Should We Get Rid of the U.S. Agency for International Development?
My friend at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, offers a fairly convincing critique of the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. Agency for International Development as its budget is taken up this week by Congress.
Take branding: Throughout the Middle East, especially in areas where anti-American sentiment is especially strong, the USAID refuses to put the USAID logo on its projects. To do so might lead insurgents to target USAID-funded schools, wells, or medical clinics. The problem is that skipping branding reduces to almost zero the benefit of the project. The goal of U.S. aid should not altruistic, but rather to bolster U.S. interests and influence. Diplomats talk about the need to win hearts and minds, but the multibillion dollar organization at the forefront of the battle too often surrenders before the fight. Nothing is more frustrating than to drive around Iraq and Afghanistan, seeing signs crediting Japan, Kuwait, the Badr Corps’ Shahid al-Mihrab Foundation or the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee for visible projects—gardens in traffic circles; housing projects; clinics; and electrical substations—but see no branding for USAID.
Compounding the problem is the fiscal irresponsibility of USAID. In Afghanistan, USAID would hire three times the local staff—drivers, cooks, and cleaners—instead of NGOs or contractors performing the same functions, and would spend more money on furniture, televisions, and equipment for offices. Rather than abide by the local market, USAID often would try to outbid contractors by offering landlords 300 percent more rent—a waste of taxpayer money that compounded itself as other U.S.-funded projects would have to keep up. Then, again, when the metric is money spent rather than results achieved, it’s easy to throw money around.
Rubin is not arguing against foreign aid, he is arguing against doing it through USAID. Is it possible that the US is both cheap (in the amounts of foreign aid) and massively inefficient? Unfortunately, yes.