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President Bush's FY 2008 budget request offers the first glimpse of whether and how the rhetoric about transforming U.S. foreign assistance is being translated into reality. Reality in this case is not just about who gets how much money; it is about whether or not development is receiving the same level of national strategic importance as defense and diplomacy--a goal set forth in the National Security Strategy of 2002 (pdf). Tomorrow morning Director of Foreign Assistance Randall Tobias will explain to the House Foreign Affairs Committee how policies are changing to achieve this goal. If I were a member of the Committee, here are some of the questions I would ask Ambassador Tobias:
You have just undertaken a monumental effort to analyze, categorize and distribute our foreign aid spending across the new transformational diplomacy framework (pdf). What have you learned from this exercise about the U.S.'s priorities for global engagement and development assistance? What are some of the key questions or tradeoffs you grappled with in the process? What outstanding issues should the U.S. address to improve the effectiveness and coherence of our foreign assistance? What do you say to your critics who suggest this is nothing more than a "shuffling of boxes"?
International affairs is one of the few areas in the budget request identified for increased funding (a nearly 12% increase). But total expenditures in this area amount to only 1% of the budget--compared to 21.5% of the budget for defense. And aid for development is only one-half of 1% of the national budget. Do you think the level of resources requested by the president for international affairs is adequate to address the root causes of political and human insecurity, and state failure in the developing world? What else should the U.S. do to balance our national security interest in development so that it is strategically on par with our defense and diplomacy efforts?
The new transformational diplomacy framework provides an unprecedented level of detail on U.S. spending and deserves praise for showing where much of our aid resources are being spent. The bulk of funding, however, is still provided to an elite group of political allies like Egypt and Pakistan, and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. How "transformational" is this reform?
The president's budget request reflects substantial increases to specific programs like the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the malaria initiative, while many of the other development assistance accounts were cut or held flat. What steps would you take to ensure that the U.S. has a comprehensive approach to foreign assistance for development, and that long-term growth and poverty reduction complement life-saving HIV/AIDS and malaria programs?
The transformational diplomacy agenda places a welcome emphasis on state-building, helping weak countries build the institutions they need for security, economic growth and effective governance. It also recognizes, at least implicitly, that advancing "development" may rely on a wide range of policy instruments, from multiple agencies, to address the poor governance and internal conflict that beset so many developing countries. Could you explain what kind of process you have developed to ensure thorough deliberation and adjudication of the various U.S. policy goals at stake in each particular aid recipient, including how these goals should be balanced and integrated? Specifically, how do you ensure that U.S. policies for foreign aid are aligned and not working at cross-purposes with U.S. policies for defense and security as well as trade, environment, and investment?
How does the current transformational diplomacy effort approach weak and failing states? What else should be done to ensure that the U.S. takes a strategic approach to weak and failing states as part of its development assistance programs and U.S. global engagement?
Many of our development assistance efforts suffer from a lack of knowledge about their actual impact on individuals and communities. There is a desperate need for better measurement of this impact and how social and development interventions affect poverty and improve health and education in developing countries. What is the office of the director of foreign assistance doing to bridge this "evaluation gap" and how will impact, rather than outcomes, be measured by your office and shared publicly?
The new office of the director of foreign assistance has oversight of several spigots of U.S. foreign aid, but still lacks direct authority over the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and PEPFAR. In addition, it appears that funding for MCA and PEPFAR is no longer "additive" to other U.S. development spending, as the president promised. How does this affect your ability to strategically coordinate U.S. foreign aid efforts? Is it time for us to get serious about rewriting the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, getting rid of earmarks, and even begin talking about changes in architecture including the creation of a cabinet-level development agency?
What would you like to ask Randall Tobias about the new reforms and U.S. foreign aid?