Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Hearing on USAID FY 2014 Budget Request Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations

Good morning.  We are meeting today to hear testimony from Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who will discuss USAID’s fiscal year 2014 budget request.  Dr. Shah, thank you for being here.

We have several new members on this subcommittee and I encourage you to be in contact with them.  Those of us who have been here longer know that you are an articulate, passionate advocate for USAID and its mission.

I do not envy anyone who is responsible for managing an agency of thousands of people, particularly when they are located in more than 70 countries – including many where governments are corrupt, poverty and lawlessness are rampant, and civil society organizations are persecuted. 

Some question why USAID is there in the first place, even though 99 percent of the Federal budget goes to domestic programs and the Department of Defense. 

They fail to grasp that USAID’s budget is about protecting the American people and our ability to compete in the world, and projecting American ideals.  What happens in North Africa, or Indonesia, or Chechnya, directly affects us.  We can pretend it does not, but it does. 

There should be no argument about the importance of USAID’s mission.  And I think you, Dr. Shah, are trying to respond to some of the biggest concerns about USAID.  Some of those concerns have been expressed by me and other Members of this subcommittee.

But I am not convinced we are doing as good a job as we should.  I’ll give you three examples:

First, the governments of many of the countries where USAID works – including some whose leaders were democratically elected – either are not serious or have no realistic strategy to address the causes of poverty, injustice and insecurity.  I am tired of us trying to buy the cooperation of government officials who care more about enriching themselves than improving the lives of their own people.   

Second, we hear a lot about the need for capacity building of foreign NGOs.  No doubt they need help.  But I am also concerned that this “lack of local capacity” is also being used as a justification to continue a foreign aid business model that benefits big U.S. contractors and NGOs.  There are lots of foreign NGOs doing outstanding work, and they don’t need to be subjected to more seminars and power points by high priced consultants.

Third, we should rethink what we can realistically accomplish in war zones or places where the security costs are prohibitive.  Not only are there questions about the sustainability of our investments, you have to wonder what we are doing when USAID employees are barricaded inside fortified embassies, can only get out in heavily armed convoys, and it is virtually impossible to know who you can trust. 

I have questions about these and other issues, but I will stop there so Senator Graham can make any opening remarks.

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