The Future of U.S. Aid Reform: Rhetoric, Reality, and Recommendations

September 19, 2011

More on the Super Committee: Connie Veillette explains how foreign assistance is faring in the current budget debate and highlights areas where reform could produce savings.

The Obama administration has pledged to elevate development alongside defense and diplomacy as a core function of foreign policy, and to remake USAID into the world's premiere development agency. Policies for doing so were included in two thorough reviews of U.S. development released in late 2010: the President's Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

In this report, Connie Veillette examines how well those principles are reflected in the president's FY2012 budget request—whether the rhetoric of reform will be funded for action—and gauges the administration's progress on seven elements of reform articulated in the PPD and QDDR.

The progress has been mixed. Elevating development as indicated by development funding levels and the authority of USAID, for example, has been lackluster, while support for innovation has been good.

Taking into account likely congressional reaction to the budget request, Veillette offers recommendations for improving progress on each element. The bottom line is that shrinking budgets need not mean the end of reform. On the contrary, the current budget debate, with its likelihood of additional cuts, could offer more opportunities for serious reforms than do periods of increasing budgets.

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