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Support grows to retool foreign aid

By Dr. Charles Raynal on October 9, 2009
© Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Foreign assistance — the use of U. S. dollars, know-how and leadership to help poor countries — has been a necessary and effective tool of foreign policy since World War II.

Unfortunately today, as we face terrorist insurgencies in our post-Sept. 11 world, our government in Washington has lost a clear focus on foreign assistance. President Obama has not yet appointed a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Bureaucratic sprawl has sapped the strength of many of our aid programs. Our government's global development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 different agencies and nearly 60 government offices. The organization chart looks like a haystack, and it needs new, clear lines of responsibility.

A more efficient foreign assistance system — with better coordination, better accountability and better clarity — means that people get help faster and more effectively.

After World War II, the U. S. Marshall Plan helped Germany and our allies rebuild and escape domination by the Soviet Union.

Later, from the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War, Congress concluded it was imperative to help poor and hungry nations reject the temptation of communism. Congress and President Kennedy established USAID in 1961.

Today, we face terrorist insurgencies in failed states like Somalia and Yemen, and we see how resentment against the West thrives underneath corrupt regimes like those in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Now we are in danger of frittering away the great legacy of using foreign assistance to help the poorest of the poor and win the hearts of nations engulfed by hunger, disease and refugee displacement.

Present dangers to our national security call us to reform U.S. foreign assistance programs. Assisting impoverished people to grow food, receive medicine and have hope for a normal life is a moral imperative for the United States.

Both houses of Congress are debating how to reform the delivery of development assistance. The House is considering the "Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009," and the Senate has before it the "Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009."

These bills were introduced by both Republicans and Democrats to reform and re-evaluate our foreign assistance program, and they have co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Evaluating and holding foreign aid programs accountable has strong bipartisan support.

Prominent leaders with Atlanta connections have recently expressed support for smarter use of United States foreign assistance. When Senator Johnny Isakson, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, returned this spring from his visit to Sudan and Kenya, he told a CDC audience, "As Africa emerges in the 21st century, it is imperative to the security of the free world that it does not become a home for those who harbor terror and violence."

Gerald Grinstein, retired CEO of Delta Airlines, now with the Initiative for Global Development's Leadership Council, writes, "Because the total of all American assistance is less than one-half of 1 percent of the total U.S. budget, its impact hinges on how it's delivered. The administration would be well-served to strengthen programs, like the Millennium Challenge Corp., that already infuse accountability, transparency and risk management into the delivery of foreign aid."

The Rev. Dr. Michael A. Battle, former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, was sworn in on Aug. 21 as President Obama's appointment with the rank of Ambassador to the African Union.

Battle said, "One of the challenges is to assist in building the capacity of the African Union so that it can address all the issues that face the continent: political instability, dealing with war, piracy off the coast of Somalia, Darfur."

All agree on the urgency of a common vision to alleviate poverty and hunger, fight disease and create economic growth for struggling people in developing countries.

In the end, every citizen of the United States deserves to know that our public officials use our foreign assistance resources in a well-coordinated, efficient and transparent way.

Charles Raynal is Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.

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