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US Development Policy

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In remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative today, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said US foreign assistance needs an upgrade for the modern, global economy. He said his “prosperity pact” programs would do better and be a “bold break from the past.” There’s a lot I like about the plan: it’s out there, focuses on policy reform and is about more than aid. Is it new? No. But that’s the best thing about it.

Here’s what I like about Romney’s vision for foreign assistance:

  • He’s talking about it and the plan itself is non-partisan. Kudos to the Clinton Global Initiative for getting both candidates talking about foreign assistance on a national stage 41 days before the election. It’s also heartening that the plan itself avoids partisan rancor.
  • Focus on policy reform. Romney says US foreign assistance should do more than deliver social services. He urges a focus on policy reform and building institutional capacity to work development out of business. Though Romney’s fact sheet doesn’t mention it, the Republican party platform looks to the Millennium Challenge Account as a good model for this.
  • More than aid. Romney also calls for US aid programs to better “leverage private investment and trade,” and notes that richer developing countries buy more US goods. This sounds a lot like CGD’s Commitment to Development Index which urges rich countries, including the United States, to think about how other policies—trade, migration, investment, environment, security and technology—also influence development.

Here’s what I wish I’d seen:

  • Transparency and evaluation. Both are needed to inform cost-savings and changes in the overall US foreign assistance approach.  The Obama administration has created a Foreign Assistance Dashboard and promised to report to the International Aid Transparency Initiative standards. Better aid data and evidence should be no-brainers for the next president.
  • Specifics on public-private partnerships. Democrats and Republicans alike sing the praises of public-private partnerships, especially when federal development dollars are scarce. But in practice, the US government has a hard time working with private companies, as most corporate executives will tell you. I’m interested in what Romney would do differently and how.

The Romney vision promises to be a “new approach” and a “bold break from the past.” If I were his campaign advisor, I’d want to emphasize this too. But this is where my fact-checker alert goes off. The reality is Romney’s foreign aid plan hits the same important development issues that have driven President Bush and President Obama’s development agendas… and that’s a good thing. (They’re also the same issues highlighted by the bipartisan HELP Commission, CGD experts and in many other reports.) More than that, the shared vision is absolutely necessary to get the bipartisan support in Congress to actually make the changes to move US foreign assistance into the 21st century.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.