THE BLOG

The Future of USAID

07/14/2010 04:56 pm 16:56:47 | Updated May 25, 2011

One would imagine that a national investment that pays dividends in the forms of greater national security, economic growth, and revitalized American values would be a wise investment in the future of our country. Yet the International Affairs budget -- which funds America's vital development and diplomacy programs -- is burdened with a disproportionate share of the budget cuts now being made by Congress.

We recognize that Congress is faced with agonizing choices -- and many competing priorities -- on the budget front. However, cuts to the International Affairs budget will only weaken USAID and other agencies that make vital contributions to global development and our national security. This tiny fraction of the budget totals only 1.4% of federal spending, but is bearing the brunt of the cuts being made by Congress to President Obama's budget request.

We are grateful for the emphasis the President has placed on development and foreign assistance--a tradition he continues from President Bush. And we strongly support Secretary Clinton's call to make USAID "the premier development agency in the world." But this goal will only be achieved when USAID's personnel capacity is rebuilt and its funding enhanced.

USAID's investments result in gains in diplomacy and democracy worldwide. Following the Aceh tsunami, 63 percent of Indonesians had a favorable impression of the United States, up from 28 percent. The striking positive change in a country with the largest Muslim population in the world is critical for American foreign policy.

For nearly half a century, USAID has brought people out of poverty and built thriving communities. In West Africa, USAID has partnered with businesses and governments to develop a commercial seed industry. Now more than 500,000 small-scale farmers have timely, affordable and reliable access to high-quality seeds and planting material through a network of over 800 agro-dealers in five focus countries further providing increased yields and protecting crops from drought, pests, and disease; lowering costs; and improving nutritional content.

And when tragedy strikes, USAID is always there. Following January's devastating earthquake in Haiti, USAID led the U.S. relief effort, mobilizing resources from across the government. The percentage of Port-au-Prince residents who have access to safe drinking water is now higher than it was before the earthquake. As a result, the incidence of diarrhea has declined 12 percent compared to pre-earthquake levels.

These achievements can be multiplied but only if we provide USAID with the programmatic and personnel resources it needs. With personnel rolls on a steady decline for the last few decades, the U.S. now literally has more personnel in military bands than it has diplomats.

Some say USAID is broken, and we agree major revitalization is needed. To meet challenges around the world, we need a modernized USAID. With White House and State Department development reviews under way, we believe USAID will be fortified, securing development as the essential third pillar of our foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense. But reform and revitalization can only go so far without resources.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree on the imperative of focusing on international development. In April, every living former Secretary of State wrote Congress calling for an increase in the International Affairs Budget. They said, "We know from our collective experience that these strategic tools are essential to achieving our goals of protecting national security, building economic prosperity, and providing humanitarian assistance."

Administrator Rajiv Shah has called for a new generation of "development entrepreneurs" who combine a deep knowledge of what works in the field with American entrepreneurial spirit. Individuals can transform USAID, creating innovative programs and partnerships that save lives, promote growth and multiply U.S. resources many times over. With the proper resources, USAID can realize this vision.

America needs a vibrant USAID with improved capacity to be a force for good around the globe. But USAID's leader needs a full team to implement new initiatives. We call upon the administration to work tirelessly and fill the vacant senior leadership positions. And we call upon Congress to ensure that USAID is adequately funded and has the resources to do its important work. The time is now, the support is broad and the need is crucial. Helping to create the conditions for peace and stability is essential to our national security. It's an investment in building a better, safer world.

J. Brian Atwood, Henrietta Holsman Fore, M. Peter McPherson and Andrew Natsios served as USAID Administrators in previous administrations. Ms. Fore also served as the Director of Foreign Assistance. All are advisors to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.