Five Approaches to Doing Better in Foreign Assistance during Times of Budget Cutting

This brief was revised on July 27, 2017. It was first published on July 24, 2017.

The deep cuts to foreign assistance proposed by the Trump administration in its FY2018 budget request were met with strong resistance from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. But even as Congress rejects the severity of the administration’s proposed spending reductions, budget pressure is likely to persist, contributing to an environment in which “doing more with less” becomes the mandate of the day

Where politically-driven budget cuts can have negative consequences for programs and outcomes, the White House and Congress may find common ground in embracing an agenda that prioritizes achieving greater effectiveness in US development assistance as well as value for money.

CGD has a history of thought leadership on questions of aid reform and is weighing in again with new work by CGD fellows Jeremy Konyndyk and Cindy Huang. To home in on the budget question, CGD’s US Development Policy Initiative (DPI) has assembled five proposals to do foreign assistance better, drawing on both new and long-standing work and analysis from the Center.

As a starting point, we do not think the appropriate framework is to aspire to “do more with less” or even accept as inevitable that the outcome will be “doing less with less.” Instead, we believe there should be a shift in mindset to embrace “doing better” in a way that can be applied in times of budget-cutting or even budget expansion. The ideas we promote here do not call for budget cuts. But they do offer ways in which our aid enterprise can pursue qualitative improvement alongside budgetary savings:

  1. Cash transfers: lower costs, greater impact
  2. Evidence-based policy making: A foreign assistance review commission
  3. Increase budget flexibility to achieve sustainable results
  4. Leveraging the power of multilateralism
  5. Better match instruments and programs with country needs

Rights & Permissions

You may use and disseminate CGD’s publications under these conditions.