The Trump administration is considering folding the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) into the State Department and making deep cuts to both foreign assistance and diplomacy. These proposals spring from the vaguely articulated principle of “America First” and a belief that the United States spends too much money on foreign assistance and not enough on its own people.
This idea is designed to save the taxpayers money and make the country safer. It accomplishes neither. Congress has resisted this administration’s steep cuts to the State Department and USAID in the recently passed omnibus bill for fiscal year 2017.
I hope President Trump will consider and appreciate the immense strategic and security value of foreign assistance. America has many tools to influence global affairs and protect its national interests. Chief among them is our powerful military, which we deploy to protect allies, maintain relative freedom of movement, and protect ourselves against our enemies.
But development assistance and diplomacy are also strategic pillars of American global leadership. Like three legs of a stool, our national strength rests upon our military might, our diplomatic ingenuity, and our commitment to the economic development, health, and stability of the world.
Effective foreign assistance and diplomacy are keys to American global leadership. We spend less than one percent of our $4 trillion dollar yearly federal budget on non-military foreign assistance. The money we do spend is subject to rigorous vetting by dedicated professionals in agencies like USAID and its impact is carefully measured before funding is renewed. For this efficient use of taxpayer dollars, tens of millions of people receive the healthcare, food, training, technology, and aid they need to survive and thrive.
USAID deserves to stand on its own, not be subsumed into the State Department where it will be minimized. The impact it makes relative to the percent of the federal budget is transformational. Such an innovative and useful agency should be rewarded for its effectiveness, not made into the stepchild of another department.
USAID partners with the most capable local partners and always makes an impact. In the 1990s, between 500 and 1,000 children in India were paralyzed by polio every day. But thanks to the USAID-funded the CORE Group Polio Project that effectively mobilized a network of community and religious leaders, health workers, volunteers, donors, and foundations, India was declared polio-free by the World Health Organization in 2014.
Today, the threat of famine is likely to affect 20 million people globally. Famine on such a scale creates a breeding pool for violence, extremism and unconscionable human suffering. Yet in Kenya, the impact of drought will be mitigated because of USAID investments. USAID and the World Food Program established farm schools for local farmers. The training they receive allows them to grow five times the amount of produce than previous harvests. The 161 USAID-supported farmer schools in Kenya reach nearly 100,000 farmers, providing long-term food security, and economic development.
One basic element of foreign assistance is direct food aid to combat famines that have reached crisis levels. Food assistance is saving the lives of thousands of displaced and starving people every day, especially children.
USAID isn’t just providing short term relief in crisis situations, but building solutions to the world’s shared long term problems. By 2050, humanity must produce 60 percent more food than it does now to avoid worldwide famine. Unlocking the agricultural potential of Africa will be the key, but right now more than 36 percent of food produced in sub-Saharan Africa is lost between production and consumption.
Thanks to USAID, however, scientists from the United States and African countries have worked together to change this so that more people can be fed and by keeping food fresh through a cooling device, known as the CoolBot. With the help of USAID’s Horticulture Innovation Lab, scientists are scaling up the product while also creating more jobs in the United States.
Foreign assistance limits the spread or eradicates dangerous diseases, stabilizes regions vulnerable to famine and political instability thus preventing humanitarian and refugee crisis, spurs innovation and creates consumers eager to purchase American products around the world. Our USAID personnel are also helping many foreign governments improve their governance and reduce corruption. In short, foreign assistance makes our economy stronger, our global system more stable and our nation more secure.
The bottom line is that, with effective oversight, the system works well. Swallowing USAID into the State Department will minimize its role and jeopardize future American-led successes on the global stage.
Dan Glickman served as U.S. secretary of agriculture for six years during the Clinton administration. He is now executive director of the congressional program at the Aspen Institute and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.