What is USAID?


SEATTLE—The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is often brought up in spending bills for foreign aid and in policy reports analyzing government foreign assistance programs. However, these sources do not tell us any details. What is USAID, what is its purpose, who is in charge of USAID and what are its responsibilities as an organization? This article will detail the history of USAID, its importance in The United States government and USAID’s responsibilities in 2019.

Founding and Background

In the fall of 1961, Congress passed The Foreign Assistance Act. This act formally separated military and non-military aid; before the Act was passed, political and military spending was not differentiated from development spending. The Act also mandated the creation of an agency responsible for managing the new category of economic and development aid. Shortly after The Foreign Assistance Act was passed, President John F. Kennedy created USAID by executive order.

The creation of USAID unified several existing programs and operations. This included the Food for Peace Program, loans from The Development Loan Fund and economic assistance from The International Cooperation Agency. By unifying these operations, USAID provided a new focus on aiding other countries.

USAID is the primary aid organization funded by The United States. To put this into perspective, USAID received more than $6 billion for foreign aid spending in 2018. The next agency that received the most money for foreign aid was The Department of Defense, which took in $550 million for foreign aid.

Authority and Responsibilities

USAID is not a completely interdependent agency; it largely follows the policy directions of the President, the State Department and the National Security Council. Although USAID is responsible for some military aid, the bulk of that responsibility falls on The Department of Defense. USAID is concerned primarily with humanitarian and development aid.

Since its formation, USAID’s scope of humanitarian aid has expanded. The organization’s assistance now includes global health, gender equality, water and sanitation and education along with many other categories. It also works in several regions across the globe including Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The Promoting Gender Equality in National Priority Programs Project (PROMOTE) program in Afghanistan stands as an example of USAID’s work. This program aims to increase female participation in the workforce by offering women internships to build up their resumes and networks. PROMOTE will also help the economic development of Afghanistan by creating a larger workforce. According to USAID in 2017, 239 women who participated in the program received internships in the government, and 118 graduates found jobs.

Plans for 2019

USAID and The State Department currently stand to receive $39.3 billion from the President’s budget in 2019. USAID is responsible for managing $16.8 billion of these dollars – just below half of all the money allocated to foreign aid. The organization hopes to accomplish several objectives in 2019, including providing leadership in response to national disasters and human crises, improving global health by stopping the spread of disease and promoting transparency for what USAID does and how it spends its allocated money.

To summarize, what is USAID? USAID is the primary executor of foreign aid spending from The United States. The organization oversees billions of dollars every year with the goal of helping developing nations economically, socially and politically. USAID does this through the creation of government programs that focus on humanitarian and development aid to provide help to those who need it most.

– Drew Garbe

Photo: Flickr


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