The Cable

Berman unveils his foreign aid reform bill

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."

You can find an executive summary of the bill here, summaries of each title here, and the full text of the bill here.

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The Cable

Senate comes to State Department’s defense on budget

The Senate issued its fiscal 2012 budget allocations on Wednesday, which propose allocating $44.6 billion for the international affairs budget -- $5 billion more than was proposed by the House.

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) chaired a hearing on the budget on Wednesday and pledged to try to complete all 12 appropriations bills before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The allocations he announced Wednesday serve as guidance so that the senate appropriations subcommittees can write up their bills. Inouye said that the subcommittees will try to complete their versions of the appropriations bills this month. Those versions must then be reconciled with House versions and time is running out.

 "The Senate will only be in session for three weeks before the fiscal year concludes. It is for that reason and with the concurrence of the vice chairman that I directed that we hold these markups as soon as possible after the Senate returned to session," he said.

Even if the Senate completes its work, it's unlikely it would be able to conference with the House and then pass all the appropriations bills this month. That means Congress will have to pass another short-term funding measure, called a continuing resolution, before Oct. 1, to keep the government running.

That continuing resolution, like last year's, will be drawn up behind closed doors and probably passed at the eleventh hour. The House and Senate appropriations bills will inform that document, and the final amount allocated to the international affairs budget could be somewhere in between the two proposals.

The State Department is under particular pressure this budget cycle. The House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee marked up a bill that would provide State and USAID with $39.6 billion in discretionary funding next year, which is 18 percent, or $8.6 billion, below the fiscal 2011 level. The fiscal 2011 level, which was reached as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown in April, was already $8 billion less than originally requested by the Obama administration.

In her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, undersecretary of State for political affairs nominee Wendy Sherman said that the State Department was adamantly opposed to the House's version of the state and foreign ops appropriations bill.

"I think the secretary has already made clear that if the House bill were to move forward to the president's desk, she would personally recommend a veto of that bill not only on the basis of the deep cuts to the bill, but many of the provisions that are within that bill," Sherman said.

Leaders in the NGO community welcomed the Senate's proposed allocation, and pledged to fight hard to convince lawmakers that international affairs funding is in the national interest and should be protected.

"As a result of the dramatic reductions to the International Affairs Budget in FY11 and those proposed by the House for FY12, many of the hard-fought gains we have worked to achieve since 9/11 may be reversed," said Adm. James Loy and Gen. Michael Hagee, co-chairs of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's National Security Advisory Council, in a letter today to congressional leaders.

The Senate also allocated $8.7 billion to State for "overseas contingency operations," which will go to fund diplomatic and development activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee also allocated $513 billion for the regular defense budget and $117.5 billion for defense-related war costs. The House version of the defense appropriations bill would provide $530.5 billion for the regular defense budget. As with the international affairs budget, the House and Senate appropriations leaders will have to reconcile their proposals on defense funding as they write the CR.

"It should be clear to all observers that this Committee has done and will continue to do its part in the fight against deficits," Inouye said. "At this point others need to step up to the plate now and offer additional ways to get our budget into balance."