June 25, 2008

 

Chairman Berman’s opening remarks at hearing, “Foreign Assistance Reform: Rebuilding U.S. Civilian Development and Diplomatic Capacity in the 21st Century”

 

It’s a real treat to welcome our two experts today for the second in a series of hearings that the Committee will convene on foreign assistance reform.  As will be obvious when I introduce the witnesses, these are people who are very thoughtful and with real hands-on experience on this issue.

 

A committee hearing in April already examined the challenges to our broken system and some potential solutions. The hearing revealed that there are diverging views on the direction that the reforms should take, but there was broad agreement that the U.S. development and diplomatic initiatives are not living up to their potential, in part because they aren’t receiving the resources they need, but just in part .

 

In recent years, dozens of reports, articles, and speeches have made the case for strengthening the capacity of U.S. civilian agencies.  There are many good reason for doing this, but perhaps Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it best in the Landon Lecture at Kansas University last November, when he said, “Having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.”

 

The foreign assistance reform debate in Washington has focused largely on the merits of creating a Cabinet-level Department of Development.  That’s certainly an important issue that we’ll have to examine.  But it’s important to remember that there’s a pressing need for reforms across the board, not just at the top of the organizational chart. In the next Administration, strengthening our development and diplomatic capacity must be a priority. Substance should prevail over structure. The next Administration and Congress will have to develop a consensus on what needs to be done to strengthen the non-military tools we use to further our national security goals. We can’t let the discussion begin and end with how the boxes are arranged.

 

Rebuilding U.S. development and diplomatic capabilities requires more funding, more people and better legal authorities.  Despite modest increases since 9/11, the international affairs budget remains dangerously under-funded and still falls 17% below what the United States spent in today’s dollars during the Cold War. 

 

Compare what we spend on diplomacy and development to our spending on defense, and you’ll find that the total international affairs budget for fiscal year 2009, 39 billion dollars, is roughly equal to the increase in the DoD budget between 2008 and 2009.  To emphasize again: The Department of Defense budget increased from one year to the next by about the same amount as the entire year’s budget for diplomacy and development.

 

Investments in our diplomatic, economic and development programs are critical in strengthening America’s capacity to engage the world.  Many of these programs provide the basic resources that American diplomats and development experts use to promote fundamental American values -- freedom, democracy and the rule of law.  Increasing funding will enhance our capabilities to address the challenges that face America in the 21st century.

 

We cannot transform our diplomatic and development corps to meet these challenges without significantly increasing the number of trained and skilled Foreign Service Officers devoted to development and diplomacy.  Since the end of the Cold War, the backbone of America’s development and diplomatic might – the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State – have been substantially weakened by staff cuts, hiring freezes, and consolidation.  While this Administration has taken small steps to reverse course, there are still only 6,600 professional Foreign Service officers today in the State Department.  According to Secretary Gates, this is less than the personnel of one of our carrier battle groups.

 

Likewise, at a time when the United States is engaged in two massive stabilization and reconstruction efforts and countless other emergencies, USAID barely has 1,000 Foreign Service officers.  Compare that number to the height of the Cold War, when it had more than 4,500 Foreign Service officers with expertise in engineering, agricultural development, rule of law, and civil administration. 

 

The United States needs a cadre of experienced Foreign Service officers with robust language abilities and expertise in “smart” skills, such as job creation, education, engineering, and good governance.  The next Administration must invest the resources needed to build a corps of educated, experienced people who are willing and able to work in a wide range of countries, from the most stable to those that are impoverished and war-torn.

 

Increased funding and the number of people in our civilian agencies are major steps to rebuilding civilian capacity. However, more money and people without the appropriate, effective legal authorities will only do so much.  Next year, I hope that we in this committee will begin an overhaul of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. As part of this endeavor, we will look at improving the personnel, procurement and other authorities to ensure that U.S. diplomats and development experts can operate effectively in Washington and in the field. In addition, we will review which authorities are needed to rapidly deploy skilled Foreign Service Officers in conflict and post-conflict zones.

 

Recently, the Committee acted to improve the U.S. civilian capacity when it passed H.R. 1084, the Reconstruction and Stabilization Civilian Management Act. This bill authorized the establishment of the Readiness Response Corp to respond to stabilization and reconstruction crises and codified the establishment of an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization within the Department of State. Ir authorized the President to transfer or reprogram up to $100 million in any given fiscal year for stabilization and reconstruction assistance.  This bill is now incorporated into the House version of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, but it was only a stop-gap measure. 

 

I’d like our witnesses today to provide their thoughts on how we can meet this goal. How would you improve the capacity of U.S. civilian agencies to respond to the challenges of the 21st century? In addition, what concerns do you have regarding the migration of Department of State and USAID legal authorities to the Defense Department? What role should the U.S. military play in providing foreign assistance?

 

I look forward to hearing the testimonies of the witnesses and their answers to these questions.