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Senate Subcommittee Hearing Looks At USAID Budget Request, Potential For Reform

A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs hearing on Tuesday about USAID’s FY 2011 budget addressed the potential for “broad changes in the culture and operations of” USAID, CQ reports.

Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the subcommittee chairman, opened the hearing by noting the need for reform. “I think USAID has to … change the way it does business if it wants the kind of money that you’re here legitimately asking for,” Leahy said to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. “USAID is requesting about $21 billion in funding as a portion of the president’s foreign affairs budget, Shah testified,” CQ writes (Cadei, 4/20).

Leahy said there was a “detachment” among some “USAID employees at missions overseas” who end up spending a lot of time in “comfortable offices behind imposing security barriers,” Reuters’ “Front Row Washington” blog reports (4/20). Leahy also “noted that it took a long time for the agency to get itself in its current hole, and it’s ‘not going to dig out in a year’s time,'” CQ writes. “Leahy also said he believes Shah understands his concerns and is ‘convinced’ he is capable of making the necessary changes.”

Ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H) “expressed skepticism about whether the agency’s budget request is realistic given its aims. Gregg suggested that the request indicates a lack of focus by USAID – an ongoing critique of the agency,” CQ reports. Shah said the agency needs to do a better job of evaluating its priorities and noted a review, which officials are conducting to ensure that USAID is not “just chasing every need,” CQ reports. The agency is also planning a procurement process overhaul in June (4/20).

After the hearing, Shah said believed Leahy’s remarks were “‘comments of support’ from someone who wanted to help make USAID ‘the primary development agency around the world,'” according to Reuters’ blog. He also said “the vast majority” of USAID employees “are both hugely committed and make tremendous personal sacrifices” (4/20).

A webcast of Tuesday’s hearing as well as Shah’s prepared testimony is available on the committee website.

In related news, CQ also reports that Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and several other lawmakers are seeking support for President Barack Obama’s FY 2011 foreign operations budget. Kerry along with “Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and 29 of their Senate colleagues … sent a letter Tuesday to Democrat Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Budget chairman, and Gregg calling Obama’s proposed State-Foreign Operations increase ‘an essential component of our national security,'” the publication writes.

In the House of Representatives, more than 110 Democrats have signed a similar letter, the U.S. Global Leadership Council said. A final mark up of the FY 2011 budget by the Senate Budget Committee is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, according to the publication (4/20).

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