of the bill is a promising effort to change an antiquated model of gauging success. For too long, the US has focused on counting things like how many individuals went through a one-off agricultural training workshop rather than how much more food was produced locally to meet the needs of a community.

"Washington needs to stop bean-counting when it comes to judging the success of US foreign assistance. We need to be looking at how many more girls are getting an education because of US foreign assistance, and how their lives are improved, not just how many pencils are sharpened or textbooks are bought."

"President Obama has already expressed a commitment to making our foreign assistance dollars as effective as possible. Chairman Berman's 'down payment' on foreign assistance reform helps us get there," said Offenheiser.

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