A Balanced Approach to U.S. Foreign Aid Reform

After reading several reader responses to a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal by former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell, "Don't Forget About Foreign Aid" at href=""> I noticed a recurring theme. American taxpayers are concerned that their contributions to foreign aid may not always reach those whom they are intended to help, due to corruption, political strife or other limiting factors in the developing world.

Sadly, in many instances over the years, this has indeed been the case. However, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. U.S. foreign assistance has worked miracles around the globe, but is outdated and in need of an overhaul. Deaths from diseases like measles have fallen dramatically around the world and almost 30 million more children are in school in sub-Saharan Africa since just 2000. A more efficient foreign assistance system--with better coordination, better accountability and better clarity--will ensure that people who need help the most get it faster and more effectively. Also, it will mean less waste and more impact for our hard-earned tax dollars.

Foreign assistance CAN be cost-effective and foster economic sustainability, and we who are lucky enough to live in the wealthiest nation in the world benefit from it every day. Investments in international health care, education, job creation, infrastructure and other essential services that generate economic growth and reduce poverty overseas are investments in our own future. Providing assistance to the developing world is not only the right thing to do, it's sound economic and national security policy.

In recent years, we have learned painful lessons that it's not smart to neglect misery in far-off places. And, in a world where poverty anywhere threatens prosperity everywhere, foreign assistance is a vital tool for translating our moral beliefs into practical actions.

I urge readers to learn more about H.R. 2139, legislation introduced recently by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) to move towards much-needed foreign aid reform, and ask their own lawmakers to co-sponsor this important bill. The measures proposed will start finding clarity in our government's programs and making sure the people who need the aid are the ones receiving it.

Rev. David Beckmann, president, Bread for the World; and co-chair, Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network