What do you think of federally-funded foreign assistance?

29 Jan

Times are tough. We were reminded of this yet again during last week’s State of the Union address, with President Obama’s emphasis on the economy. Part and parcel with his discussion of “the economy” came a discussion of our country’s deficit and our need to curtail unnecessary federal spending.

Here is the rub: what is necessary and what is unnecessary? Where can we afford to cut costs, and where can we not afford to? Similarly, where should we cut costs and where shouldn’t we? What sort of criteria do we use to determine what is necessary and what is unnecessary?

When looking at the federal budget, a group of congresspeople have zoned in on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the main agency responsible for U.S. foreign assistance. The proposal they have drafted, which aims to reduce the national deficit, would essentially eliminate USAID.

This proposal is not completely unexpected, since USAID’s budget has always ebbed and flowed (eh, maybe it has never really flowed) with the tide of politics, both domestic and international. Senator Jesse Helms called for the elimination of USAID ten years ago, when he famously described foreign aid as the equivalent of throwing tax dollars “down a foreign rat hole”.  Naturally, I bristle at this. All of us have our own “special interests”, and this is mine.

I’m not the only one to have bristled. In his response to this latest proposal, the head of USAID, Rajiv Shah,  said that the cuts “would have massive negative implications for our fundamental security”, especially in relation to the strategic role U.S. development aid is playing in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Department of State, which controls USAID, has employed a lot of rhetoric meant to elevate official development assistance (ODA, the general term used to describe bilateral foreign assistance) as a key element of U.S. foreign policy. This policy is often referred to as “the Three Ds”: defense, diplomacy, and development.

Rajiv Shah, bristling

Now, I know what I think about this. But I’m not going to write about it yet. All of this has me wondering: what do other people think about our country funding development projects in other countries? Before I write a blog about why I think developed countries, especially the U.S., should have development budgets, I would like to pose to you, friends, the following questions:

  1. Do you think the U.S. should provide assistance to developing countries?
  2. Why or why not?

Before I set you free to answer, I would like to equip you with some fun facts:

–       The U.S. government spends about 0.44 percent of its budget on foreign aid.

–       Besides USAID, there are about 25 other federal agencies involved in foreign aid (which are included in the percentage above). USAID is the agency explicitly charged with this, but others do as well.

–       The top five recipients of US ODA are Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan.

–       The five poorest countries in the world are Niger, Ethiopia, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Burundi (based on the UN’s Multidimensional Poverty Index).

–       Learn more about USAID here.

I look forward to your responses!

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2 Responses to “What do you think of federally-funded foreign assistance?”

  1. Jim R January 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    There’s no reason for this to be a binary decision – I think it should depend on what the assistance is. Bribes are great but handouts are terrible.

    I keep trying to expand on this but I’m not sure I can.

  2. Susie February 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    This may be an ignorant question–but I’m wondering it anyway: why aren’t we giving assistance to the countries that need it the most?

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