The emerging aid champions in the US Congress

Liz Schrayer, president and CEO of the USGLC. Will there be change in funding for the World Bank and the United Nations with a Republican-led U.S. Senate? Schrayer shares her thoughts on the issue as well as other topics. Photo by: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia / CC BY-NC

This week’s midterm elections signaled a new political era to come in Washington, D.C. — one in which a Republican-controlled Congress has heavy influence on both domestic and foreign affairs.

And as fresh-faced politicians gear up for action in January 2015, global development professionals wonder what the new era will signify for their field and for U.S. engagement around the world.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition recently released a post-election analysis outlining how voter’s decisions could influence the development and diplomacy agenda. Liz Schrayer, president and CEO of the USGLC, wrote that the election’s “biggest loser is isolationism.” In an exclusive interview with Devex, she later explained that while a lot of new legislators have little experience in the realm of global development, they are eager to learn.

Below are lightly edited highlights from our conversation.

Are there any individual lawmakers that you see stepping into a big role when it comes to foreign aid?

“We’re looking forward to working with our good friend Sen. Bob Corker who is now chairman of the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. John McCain who is going to take over on the Armed Services Committee. He’s had wonderful things to say about the importance of how our military and civilian programs need to work together and he talked about how it would be silly to cut the international affairs budget below 1 percent disproportionately. Lindsey Graham is going to take over the State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee which will be terrific.

As for the new faces that I’m looking forward to working with that are going to emerge as, I think, really strong voices— watch for Tom Cotton, the [senator-elect] from Arkansas. Alaska has not been called. But it’s looking like Dan Sullivan will take over as a senator there. He I knew when he was in the Bush administration and will be a strong advocate for these programs.

Mike Rounds from [South Dakota] will be another important voice. And there’ll be some really important rising stars in the House. Look for Elise Stefanik, the youngest-ever woman elected to the Congress at 30. She’s going to be an important voice on foreign policy on the Republican side. And if you flip over on the Democratic side, the congressman-elect who’s taking over from Henry Waxman, Ted Lieu, has got an incredible military background. He’ll be a real strong proponent for these issues. There’s a returning Congressman Bob Dold from my home district in Illinois who is a great advocate for these programs.

USGLC was formed in the mid-90s and those were days when literally the freshman members of Congress went on the floor and they bragged that they didn’t own passports. And I remember those very dark days. That is not the class of freshmen that are going to fill the halls of congress in January 2015. From our experience these are people who see Americans need to be engaged in the world. And although they may not know about international development at the level of the few of us, they get there is a role to be played. More of them have thought about how the defense and our military needs to be engaged. But 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. They want to learn and understand. But they need to make sure it’s effective, and it will be up to us to educate and engage them about why these programs are effective and deliver a return on investment to American interests.

What does this new congress suggest about the future of major development programs and initiatives? For instance, the African Growth and Opportunity Act which is set to expire soon.

I’m actually optimistic about the next Congress as it relates to the international issues, where hopefully we’ll see some bipartisan consensus. We’re lucky to be sitting at a place with an issue that has longtime bipartisan support and we certainly have seen candidates from the far right and the far left espousing strong international views and real interest to learn.

A lot of them are coming with international experience whether from the military or from international business, but not a lot having real depth on the question you just asked me about — the details of development and diplomacy. But they’re really anxious to learn.

I don’t see new candidates coming that have strong background on [international development] policy, but we have a lot of members returning that do. People like [Rep.] Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is very committed to a number of these policy agendas. So I think we’re going to a see some real leadership from people like Ed Royce on that. I think there’s a broader issue of how much gets done. But I’m quite optimistic that on a number of these issues, they’ll be some leadership in the House on them.

Do you anticipate Congress could increase its role as an aid watchdog?

I think there has been a growing consensus from both sides of the aisle to make sure on every program, including our foreign assistance program, that we’re ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being used effectively and to make sure these programs are accountable, transparent, and results driven. And that’s why legislation like Ted Poe’s, and on the Senate side, the Rubio legislation on accountability and transparency — I think have moved in a bipartisan fashion and I hope in the next congress they actually go forward.

One of the interesting things is that we saw a lot of candidates ask and want to learn about how we make sure that we support the idea of development and diplomacy, but [also] how we make sure that these programs are effective. And a lot of them want to learn more and know more.

So I would not see it as quote a “watchdog” mentality, but an interest to make sure that our programs overseas are effective. And I think people like, as they learn more, the new model of development that really started under the Bush era, primarily with [organizations] like the [Millennium Challenge Corp.], and are being continued in the Obama administration with programs like Feed the Future or Power Africa.

Do you think there might be more of a focus on democracy and governance when it comes to development? Is that something that a Republican Congress might be more interested in?

I think that’s always been an area that we have seen a great interest in, particularly out of Republicans, and I do think that that, given the state of the world today, is probably something that there will be a renewed interest. I think there should be a renewed interest in [that] to take a look at how to make sure that we’re enhancing programs on a whole range of areas. And democracy and governance would certainly fit that bill. I don’t think it’s the only area that we need to enhance, but I think it’s certainly an area that we should be looking at.

What do you anticipate funding to the World Bank, or the U.N. could look like?

I think there has always been a challenge on how to prioritize the many many needs within our international affairs programs from bilateral to multilateral, and how to make sure that we’re leveraging our multilateral partners. And now, more than ever, because of the extent of world crises that are out there, we’re big believers that we need both the bilateral and the multilateral avenues. And so I think that those will become increasingly important players.

What do you think about Shrayer’s predictions? please let us know by sending an email to or leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., 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.