Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 09, 2006

USAID's Tobias discusses budget

USAID’s new director, Ambassador Randall Tobias, introduced his plans before the committee and answered questions regarding his FY-2007 budget. Ambassador Tobias spoke at length about a better integration between the Sate Department’s objectives and those of USAID, because in the past the money and work on the ground has often run contrary to the stated policy of the United States government. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) expressed concern about the 1400 diverse objectives and voiced a need to focus money and efforts better. The goal of USAID is to help create viable nations around the world who dissuade terrorism and other extremism through sustainable economies and stable governments. He seeks more transparency in funding that allows for a better understanding of where taxpayer dollars are going and if they are working parallel to policy guidelines. Ambassador Tobias also stated that he wishes to work more closely with Congress, improving USAID’s responsiveness to Congressional concerns and questions.

Ambassador Tobias also spoke about the importance of health-related programs, although his budget does cut a significant amount out of efforts to vaccinate third world countries from polio. When pressed by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on this point, Tobias explained concerns about mismanagement and corruption in certain public programs and the need for accountability and possible restructuring before more money is committed.

USAID’s work in a few specific countries was discussed, including Burma, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The human rights concerns in Burma are great, as are medical issues such as the spread of HIV/AIDS, avian flu, and polio. Ambassador Tobias’s plans in Burma are to partner with already established NGO’s working both in the country and in the border regions to utilize existing structure. Instead of trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel, USAID will assist already strong organizations in their health and human rights work.

Progress in Iraq is slow, but there are promising signs. Ambassador Tobias spoke with enthusiasm about the new Iraqi-run NGO’s that are “the beginnings of democracy” in the region. Local leaders understand what their communities need better than outside NGO’s so there is great promise in this new crop of programs.

USAID plans to focus on short term goals in Iraq that build towards the long-term objective of stability and viability. Ambassador Tobias wishes to set up ninety day progress reports in which specific, attainable goals are set and finished in these short spans. Building x-miles of roads, providing one community with electricity, making a sewage system operational; working with the military, these are the types of short-term goals that USAID can achieve which build towards Iraq’s long-term goal of stability.

In Afghanistan there is a great need for rebuilding the infrastructure that supports economy and government. The focus here is to empower the average citizen through work projects that benefit the communities. Vocational schools are turning out graduates who have basic skills in building, plumbing, and electrical services making them ripe for infrastructure-building projects.

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) raised concerns about the amount of funding wasted on conferences and discussion sessions that could be better spent on real goods and on-the-ground efforts. Until basic needs like shelter, food, and healthcare are provided, other issues take a USAIDat. U.S.AID needs to focus on these issues, Senator Brownback suggested, before loftier goals are pursued.

The senator from Kansas also made recommendations about involving the American public in USAID’s plans. Partnerships between American corporations and civic groups (religious organizations were specifically mentioned as a prime source for money and manpower) and NGO’s or villages in Africa would reap benefits for those abroad and make Americans feel more connected to the rest of the world. Additionally, youth around the country are interested in helping and are adventurous enough to work on the ground in far-away regions in need. If USAID could work with youth-oriented NGO’s, there is a vast network of ready and able volunteers out there.

Partnering corporations with areas in need can produce a very strong result as is shown in a Starbucks/Rwanda venture. Rwandan coffee growers produced only a small amount of the beans that they were capable of due to a lack of market. Through a partnership with American coffee giant Starbucks, American consumers were introduced to Rwandan coffee and Rwandan growers have a large market for their product. Both partners profit from this type of program, and there are many more opportunities like this around the world, according to Senator Brownback.


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