How the US aid community should prepare for 2015 Congress

A view of a full U.S. House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. What can aid organizations do in anticipation of a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress next year? Photo by: Architect of the Capitol

When a new Republican-controlled U.S. Congress takes session in January — and despite a number of senators and representatives who appear to be champions of international aid — congressional funding prospects for global development and aid projects in 2015 are not optimistic.

Much of the impact that a new Congress will have on foreign aid depends on how it prioritizes very limited funds, Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, a trade group for U.S. government contractors, told Devex on the sidelines of a Friday postelection analysis event in McLean, Virginia.

Then how can development organizations best position themselves for success as 2015 approaches? Below are three tips.

1. Educate new congressmen about aid and the role of contractors.

Liz Shrayer, president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, said freshman members of Congress aren’t experts in global development, but they are ready to learn and understand.

“I don’t think they see the military being the only player out in the world. They told us that they see a role [for] other tools of engagement, and it makes sense to them that development and diplomacy needs to be part of that engagement,” Shrayer told Devex last week.

In a room full of government contractors Friday, David Marin, principal at the Podesta Group affirmed that new members of Congress “need educating.”

One of the primary ways contractors — including those with a focus on development — can advocate for continued funding is to highlight what they can offer from a business standpoint and how they are taking advantage of changes in technology, according to Chvotkin, who also pointed out that aid contractors don’t often have the luxury of engaging incoming members in their home districts in the way that domestic contractors can.

“The problem for international development [contractors] is they don’t do anything domestically … they’re not out in the Nebraskas, in the Iowas and in the Wisconsins. So it will be a challenge for contractors to provide that education,” said the PSC vice president.

2. Watch congressional leadership changes closely — and anticipate their priorities.

Foreign assistance is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and no political experts at Friday’s PSC postelection analysis event expected that number to rise in 2015. But underneath the umbrella of foreign assistance, funding priorities are likely to shift as new congressional committee leaders take up their posts — a process that begins this week in the Senate during the lame-duck session.

“I can see [the U.S. Agency for International Development] continuing to devote substantial resources to Afghanistan,” Chvotkin said, illustrating that aid contractors with experience in the country should emphasize that.

Chvotkin also predicted that there will likely be less funding toward fragile states and more toward Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, and likely more allocation toward global health next year.

The funding will largely depend on leadership, Chvotkin said — if Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, known as a strong proponent for maternal and child health, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been a strong voice against U.S. isolationism, are in leadership positions in Congress, that could help protect foreign aid’s top line numbers.

3. Frame aid projects as security projects.

Republican lawmakers are historically known to prioritize foreign aid that promotes national security. Addressing the Ebola crisis in West Africa and taking measures to stop the advance of the Islamic State group are panning out to be key priorities for Congress in 2015 — precisely because they signal strong national security concerns.

“We see how we are weakened by poor health care systems in different countries and this is one of the things USAID works on,” noted Jim Dyer, principal of the Podesta group. “We all have a vested interest in this.”

Aid organizations who are able to demonstrate through their programs strong ties to national security and U.S. interest are more likely to gain the support of Republican lawmakers.

What do you think foreign advocates can do to secure continued funding from a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress? Please let us know by sending an email to news@devex.com or leaving a comment below.

Read more on U.S. aid reform online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the authors

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.
  • 1460021 10201066442847401 1828960307 n

    Claire Luke

    Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.