Washington, DC – U.S. funding for foreign assistance is a comparatively small investment with big dividends, House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard L. Berman (D-CA) said at a hearing today at which Dr. Rajiv Shah gave his first formal testimony to Congress as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Poor and unstable countries make unreliable trading partners and offer weak markets for U.S. goods and services,” Berman said in opening remarks at the hearing. “Conflict, lawlessness and extremism that threaten U.S. interests find fertile ground in the places where basic human needs are not being met and fundamental human rights are not respected Done right, development assistance is a sound investment in a better, safer world.”

One of Berman’s top legislative priorities is to reform U.S. foreign assistance laws and programs to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most, and that it is delivered with maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

“Our development assistance should aim not only to improve the lives of poor people, but to build the human capacity and the economic and political institutions that will sustain these gains,” he said to Shah. “I look forward to working with you as we write legislation to replace the outdated and cumbersome legal structure that currently exists with one designed to meet the needs of the 21st Century.”

Berman pointed out that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has identified diplomacy and development as two key pillars of our national security, along with defense.

“We make it a priority to reduce poverty and alleviate human suffering around the world because it is the morally right thing to do and because it reflects the compassion and generosity of the American people,” he noted. “But foreign assistance programs also serve our economic and national security interests.”

Berman contrasted spending on such programs with the size of the federal budget overall, noting that the entire International Affairs budget accounts for just over 1 percent of federal spending, and about a third of that is allocated to development and humanitarian programs.

“One overarching goal of our foreign assistance is to reduce the need for putting American soldiers in harm’s way,” Berman said. “About 18 percent of the entire International Affairs budget – and about 60 percent of the growth since last year – is for the front line states of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. By building schools, training police and increasing agricultural production, we help lay the foundations for a more stable future in those volatile nations. It is an investment well worth making, considering the savings in long-term costs in American blood and treasure. With this in mind the increases for fiscal year 2011 are quite modest and, I think, extremely well-justified.”