The Senate's new foreign aid overseers

From left to right: U.S. Sens. David Perdue, John Barrasso and Jeff Flake will chair three new subcommittees that will keep a closer eye on the financial and operational activities of development projects overseas. Photo by: Official government photos

The Obama administration isn’t the only part of U.S. government concerned about foreign aid spending: As investigations into the work of a leading nonprofit contractor continue, the Senate announced new measures to oversee international development cooperation.

More than half a dozen senior officials resigned Friday from their posts at International Relief and Development, the U.S. nonprofit suspended recently by the U.S. Agency for International Development for allegedly mismanaging taxpayer funds. USAID had signaled to IRD that it would have to make personnel changes to regain eligibility for future contracts and grants.

The USAID probe comes in the wake of years of rumored financial mismanagement. IRD has received more than $2.4 billion for development projects, many of them related to reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As IRD and USAID audit their financial relationship, aid to these countries could become a focal point in Congress, as well.

On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced the creation of three subcommittees that will keep a closer eye on the financial and operational activities of development projects overseas, one of which will focus on USAID and the Department of State.

Corker wrote in a letter to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in early January: “It is difficult to understand why USAID continues to put U.S. tax dollars and national security objectives at risk by doing business with organizations that consistently fail to meet their obligations and engage in potentially illegal and unethical activities.”

Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations and Bilateral International Development

The subcommittee’s mandate covers the work of the State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corp. as well as bilateral international development policy and foreign assistance, including management and budget oversight, according to the subcommittee rules.

As the former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General, Sen. David Perdue, the Republican from Georgia and chairman of the subcommittee brings extensive international business experience — and less development expertise — to his role. Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, is well-known in the development community for his advocacy of HIV and AIDS programs in Africa and for co-sponsoring the authorization of USAID’s Global Development Lab.

Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions and International Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy

This subcommittee will focus on multilateral policy and foreign assistance as well as all U.S. mandatory and voluntary contributions to international organizations like the United Nations. The subcommittee also covers international monetary and economic policy, including export enhancement and trade promotion, the jurisdiction of which it will share with the Senate Finance Committee.

Given this jurisdiction, subcommittee members will handle issues related to energy and climate negotiations, legislation like the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and intellectual property.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, voted against the 2013 reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The ranking Democrat, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, voted for the same reauthorization.

Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy

Unlike the other subcommittees, this body won’t have power over budgets. It will oversee policies that govern health programs in Africa, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the subcommittee’s chairman, has advocated both domestically and abroad for the gay community’s right to HIV treatment. His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act last year.

What issues do you want these lawmakers to focus on? Chime in by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.