Modernizing U.S. Foreign Assistance

Sun, 02/01/2009

“The universal Christian symbol is the cross, a transcendent fixture that stands with both a vertical and a horizontal element. Bread for the World’s 2009 Offering of Letters reconciles both elements where our commitment to God, the vertical, shines with our care for the poor and the hungry, the horizontal. Via our letters, our elected officials will understand the moral imperative to alleviate poverty and hunger. They will join with the faith community in fortifying the greatest of all wars in our generation, the war against apathy, injustice, and poverty. Let us pray that the 2009 Offering of Letters will fortify a cross with the complete message of our Lord, bringing Good News to the poor.” -Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.) The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. But the way the U.S. delivers assistance to the world’s poorest nations is still being driven by the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. In 2009, we will urge Congress to rework U.S. foreign assistance to make it more effective in reducing poverty and hunger. The opportunities and challenges we now face argue for a fresh approach to global development. By refocusing and streamlining U.S. foreign assistance, and eliminating long-standing inefficiencies, we can increase assistance to the poor and hungry people around the world, even in this time of fiscal constraints. A new president and a new Congress present a rare opportunity to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and in the process improve America’s standing with other countries. If foreign assistance is fixed more lives can be saved, fewer children would die of hunger and there would be less waste and more impact for our tax dollar. Currently the government’s global development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 different agencies, and 60 government offices. A more efficient foreign assistance system – with better coordination, better accountability, and better clarity – means that people can get help faster. We want the U.S. to be a leader in creating a better, safer world. To do that, U.S. foreign policy must elevate global development so that it plays a more prominent role alongside defense and diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy. Bread for the World will urge Congress to pass legislation that strengthens the ability of the U.S. to promote global development, foster economic growth in low-income countries, and support the efforts of poor people to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger and become self-sufficient. Bread for the World will urge Congress and the administration to elevate global development as a priority of U.S. foreign policy in order to restore America’s role in the world and strengthen U.S. national security. Bread for the World will call on Congress and the administration to chart a new course for U.S. foreign assistance that embraces the following principles: 1. Make poverty reduction a primary goal of U.S. foreign assistance, 2. Develop a national strategy for global development with coordination at the highest levels of government, 3. Provide reliable flexible assistance in partnership with recipient countries to meet their long-term development goals, 4. Provide opportunities for these partner countries and communities to participate in the development of priorities and programs of assistance. 5. Focus assistance on outcomes, with measurable goals and objectives, including systems of accountability to Congress and the American people, 6. Align U.S. aid, trade, migration, energy, and environmental policies so they work together to promote sustainable global development that reduces poverty, 7. More closely coordinate with other international donors to reduce program duplication and the burdens on recipient governments. The effort to reform foreign assistance will likely take more than a year to complete. But in order to get the U.S. started on the right track, we need to start NOW. Here are some benchmarks along the way that would show we’re making progress. - Congressional hearings on approaches to foreign aid reform. - A presidential directive that mandates better coordination of U.S. foreign assistance and elevates attention to development in foreign policy decision-making. - Substantive conversations between the administration and Congress about new approaches to foreign aid and global development. - Appointment of a person and/or high-level group to formulate a national strategy for global development and/or foreign assistance. - House and Senate coordination and cooperation to write a new Foreign Assistance Act. - Introduction of legislation in both houses of Congress that represents an emerging consensus on a fresh approach to global development and U.S. foreign assistance. - Passage of legislation that charts a new course for global development and U.S. foreign assistance. As people of faith, we know that peace is more than the absence of war. It requires building strong, healthy relationships, supporting people and communities who are working hard to provide a better life for their children, and removing the barriers to human dignity and fulfillment. That’s the work of U.S. foreign assistance and the goal of global development. That’s our opportunity and our challenge. What is the connection between reforming foreign assistance and meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Eradicating poverty and hunger requires a concentrated effort with clear, measurable goals. Our current system of providing foreign assistance is outdated, complicated, and under funded. It lacks accountability to both the taxpayers and the people it seeks to serve. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 has at least 33 different goals, 75 priority areas, and 247 directives, which sometimes conflict with each other. With such diffuse efforts, making progress on international poverty as outlined in the MDGs is incredibly difficult. We need to strengthen our development efforts and make them an equal pillar – alongside diplomacy and defense – in U.S. foreign policy. Americans can build goodwill, express compassion, and create a more secure world by giving a hand to those who struggle to lift themselves out of poverty. Most recent sample letters are available online at A good idea is to mail your letter to your elected official’s local office.