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New Senate bill pushes for development aid transparency, stronger USAID

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC — International development and relief agency Oxfam America today welcomed a new bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Lugar (R-IN), Menendez (D-NJ), Corker (R-TN), Cardin (D-MD), and Risch (R-ID). The legislation, the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S.1524), would enact key reforms to US programs that fight global poverty. These include greater transparency in how US development aid is used and rebuilding the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), both critical components of the aid reform agenda Oxfam America hopes will pass Congress this year.

"Rebuilding USAID is critical to effective delivery of US foreign assistance to fight poverty—which is recognized as key to America's strategic and security interests. We are working hard to build momentum to get reform passed this year." said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

"Over the last two decades, USAID has had its legs cut out from under it—its resources and staff have been slashed while more development capacity has been shifted to the Department of Defense. Along with rebuilding USAID, the US must shift its focus from development projects that meet short-term political and security goals back to long term development goals that not only help more people escape poverty, but in the long run, create greater stability and good will for the US. Rebuilding USAID gives the US and its development policy a start down the right path."

Currently, USAID has little capacity to strategize and create comprehensive development plans for the countries in which it operates says Oxfam. The bill addresses this issue by establishing USAID mission directors as responsible for coordinating all development and humanitarian assistance efforts in the field, under guidance of the Chief of Mission.

"This bill is a welcome move by Senator Kerry to help reinvigorate US foreign assistance," said Offenheiser. "Kerry is creating a scenario that will allow USAID development professionals to do what they do best—work closely with local communities and governments to deliver long-term programs that help to alleviate poverty and build prosperous communities."

"Transparency is also key to getting the most out of US development aid. Without good information, recipient governments can't plan, poor people can't hold their governments accountable, and the US taxpayers can't see results. Development professionals, aid recipients and US taxpayers need to see exactly where money is going and what the expectations are, so that there is greater accountability and success. Success means more positive change in the lives of poor people."

Key themes addressed by the new legislation include rebuilding USAID's capacity to think and implement strategically; giving the agency new tools to measure, evaluate and innovate to achieve smart development; promoting transparency and flexibility; and investing in human capital.

The aid reform debate in Washington has gained momentum in the last few months. Secretary of State Clinton recently announced that the State Department and USAID will be undertaking America's first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), in order to streamline the aid system and to put development on par with national security and diplomacy in foreign policy debates and decisions. In Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) has introduced the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (HR 2139), which has more than 90 bipartisan co-sponsors.

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