US Lawmaker Seeks Bipartisan Effort to Reform US Foreign Aid

The ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee lobbied Thursday for support among conservatives for a reform proposal that seeks to improve how U.S. foreign assistance is provided.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) unveiled Sept. 8 at the conservative U.S.-based think tank American Enterprise Institute a carefully crafted reform proposal that avoids potentially controversial pitfalls such as funding levels, which the representative described as a “recipe for disaster.”

“This proposal focuses on the way we provide assistance, rather than on how much or to whom,” Berman said.

He released the reform proposal as a discussion draft, not a numbered bill, in what appears to be a signal of his willingness to compromise on the language and content of the proposal. He has yet to introduce it formally before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“My hope is that [the proposal] will create an opportunity for honest, open and constructive dialogue about how to make foreign assistance serve our national interests more efficiently and more effectively. I welcome and encourage all of you to participate in that dialogue,” the representative told his audience at AEI.

This is not the first time Berman released a draft of his aid reform proposal for discussion. His office circulated in July 2010 a 55-page draft of the same proposal he released at AEI. The current proposal expands on the July draft, providing more details on six of the seven goals Berman said should guide U.S. foreign assistance.

The new draft also calls for the creation of a Global Development Council comprised of nine “internationally recognized leaders from the highest levels” of private foundations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and academic institutions. Five of the members will be appointed by the U.S. president. The speaker of the House, the House minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders would each appoint a member to complete the council.

The council’s primary tasks will be to advise the president and the Development Policy Committee on international development-related programs and policies. The Development Policy Committee is a body Berman proposed in his earlier draft, and is comprised of the U.S. Agency for International Development and representatives of federal agencies engaged in overseas development work.

Berman’s latest proposal also seeks to make U.S. funding for region-specific initiatives more flexible. The goal, according to Berman, is to give the White House greater flexibility to transfer funds from one region to another. This allow the U.S. to “easier seize fleeing windows of opportunity, like those of the Arab Spring,” Berman said.

Furhter, Berman is proposing an emergency humanitarian response fund “with a self-financing mechanism to address urgent and unforeseen humanitarian disasters.”

Development community reacts

Initial response to Berman’s proposal has been positive, with the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network saying it lays a strong legislative foundation.

“We urge the administration and members of Congress to use Rep. Berman’s bill, and the work done by other members of HCFA, as a platform for building bipartisan consensus on foreign assistance reform,” MFAN Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe said in a statement.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, meanwhile, noted that while Berman’s proposal is not likely to become law anytime soon, it “makes a significant step forward in thinking on what such a reform could and should entail.”

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About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.