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US Presidential Candidates Work to Improve Effectiveness of Foreign Aid

Both presidential candidates in the U.S. presidential election say they want to strengthen the effectiveness of foreign assistance. One idea is to consolidate the efforts of the U.S. agencies that deliver aid. Another is to create a new international organization that could, among other things, act quickly in humanitarian crises. From Washington, William Eagle reports.

Both candidates favor making the delivery of U.S. aid more efficient.

Streamlining the Aid Bureaucracy

The Republican Party platform says a McCain administration would review the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which created the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Development activists say the law, which was created during the Cold War to promote development efforts, needs to be retooled for the 21st century.

"[In the U.S. Government] you have 12 departments, 25 different agencies and more than 50 different offices providing US foreign assistance," explains Trevor Keck, a legislative assistant with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington. "The idea of reform is to better coordinate [and coalesce] all foreign assistance within one big structure, USAID, or at least make it more coherent.One proposal is to strengthen USAID, by providing it with more jurisdictions to coordinate aid across departments and agencies that also provide assistance, like Treasury and Commerce."

Senator Obama says he would explore another way: the creation of a cabinet level development agency focused on poverty.

The Obama campaign has pledged to promote civilian and military cooperation to help in state building, counter-terrorism and post-conflict intervention.

The effort would bring together personnel from the Departments of State and Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development into what the campaign calls Mobile Development Teams.

An Obama administration would also create a Civilian Assistance Corps made up of volunteer doctors, engineers and agricultural specialists that could be deployed to help in reconstruction and stabilization efforts in states recovering from conflict.

Trevor Keck explains how the plan would work: "The idea is to have about 5,000 experts. This would be an active response corps of about 250 people made up of Foreign Service officers from the State Department and USAID.

"They could be deployed within 48 hours on the secretary of state’s command," he says. "[You’d] also have a stand-by 'response corps.' They’d be made up of about 2,000 experts made up of foreign service officers across the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Treasury and USAID that could deploy within a couple of weeks to back up the first contingent [of the Civilian Assistance Corps]."

Aid and Democracy

Senator McCain has proposed the creation of a new world body, a League of Democracies, that could intervene to assist in humanitarian emergencies and to support struggling democracies.

"It is not supposed to replace the U.N. Security Council or peacekeeping operations," says Brett D. Schaefer, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. "It’s a group of countries that support basic principles on governance and the rule of law. It would be a much more informal group than the UN and members could create ad hoc coalitions to promote certain things, like provide election observers or technical assistance to enhance judicial capacity in [given] countries."

"[The group could] intervene in cases like in Zimbabwe where you have an assault on the democratic process," he adds. "That could mean African countries intervening physically or sanctions that they jointly adopt. This is a malleable and flexible proposal."

Senator McCain says his administration would help guarantee the effectiveness of aid with greater accountability.

He says he’d work to eliminate the misuse of foreign assistance and increase aid in areas where’s it’s proved effective.