Foreign Aid Funding Under Scrutiny

BY Sarah C. Sullivan  December 17, 2010 at 12:43 PM EST


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at release of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

As control of the House shifts to Republicans, lawmakers are vowing to find ways to cut deficits — and some are pointing to foreign aid as an area to trim. The funding debate was revived this week when the State Department released its first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR — a plan to advance the U.S. foreign policy mission abroad.

Incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she is pushing to slash State Department and foreign aid budgets.

“I will work to restore fiscal discipline to foreign affairs, reform troubled programs and organizations and exercise vigorous oversight to identify waste,” she said last week.

Some lawmakers argue that the Department of State and other aid agencies do not do sufficient planning or justification of resources. The QDDR is geared toward taking away some of those arguments, said Laura Hall, international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“People want to see the rest of the world do well. But, they want to see the money used wisely and know that our assistance works and that it addresses our interests and values as well,” she said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Wednesday, when the document was released, that the QDDR will make the State Department and USAID “more nimble, more effective and more accountable.”

But Ros-Lehtinen has pointed to the voters’ mandate on the economy. “In November, the voters made it clear that if we don’t take the correct approach to policy by keeping our economy foremost in our decisions, they’re going to ship us all out,” she said in a statement last week.

The Florida congresswoman did not specify which State Department programs could be cut — and she is not on an appropriations committee — but has criticized the U.N. Human Rights Council. “What have we gotten for our money?” she asked, pointing to resolutions criticizing Israel but silence on alleged abuses by Iran, Syria, or North Korea, Agence France-Presse reported.

Some of her incoming Republican colleagues are expected to support her budget-tightening sentiments. Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who is seeking the chairmanship of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, is “a strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment, which doesn’t bode well for foreign-aid funding in this dismal fiscal environment,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.

There has to be something to keep foreign aid from the “hit list,” said Michael Levi, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “As Congress sharpens its scalpels, then, it’s important that it distinguish between foreign aid that ‘just’ does good and foreign aid that also has strategic consequences, and that it make protecting the latter a priority.”