Yesterday I was pleased to be a part of an important discussion on the future of food assistance as The Lugar Center and CSIS co-hosted USAID Administrator Shah and key leaders in the food aid and development realms.
As I noted in my opening remarks, the U.S. is the global leader in providing humanitarian food assistance, but the system under which much of this assistance is delivered was developed at a time of significant U.S. agricultural surpluses. For a host of factors, this system may no longer be the most effective one in getting food aid to hungry people. Further, often its cost no longer represents an efficient use of taxpayer dollars which is increasingly difficult to justify in a severely constrained budget environment.
At the event, Administrator Shah unveiled a new reform proposal which is a part of the Administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request. Building on reforms first proposed under the George W. Bush Administration, the reforms are based on sound data and numerous reports documenting inefficiencies in the current system. Among the key points are a commitment of U.S. resources to provide assistance in times of unanticipated crisis and the flexibility to act quickly with a response. Further, while the reforms allow for this new flexibility in determining the best method for reaching people in need, the program would retain a minimum level of funding for historical methods of transfers of U.S. commodities via U.S.-flagged ships, thus preventing severe disruptions in the current system.
While the proposal is backed by data from more than a decade of studies including from Congress’ own Government Accountability Office (GAO), it is a bold one in that it represents real change from current practice. Further, as former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman pointed out during the event’s panel discussion, it infringes on “turf” from one agency to another. While change is difficult anywhere, it is especially so in Washington when agency or congressional committee jurisdiction is involved. I am pleased to see a number of organizations endorse reform.
Turf aside, reform in our country’s food assistance processes and responsiveness deserves a fair hearing so that taxpayers’ dollars may be used most efficiently to feed the greatest numbers of hungry people, especially those in crisis.