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A New Model for Foreign Aid

By Anne C. Richard

A sign in the lobby of the British government's Department for International Development (DFID) bears the following bold motto: "Leading the British Government's fight against world poverty."

Since 1997, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has emerged as a top-rated international development organization. The decision to focus on the single goal of fighting poverty is one reason for its success. At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has grown weaker. Major aid initiatives have been set up outside of USAID, the U.S. military is shouldering a growing share of development and reconstruction work overseas, and a shrinking staff has forced USAID to rely more on private contractors to carry out its work. In reaction to this trend, some American aid experts have called for creating a strengthened, cabinet-level development department, and suggested that DFID could serve as a model.

Should the Obama Administration and Congress adopt the "DFID model"? On a recent visit to London, International Rescue Committee President George Rupp and I became even more convinced that differences between the UK's parliamentary system and the American presidential system prevent wholesale importation of DFID to the United States. But the United States could follow DFID's lead in several respects.

• Ensure a senior US development official takes part in White House national security discussions;
• Consolidate most development aid programs into one department - or at least take steps to coordinate better across the US government on development issues;
• Embrace the Millennium Development Goals as official policy, which many other countries have done;
• Delegate decisions about aid projects to USAID missions overseas; and
• Build support for development aid among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

In a report we wrote after our trip, we also note that other aspects of the DFID model would be harder to adopt in the U.S., at least in the near term. These include elevating USAID to a cabinet-level development department; restricting the use of development aid to fighting poverty; providing aid in the form of cash to recipient country governments; reaching the UN's target of 0.7 percent of Gross National Income devoted to development aid; and setting up programs in the schools to educate children about the importance of foreign aid.

Rep. Howard Berman, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, plans to introduce legislation to reform foreign aid. Using the DFID model as a starting place is not a bad idea.

Anne C. Richard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations and Vice President of the International Rescue Committee. She and IRC President George Rupp are authors of a CTR report, "The "DFID Model": Lessons for the U.S., to be released February 9.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

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