House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) unveiled a huge bill today aimed at reforming the way the United States conducts and oversees foreign assistance around the world.
His bill, called the "Global Partnership Act," would be the first wholesale reform of the foreign assistance program since the last foreign assistance act was passed in 1961.
"A bill that was passed at the height of the Cold War has in many places lost its focus and in many ways lost its relevance," Berman said in an interview with The Cable. "Everybody knows that the foreign assistance act is in desperate need of reform. We also know that the public confidence, the congressional confidence in the foreign assistance program is not high."
Some of the key reforms in the 813-page bill include: a new comprehensive system for evaluating and monitoring the success of foreign assistance programs, a rule that would peg USAID operating expenses to a percentage of program funds in order to limit dependence on contractors, and a requirement that comprehensive country strategies are developed with Congress's participation and funded on a multi-year basis.
Berman said the bill seeks to avoid congressional micromanagement of foreign assistance, but still provides Congress with a larger role in setting out the priorities for foreign assistance and monitoring their success.
In some ways, the bill adds implementation strategies for the broad goals set forth in the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review released last December. But it also goes beyond the QDDR by speaking directly to Congress's role in the process (which the QDDR doesn't cover) and mandating stricter oversight.
For example, the bill would expand the jurisdiction of USAID's Office of the Inspector General, would institute expanded on-the-ground monitoring of projects, and would create independent advisory panels.
Berman said that his staff has been working on this bill for over two and a half years. However, the path forward for the bill is not clear, because Berman doesn't control the House Foreign Affairs Committee and his party doesn't control the House agenda.
"Look, I think there's a compelling case to make this a priority," Berman said, noting that the GOP always talks about the need to reform foreign aid but issues proposals cutting it, not reforming it. He said that he hopes his bill will be a starting point for a larger discussion over foreign aid reform with the GOP and the Senate.
"This is just the opening salvo," he said. "I can't give you a timeline for translating this into a moving piece of legislation."