U.S. foreign assistance has helped drive some of the greatest human progress in the last 50 years. The impact of America's generosity and leadership can be measured in millions of lives saved and transformed. For example, the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe's economy after World War II, and the Green Revolution in agriculture helped put Asia on a path to long-term growth in the 1960s and '70s. The Campaign for Child Survival raised immunization rates from 15 percent to nearly 80 percent in the 1980s, and efforts to increase access to HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa helped millions of people over the last decade.
Led by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the current administration has strengthened America's commitment to development by calling it a "moral, strategic, and economic imperative," building on the campaign pledge Obama made to ensure that "development is established and endures as a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy."
But the rhetorical rubber meets the road when we look at the current system we use to deliver foreign aid. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), written during the Cold War era, is outdated and does not address the challenges of the modern world. Nearly 500 pages long, it includes hundreds of overlapping and uncoordinated goals, provisions, and directives. The programs it authorizes are executed by at least 12 departments, 25 different agencies, and almost 60 government offices.
According to Oxfam America field research, this lack of strategic order and coordination has real on-the-ground consequences:
The people we are trying to help, and the generous U.S. taxpayers who support our efforts to improve their lives, cannot afford this inefficiency when budgets are tight and effective development is such a critical element of our foreign policy and national security. The time has come for the president to lead the way in reforming U.S. foreign assistance:
At stake is America's ability to effectively address the global challenges of the 21st century. And the timing is important. In just two months, the eyes of the world will be on the Millennium Development Goals Summit, where committed nations must pledge new energy and resolve in the fight against global poverty. By showing leadership on foreign assistance reform, President Obama will attach actions to his words on development -- and hopefully lead others to commit to more effectively empowering the world's poorest people to realize a brighter future.
Rev. David Beckmann, World Food Prize laureate, is president of Bread for the World and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.