A joint task force convened by the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released comprehensive new recommendations today designed to reorganize and reprioritize America’s foreign aid programs.
The Brookings-CSIS Task Force on Transforming Foreign Assistance for the 21st Century includes high-level participants from Congress, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and influential NGOs who have consulted with key players for more than a year. The task force calls for an immediate and comprehensive review of foreign aid, led by Congress but involving key NGOs and government agencies, with the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 serving as a model. And they argue for elevating the U.S. development mission to put it on an equal footing with defense and diplomacy, which may ultimately require creating a new Department for Global Development that would bring together the more than fifty separate U.S. government units now involved in aid delivery.
The task force recommendations were released at an event at Brookings today. Members of the task force include Lael Brainard, vice president of Global Economy and Development at Brookings and co-director of the task force; Patrick Cronin, director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, former senior vice president and director of studies at CSIS, and co-director of the task force; Rand Beers, former special assistant to President Bush and president of the coalition for American Leadership and Security; Rodney Bent, deputy chief executive officer and vice president, the Millennium Challenge Corporation; Paul Clayman, chief counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Mark Lippert, foreign policy advisor to Senator Barack Obama.
In a world transformed by globalization and challenged by terrorism, foreign aid has assumed renewed importance as a foreign policy tool. While U.S. spending on foreign assistance has seen its greatest increase in forty years, this expansion has brought with it a growing incoherence in policy and a fragmentation in organization. With hard power assets stretched thin and facing twenty-first century threats from global poverty, pandemics, and terrorism, the U.S. must deploy its soft power more effectively, the task force argues.
“Within the U.S. government, fifty separate units deliver aid, with a dizzying array of objectives ranging from narcotics eradication to refugee assistance,” said Lael Brainard. “At best, the lack of integration means that the United States fails to take advantage of potential synergies; at worst, these disparate efforts work at cross purposes. As a result, America punches well below its throw weight in the international arena, which should be unmatched measured in absolute aid dollars.”
They also argue that U.S. foreign aid must move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and should be guided by a unified framework that fuses America’s objectives supporting capable foreign powers and countering security, humanitarian, and transnational threats with differentiation based on governance and economic capacities. Aid programs must be customized to the capacity and need of the beneficiary country, recognizing that countries afflicted with poor governance also perform the worst in addressing human needs.
Over the past 15 months, the bipartisan group has worked to forge a consensus on best practices in foreign assistance policymaking. Their report, released under the title Security by Other Means: Foreign Assistance, Global Poverty, and American Leadership, includes a number of individual recommendations designed to increase effectiveness, cohesion, and accountability in foreign aid.