Rep. Yoho: Now is the time for reforms to make foreign aid more effective

U.S. Representative Ted Yoho. Photo by: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA

WASHINGTON — With the United States facing increasing budget pressures down the road, now is the time for reforms to make foreign aid more effective Congressman Ted Yoho told an audience of development professionals on Wednesday.

While there is a closely guarded process within the administration to make changes at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, Congress is also working to help set an agenda of reform for foreign aid. Yoho, a Republican from Florida, has been a central figure in some of those efforts, both as co-chair for the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, and as a key sponsor of several pieces of legislation aimed at tackling major challenges.

“I’m solutions oriented,” Yoho said at an event hosted by Devex in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “So many times I see these programs or policies we have, we’re treating symptoms, we’re not going to the underlying solution.”

Yoho was headed to a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, where part of the conversation was likely to be on the reforms at the State Department. Yoho and other congressmen sent a letter to the administration last month, asking for more information about the process, though they haven’t yet received answers. While reforms are necessary, the goal is not to short change the agency or make it a skeleton crew, Yoho said.

What’s needed, he said, is more accountability and efficiency, giving more funding to what’s working, increasing private sector engagement and working to wean countries off aid and into trading partners for the U.S. Yoho cited both the Millenium Challenge Corp. and the Overseas Private Investment Corp. as examples of agencies that have good models and should be emulated.

Yoho, a vocal OPIC supporter, is one of the legislators working on a bill to create a new development finance corporation that would give OPIC greater flexibility, possibly combine some agencies, and add capabilities such as equity authority and provide more financing for development finance.

“When you look at how much we invest compared to China or some of these other countries, we’re way behind,” he said.

The goal of the bill, and of the new agency, will be to streamline U.S. development finance, mobilize private capital, help countries become trading partners and raise the standard of living, Yoho said.

“This is something that needs to happen,” he said. “The world is rapidly changing, we need to change our models to get a bigger bang for the buck.”

The legislation, which is being crafted with input from the Senate and the administration is expected to be introduced before February.

Yoho is also a co-sponsor on the Multilateral Aid Review Act of 2017, which aims to publicly assess U.S. contributions to multilateral entities as a way to both prioritize U.S. funding, improve transparency and incentivize better outcomes.

He said that people shouldn’t be worried about losing funding, though he believes that successful agencies or organizations should get more funding, which may mean that the U.S. funds fewer organizations.

“Competition is good,” Yoho said. “Again if we don’t make these reforms if we go into the fiscal restraints that we see coming at us, if we don’t reform that in time, these cuts are going to come and there will be less money, so I think it’s prudent for us as a nation to make these reforms now.”

Yoho praised the development community, and invited organizations and individuals to share their information and ideas.

“If you could write legislation to change and make this better, more efficient, give us the ideas,” he said. “I'm giving you the power to tell me what to do basically, because I rely on your expertise.”

Read more Devex coverage on U.S. aid.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.