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USAID:  Foreign Aid to Focus on Fragile States, Governance Issues

Andrew Natsios
The administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, says foreign aid priorities during the second Bush administration will focus primarily on democracy and governance issues, and strengthening fragile states.

Mr. Natsios says the message spelled out in President Bush's second inaugural address in January set the course for U.S. foreign aid during the next four years. He said that is the course Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is following.

"Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice has made very clear in her speeches and private remarks that the democracy and governance set of issues will be central to the second term of President Bush," he said.

Mr. Natsios said U.S. aid for democracy and governance will be directed toward strengthening public institutions and government agencies that provide public services and establish rule of law. He said there would be a special focus on fragile states.

The USAID administrator outlined the new trends in U.S. foreign policy Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

He noted that the total figure for U.S. official development assistance is up from $10 billion at the start of the Bush administration to $19 billion in 2004, a 90 percent increase over four years. The USAID budget has doubled from seven billion dollars in 2000 to just under $14 billion in 2004.

Mr. Natsios says he is making changes in USAID's bureaucracy to make the agency more effective and more responsive to countries and people in crisis.

One of the biggest changes is in USAID's food program account. Formerly, all U.S. government food aid was purchased from American farmers and shipped to the people it was meant to feed.

Recently, President Bush has agreed to a proposal to move 25 percent of the funding for food aid into a local purchase account. This will allow USAID and its non-governmental organization partners to buy food in the country or region where the aid is needed.

Mr. Natsios says this has several benefits.

"We can buy more food, support local markets, and do it more rapidly, particularly focused on fragile, failed and recovering states," he said.

Another change in USAID funding priorities will be that more money will be spent on bringing foreign students to the United States to study at American colleges and universities. Mr. Natsios said this has been one of his agency's most successful policies.

"Bringing people here for a year or two has a profound effect on their world view and what they bring back with them," he said. "And if you go to the developing world, almost every country I go to I ask, 'How many people in the cabinet have degrees from American universities with scholarships from USAID or from the State Department?' And the regular percentage is 30 to 40 percent. Thirty to 40 percent - that is a profound statement."

Mr. Natsios said while these scholarship recipients may still disagree with U.S. foreign policy, the time they spend in the United States has a major impact on how they view Americans and American life.