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CQ Today Examines Prospects For Foreign Aid Reform In 112th Congress

CQ Today looks at how changes in Congress after the November 2010 elections could affect efforts to overhaul the U.S. foreign aid system.

“Major legislative efforts to change what all involved agree is a dysfunctional foreign aid bureaucracy look set to stall in the 112th Congress, tempering what had been a flurry of interest in overhauling the aid system in the past two years. But the stalemate will not stop the new Congress from continuing to cite that dysfunction as an argument to cut foreign aid, a top target as the new Republican-led House looks to reduce government spending,” CQ Today writes.

“Congress has shown considerable skepticism about foreign aid in the fiscal year 2011 appropriations legislation that is still pending, foreshadowing what all expect to be an even tougher line in the 112th Congress. … Leading appropriators have balked at the administration’s requests for aid to those countries over concerns about the capabilities of the State Department and USAID as well as the risk of waste, fraud and abuse,” the publication writes.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is likely to be the next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “does not support” foreign aid reform legislation championed by outgoing committee head Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). According to Brad Goehner, a spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen, the congresswoman is interested in “ways to make the programs more effective and to save money.” But he said the approach spearheaded by Berman and development community allies does not represent a true “reform-minded approach.” The “centerpiece of Berman’s efforts was a rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act,” CQ Today writes, noting that Berman agreed not to push the bill after the Obama administration requested a delay until the White House and State Department development reviews were released. “The former was concluded in September, while State’s review still awaits release. Berman’s plan was to introduce a bill next year,” according to the article.

“Senate backers of a foreign aid overhaul view Berman’s departure from the House chairmanship as a setback. In the Senate, measures to improve foreign aid and strengthen the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have the backing of a bipartisan group including Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and the panel’s top Republican, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. But without corresponding efforts in the House, senators are unlikely to push any major initiatives, one senior Democratic aide said,” the news service reports.

A lack of clear direction on Congress’ role in efforts to embolden diplomacy also presents challenges. “However, supporters of a foreign aid overhaul in the development community remain hopeful that with the completion of the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review in the coming weeks, the administration will step up its engagement with Capitol Hill,” according to CQ Today. “Aid advocates say a number of House Republicans could be disposed to supporting their overhaul agenda,” the article notes.

Sarah Jane Staats, director of policy outreach at the Center for Global Development, and Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness for Oxfam America, are quoted in the article (Cadei, 11/15).

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