Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, urged lawmakers on Wednesday not to slash the agency’s budget. He described reforms that he said would increase USAID’s efficiency, engage private enterprise and harness new technologies.
Delivering foreign assistance through these innovative approaches will lead to dramatic, meaningful gains in human welfare throughout the developing world.
Our assistance represents the spirit of our country’s generosity; captured in USAID’s motto: ‘From the American People.’
But now more than ever, it is critical that the American people understand that our assistance also delivers real benefits for the American people: it keeps our country safe, develops the markets of tomorrow and expresses our collective values.
Shah, whose previous employers include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has headed USAID since December 2009. The statement he read Wednesday did not mention Cuba, the unwilling target of $20 million of AID funds in fiscal 2012.
In his statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Shah evoked the names of past presidents – including George W. Bush – while telling lawmakers that USAID’s mission is a reflection of American values. He said:
Now is the time when America must decide whether it will engage and lead the world, actively using its tools of development, diplomacy and defense to improve human welfare and freedom across the globe…
…or whether it will retract, leaving many of its poorest, most fragile global partners without assistance, and leaving other emerging global powers like China to promote alternative economic and political models.
Budgets are an expression of policy; they’re an expression of priorities. But fundamentally, they are an expression of values.
Our assistance is not just a line in a budget; it is a reflection of who we are as a country.
Our foreign assistance programs began under President Truman. USAID was founded by President Kennedy. And our efforts in Food Security, Global Health and child literacy are hard-earned legacies of President Bush that our Administration has tried to enhance.
The values represented in the President’s FY 2012 budget are clear: compassion, determination, and a commitment to universal freedom and opportunity. They are American values, through and through, and demonstrate the best of American global leadership. Putting these values into action will deliver real results for the American people, making us safer and more prosperous.
Supporters of the Cuban government oppose USAID programs in Cuba, but Shah’s agency has supporters in the U.S. One of them is C. Stacy Beam, who writes a blog called Secretary Clinton. On March 10, she wrote:
It is an absolute disgrace that the GOP wants to drastically cut State/USAID budgets while not cutting one dime from the massive defense/national security/intelligence infrastructure which is known to be a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy prone to fraud, abuse (hello, private contractors?) and duplication of effort. The contention that there is not one single area where the defense budget can be trimmed is just ludicrous and demonstrates how unwieldy, powerful and out of control the military-industrial-complex has become.
If you haven’t seen this PBS Frontline Documentary “Are We Safer” go watch it here. It talks about the expansion of the national security state after 9/11 and the economic and legal implications of so much secrecy, private contracting and an exponentially bloated bureaucracy. National security is big business. It’s almost like a secret government within a government with minimal to no oversight and apparently few, if any, budgetary constraints.
Photo: Foreign Policy magazine