I’ve been thinking of this post for a few weeks now. At the last Republican debate there was a question about the future of foreign aid. This was an easy home run question, and I don’t even have a staff that can research this stuff for me.
On one of my podcasts, I listened to an AEI and Brookings Institute speech given by a congressman from California. He was presenting an idea, actually he called it a proposal, for reforming Foreign Aid. His idea to present this as a proposal and not introduce as legislation, was to get the documents out in public, gather feedback and spur debate. Doing this in the absense of formal legislation, keeps the political posturing to a minimum. Brilliant.
Now most people don’t know this, but Foreign Aid isn’t just the US Treasury writing checks to governments to do anything they want. It is a collection of programs administered by the US AID department of the Federal Government. They work with foreign governments to establish programs that meet the requirements of the creating statute and then implement and fund them. While proponents cite that US AID is only .5% of the federal government budget, I would postulate that there are many families that don’t give .5% of their annual income to a charity for which they do not receive a direct benefit, like a church. Giving away money, whether ours or the government’s is like giving charity, and when you have no money, you tend to not want to give. That is sad, but I would guess largely an axiom and why the richest nations in the world have a moral and strategic interest to be charitable, even when it is difficult.
This congressman described some really great changes to USAID that would focus strategies on 8 specific goals, define a G&A maximum, create mechanisms for tracking and even a review process based on goals and metrics that would enable cancellation of programs that are not meeting targets. These are all conservative ideals and what we want government as a whole to do for us. The congressman was introduced by Paul Wolfowitz and even fielded a somewhat complimentary question from the neo-con.
So a great answer to the foreign aid question goes something like this…
You know Bret, I don’t think we need to scrap Foreign Aid entirely. But like everything else government does these days, it could use some reform. Most people think we just cut checks straight from the Treasury and hand them over blindly. Not so, there are hard-working civil servants partnering with foreign governments, trying out new ideas and programs to solve real problems. I don’t think the American people want to cut off aid to countries that are in need of our help, but they recognize the need to do it better. When tax dollars are scarce, they want to make sure their money is spent wisely. I just read a proposal by a congressman from California to do those exact things. He has been working on this issue for 3 years now, and I like what his proposal is trying to do. It sets goals, assigns accountability, creates provisions to measure, report, evaluate and even cancel programs that aren’t working. And you know what, it comes from Howard Berman, a Democrat from California and now the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. This is the kind of cooperation and partnership that the American people are looking for, a Republican president seeking out the best solutions to problems and then working to get it done. We need a way to move forward and act responsibly for the voters who sent us to do a job, and work together to make change real. Little things like this are a great way to start.
I just read that out loud and stayed at just about 1 minute. Imagine a debate answer like that?