Now is the time for international stakeholders to influence U.S. President Barack Obama's foreign aid reform!

The White House has ordered a review of U.S. global development operations, the State Department is conducting its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and the Senate is expected to debate reform proposals later this month.

Several proposals have been churned out in the past few months by groups such as InterAction, Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. But the development community's initial excitement over Obama's study directive - which is supposed to be completed by January - has turned to nail-biting anxiety, given his continued silence about promised reforms.

Sheila Herrling, primary contributor to MFAN and senior policy associate and director of the Center for Global Development's Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance program, expressed hope in a recent blog post that the flurry of activity would help elevate development and modernize foreign assistance "into one smart strategy."

MFAN challenged policymakers in June 2008 with a development policy proposal called "New Day, New Way." The reform coalition wants a new U.S. development strategy to improve development programming between the U.S. and host countries. Most importantly, it wants a policy that follows internationally acceptable principles of aid effectiveness. These include harmonizing policies and practices within the donor community; aligning donor and recipient priorities and lowering transaction costs; and increasing transparency and accountability.

InterAction is providing input on congressional proposals to reform the Foreign Assistance Act, the major law governing U.S. foreign aid. In April, it was one of 92 signatories to a letter asking President Obama to swiftly nominate an administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, noting that a foreign aid chief was key to the president's ongoing review of homeland security operations.

Last November, InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations focused on global poverty, published the Foreign Assistance Briefing Book, a venerable development bible on global humanitarian and development trends, priorities and suggested actions.

"NGOs should have a stronger role in policymaking and be considered vital partners in the fight against global poverty," InterAction said in a March statement.

USGLC, an educational arm of the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, earlier this year recommended the adoption of a new business model for foreign assistance based on local ownership, partnership, impact and accountability, in a report entitled "Putting Smart Power to Work." The ad hoc approach toward global aid relationships is ineffective for conducting development programming in the 21st century, the coalition argued.

USGLC also called for the doubling of foreign and civil service staff over 10 years.

About the author

  • Moria Byrne

    Moria joined Devex's Washington bureau in September 2009 as an international development correspondent fellow. She is a communications specialist with a background in international development public relations, publishing, education and journalism. Moria has worked for Catholic Relief Services and, as a Peace Corps volunteer, lived in the Philippines for two years.