Newly introduced legislation would require President Barack Obama to draft an official U.S. strategy for global development and establish new evaluation and transparency measures to better track development spending.
The Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 was introduced late on April 28 by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). If adopted, it would require the U.S. government to create a plan to reduce poverty, spur economic growth and respond to humanitarian crises around the globe. The strategy-which would have to be drafted in consultation with Congress-would be implemented across all government agencies conducting foreign aid and contain benchmarks for poverty decreases and economic growth, but also be flexible and able to respond to changes in U.S. foreign policy.
The bill also calls for a number of evaluation measures to be put in place, both at the agency level and across government. It would establish the United States Foreign Assistance Evaluation Advisory Council to evaluate efficiency across the entire bureaucracy. The council would be composed of seven members appointed by the president that hail from the private sector. Council members would serve four-year terms.
The proposal, ,if adopted, would also require better tracking and public disclosure of how development money is being spent. Developing countries would receive better access to information on how the United States is spending its development money.
The bill drew praise from Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
"Creating a national strategy for global development will help coordinate our disjointed U.S. foreign assistance system, establish poverty reduction as its primary goal and provide developing countries and their citizens more ownership over their own development agenda," Offenheiser said. "By taking the time to listen to the poor people and countries, we are trying to help, and by giving them more control over their own futures, U.S. foreign assistance is more likely to make a long-lasting impact."
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network praised the bill as an "unprecedented and much-needed strategic framework for U.S. global development efforts," adding, "We are hopeful it will move through the legislative process quickly."
The bill would amend the Foreign Assistance Act, but it is not, by any means, a radical overhaul of that law, nor does it require sweeping changes to the U.S. development bureaucracy. It does not mention the U.S. Agency for International Development, Millennium Challenge Corp. or any other development agency by name.
This lack of broad reform will no doubt be disappointing to many in the development community who were hoping for an overhaul of the way the United States doles out foreign aid.
Changes for Berman's proposal to become law are unclear at this point. It would have to be voted out of committee and approved by the House. The same would have to happen in the Senate before the president can sign the bill.