In US foreign aid reform proposal, a focus on partnerships

Democrat Rep. Howard Berman. Photo by: Center for American Progress Action Fund / CC BY-ND

Weeks before he departs Congress, Democrat Rep. Howard Berman of California introduced a long-awaited reform proposal to overhaul the U.S. foreign assistance system.

Berman unveiled Dec. 12 the Global Partnership Act of 2012, which is proposed to replace the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act — the two main U.S. legislations governing foreign economic, development and military aid.

“The most fundamental change that this bill makes is transforming the donor-recipient relationship to one of equal partners working toward mutually agreed upon and beneficial goals,” Berman said.

Aside from this shift from donor-recipient relations to partnerships, the bill proposes a stronger focus on results, the revitalization of the U.S. Agency for International Development, elevation of human rights in U.S. foreign policy and aid programs, improvement of U.S. capacity to prevent and address conflicts, and expansion of the scope of debt-for-nature programs.

Berman, who is leaving Congress after losing in the November elections, did recognize that the bill is not likely to be approved before the current session of the House of Representatives adjourns. The bill would then have to be reintroduced in the 113th Congress, as with all reform proposals not approved before the House adjourns.

“Our hope is it won’t just go to the dustbin,” Berman said, according to Reuters, adding that he has discussed the bill with his replacement on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, and the panel’s next head, Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California.

The nearly 1,000-page bill, which took Berman and his staff four years to craft, was warmly received by several members of the U.S. aid community, including the Professional Services CouncilModernizing Foreign Assistance NetworkU.S. Global Leadership Coalition and Interaction.

Clearer strategies, better monitoring

Among key high-level proposals covered by the bill is the release of a U.S. development strategy every four years. This builds on President Barack Obama’s introduction of the country’s first-ever development policy in 2010.

To support the overarching policy, the bill also calls for the release of country development cooperation strategies and sector strategies every three to five years.

Meanwhile, to support its proposal for a more results-focused U.S. approach to development, the bill outlines measures to improve planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of U.S. foreign aid programs. These include the publication of aid information on a public, online platform.

Here are some other key provisions outlined in Berman’s reform proposal:

  • Restore the policy and budgetary functions of theUSAIDand transform it into an independent agency.

  • Better definition of the relationship between theUSAIDadministrator and the secretary of state.

  • New funding mechanisms focused on innovation, microenterprise development and rapid humanitarian response.

  • The first-ever set of humanitarian principles to guide U.S. international relief efforts.

  • Creation of a Bureau of Conflict Stabilization that includes a new Office of the Stability Policing Coordinator, which was also proposed in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

  • A new centralized and flexible mechanism to support stabilization initiatives, with 25 percent allocated for conflict prevention.

  • Development of action plans for human rights and democracy every three to five years in countries where rights are under attack.

  • Expand career incentives available to democracy and human rights officers. Hire senior officers atUSAIDdedicated to preventing and responding to violence against women.

  • A stronger role of the secretary of state in the delivery and coordination of foreign military assistance.

  • Use of U.S. investments and trade capacity-building assistance to support development assistance programs.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.