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A 'Historic Time' for Tackling Reform of U.S. Foreign Aid System

Interviewee: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor, Council on Foreign Relations
January 30, 2009

The U.S. foreign aid system--often described by experts as both essential and chaotic--has proven difficult to reform despite decades of efforts. With a full-blown global economic crisis commanding the attention of the Obama administration, this would appear to be a difficult time to revive a reform effort, but a new CFR report says this could be a moment of opportunity.

The author of that report, CFR Senior Fellow Laurie Garrett, says the prospects for reforming foreign aid are heightened by a combination of factors - a new presidential administration, growing pressure for fiscal prudence, and a mounting awareness among aid experts, especially in health care, of the cluttered nature of U.S. aid programs. "There is a sense throughout the government that dollars spent during a time of financial crisis have to be spent wisely," Garrett says. "We no longer can have duplicating programs, policy redundancies, or contradictory programs."

Garrett says President Barack Obama can move immediately to rationalize U.S. foreign assistance policy by appointing a single official to direct aid efforts currently shared among twenty-two separate agencies. "There should be a deputy national security council director inside the White House who specifically deals with internally coordinating foreign assistance and then externally coordinating foreign assistance with other pieces of the foreign policy agenda," Garrett says. Any overhaul of U.S. foreign assistance policy will still require congressional action and Garrett says there is growing bipartisan support for changes.

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