Editor's Note: Connie Veillette is Director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program at the Center for Global Development. John Norris is Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress.
By Connie Veillette and John Norris – Special to CNN
If there is a silver lining to America’s current budget crunch, it is this: There has never been a better time for Washington to throw overboard some old programs and approaches that it knows simply do not work.
In a recent paper we outlined some obvious reforms that will not only save a great deal of money but make our international programs vastly more effective.
Politicians inside the beltway have known for years that the only reason these wasteful and uncompetitive practices are still in place is because of the influence of special interests lobbies that have managed to get their pieces of pork institutionalized.
Here are the most obvious places to make some long-overdue changes:
1. End Cargo Preference for U.S. Food Aid. Since 1954, U.S. law has required that U.S. food aid being sent to humanitarian disasters around the globe be shipped aboard U.S.-flagged vessels.
The law was originally designed to guarantee that these ships could serve as a reserve for the U.S. navy in case of emergency. The problem is that the Pentagon has said for years that the navy no longer needs these ships to serve as any sort of reserve.
So the U.S. taxpayer ends up paying more than $140 million in extra shipping costs for food aid every year while those most in need of life-saving supplies often face unneeded delays as relief agencies wade through extra layers of bureaucracy.
2. Eliminate Monetized Food Aid. The United States has long allowed some international food aid to be ‘monetized.’ Monetization is a convoluted process where the U.S. government donates U.S. crops to international relief organizations; this food aid is then shipped overseas and sold on local markets, and the relief organizations then use the proceeds for development and relief projects.
If all this sounds needlessly complicated, it is.
Monetized food aid is a hugely inefficient way to fund development. By simply giving the relief organizations cash instead of expensive-to-transport crops, the U.S. taxpayers could save between $120-200 million annually.
3. Cut U.S. Agricultural Subsidies. At a cost of more than $15 billion annually, and of questionable value to America’s small farmers, U.S. domestic agricultural subsidies send the wrong message to countries around the globe.
As we publicly preach the benefits of free markets, agricultural subsidies discourage trade, soak the American taxpayer, and make it harder for the poorest of countries to emerge from poverty. Indeed, billions of dollars in agriculture subsidies have gone to individuals in the United States who do no farming at all. Even a modest reduction of subsidies by 10% would produce $1.5 billion in savings.
4. Allow Local and Regional Purchase of Food Aid. Current law requires that U.S. food aid be purchased in the United States rather than closer to where the emergency is occurring.
According to the Government Accountability Office, this increases costs by 25% and can delay aid reaching disaster victims by up to six months. It sounds like a small change, but by getting rid of this regulation the United States could save $228 million annually.
These recommendations would save money, ultimately help save lives, and strengthen rather than weaken how we engage with the rest of the world. Now Congress only needs to find the fortitude to do the right thing.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of John Norris and Connie Veillette.