WASHINGTON, D.C. — On April 9 the US Foreign Affairs Committee gathered to examine U.S. foreign assistance priorities and strategy and discuss the President’s 2015 budget request for USAID. Chairman Ed Royce opened the meeting by addressing several goals and concerns for the International Development community.
In response to the common question of why the Foreign Aid budget is so low – less than 1 percent of the Federal Budget – Rep. Royce commented that “aid programs that are effectively executed can help create more stable societies, speed economic growth, and advance U.S. national security interests. Still, the bar for justifying this spending must be high given our unacceptable deficit.”
Rep. Royce addressed the eventual goal for U.S. Foreign Aid to make itself unnecessary by enabling developing countries to “unlock their growth potential” and thereby achieve robust and healthy economic conditions without the help of outside aid.
The Electrify Africa Act, a bill that is tasked with helping sub-Saharan Africa increase electricity access in order to “save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty, and accelerate growth,” was also addressed. Other progress mentioned included praise for Ambassador Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, who manages 60 percent of the foreign operations budget. Ambassador Shah was mentioned by Rep. Royce as a man who is “not afraid of upsetting the status quo” in regards to his commitment to a “new model of development that focuses on transparency, science and innovation, and engagement with the private sector.”
After addressing other encouraging aspects of the new budget, including productive efforts in strengthening foreign food markets, Rep. Royce commented on challenges that face USAID moving forward. Continued and increasingly desperate humanitarian issues plague Syria, concerns of corruption in Afghanistan and Pakistan that undermine US investments, and a failure to prioritize economic reforms in Egypt were addressed. Also mentioned were unorganized efforts in Haiti and the Administration’s lack of focus on democracy assistance.
Dr. Shah’s testimony followed these opening comments by outlining successes of the new “results driven USAID” mandated by President Obama four years ago, led by the words of a new mission statement: “We partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.”
Dr. Shah highlighted the successes of USAID during Typhoon Haiyan, the rush to save lives during famine in South Sudan, and the US support of the recent Afghan-owned election process. Dr. Shah celebrated these successes in the face of US fiscal challenges and “unprecedented development challenges”, and spoke of the proactive measures of President Obama’s Feed the Future, Global Health, Global Climate Change, and and Power Africa initiatives, all focused on identifying and addressing the underlying causes of extreme poverty instead of reactively treating symptoms.
Dr. Shah was careful to mention that the success of USAID had a profound impact on the security and economic health of the US as well, creating opportunity for US businesses and supporting stability in countries susceptible to conflict by way of eliminating poverty and inequality.
The testimony was concluded with a quote from President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address: “We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all – not only because it creates new markets, more stable order in regions of the world, but also because it’s the right thing to do.”
Find the full text of Dr. Shah’s testimony here.