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U.S. Foreign Aid System Needs ‘Overhaul’ To Better Foster Development

“In practice, the foreign aid system, and in particular, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), work very well in accomplishing what Washington politicians want them to do,” Charles Kenny, a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation, writes in Bloomberg Businessweek’s “Small World” blog. “When it comes to buying friends at the United Nations, or buying crops in the Midwest, or creating jobs around the Capital Beltway, the U.S. foreign aid system is a paragon of effectiveness,” he states. “The foreign aid budget is also a prime vehicle for pork barrel spending,” he continues and provides examples. “Yet the considerable majority of U.S. aid doesn’t appear anywhere on recipient country budget plans, suggesting the money is buying what American suppliers want to sell — not what recipients need to get,” Kenny writes, and asks, “So who’s to blame for the poor record of U.S. foreign aid as a tool of development?”

“The blame … lies largely with members of Congress who complain that aid is wasted because it doesn’t lead to development, and then turn around and ensure hardly any assistance is designed or delivered with development as the primary goal,” Kenny continues. He notes “USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is trying to fix at least two of the problems that prevent aid from working better to promote development” and that “[t]he Obama administration is also considering overhauling the food aid program so it delivers cash to hungry people or local food buyers rather than shipping grain halfway around the world.” Kenny concludes, “If all we want is friends, jobs, and crops, we already have the aid program we need. But for those who want our support to foster development and help the world’s poor, perhaps it’s time to overhaul the way we provide foreign aid” (3/18).

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