Effective foreign assistance is critical to economic growth

A magnifying glass and U.S. dollar bills. Photo by: Images Money / CC BY

In these uncertain economic times we need to maximize every dollar we spend. On January 30 we found out that our economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the fall, the first time since the recession ended. Meanwhile, the Eurozone unemployment rose to 11.8 percent in November, the highest since the euro currency was founded in 1999, according to the statistical agency Eurostat. While the rest of the globe struggles to climb out of the recession, sub-Saharan Africa grew at a rate of nearly 5 percent for the second year in a row, according to the World Bank. The fact is developing countries offer a real potential for economic growth right here at home. Our own economy is recognizing this reality. In 2011, U.S. goods and services exports reached a record $2.1 trillion, representing an increase of 33 percent over the level of U.S. exports in 2009. Now 14 percent of our economy depends on exports. Opening up new markets to American companies means more jobs for Americans, but we have to be smart about our investments. As any private company CEO knows, we need to make sure we are maximizing the return on our investment.

To be clear, efforts to do just that are already underway. I am proud that folks in my home state, the great state of Texas are already taking this on. The University of Texas, along with the College of William and Mary and Brigham Young University, runs the largest public access database on project-level development in the world. AidData tracks more than $5.5 trillion in development aid and more than one million development projects across the globe.

But we must do more. Last Congress, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill I introduced called the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012. By requiring measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans for all foreign development assistance programs, this bill would bring increased transparency and accountability to the foreign assistance process. U.S. taxpayers would be able to both exercise their right to be informed about where their money is being spent and be able to get a better idea of what kind of impact U.S. foreign assistance is having around the world. I am looking forward to reintroducing the bill this Congress and building on last year’s momentum.

I also introduced H.R. 3658, The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2012 which seeks to enhance U.S. leadership on the global safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) crisis by streamlining existing programs and applying aid effectiveness principles. WASH issues cut across all sorts of development areas, from education, to employment and and even violence against women. A smart investment, WASH efforts have been shown to return at least $4 in productivity for every $1 spent.

We have come a long way in learning how to tailor our investments abroad, but there is still much work to be done. Americans should be proud of the countless lives we have saved and the direct economic and security benefits here at home. Now, more than ever, is the time for growth.

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About the author

  • Ted Poe

    Ted Poe has represented Texas' second district since 2004. He has been a leader in global health, promoting aid transparency, and water and sanitation issues. He serves on the House of Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees and was appointed chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.

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