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Statement of Chairman Tom Lantos at Full Committee Hearing, “Foreign Assistance Reform”

Mar 8, 2007
Press Release

Verbatim, as delivered

March 8, 2007

Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021

In recent times, it has become obvious to me that there is a significant disconnect between the announcement by the Administration at its highest levels of strategic policy goals and implementation of these same goals by high-ranking Administration officials in their areas of responsibility.

 

The other day, we had Undersecretary Burns testify before the committee, and I asked him to reconcile the statements and actions of our trade representative with the enunciated policy of the Administration. The Administration, as I understand it, wants to put an end to Iran’s military nuclear development by non-military means. I share that goal. But when members of Congress call on our trade representative to terminate free trade area discussions with Malaysia as Malaysia is on the verge of investing a vast amount in Iran’s energy resources, the response is one of cavalier dismissal.

I also think that there is a distinct problem—and this is not an ad hominem statement, Mr. Ambassador—in Administration policies by individuals who come from the corporate world, where the top-down approach is the preferred modus operandi, and are thrust into a Congressional climate where persuading members of Congress, recognizing its function as a coequal branch of government, is a more accepted modus operandi.

I call this “tycoonitis”—people who come from the top of the corporate ladder who consider Congressional suggestions, requests for information, and participation in decision-making as intruding on their turf.

Ambassador Randall Tobias, as the first-ever Director of Foreign Assistance, you have been on the job for over a year. Your task was to reshape—carefully, delicately—and to bring order to our country’s tangled thicket of assistance efforts overseas. Instead, it appears to many members of this committee, you took to it with a weed-whacker. And the results are predictably unfortunate.

Your actions have caused consternation on Capitol Hill, in many of our embassies and in USAID postings around the globe. Where you could and should have listened to Congress and experts in the field, you instead charged ahead, making drastic changes under a shroud of secrecy and announcing them only after they were done. A process that begged for transparency was instead undertaken behind closed doors, under cover of darkness at Foggy Bottom.

Had you entered into a dialogue with Congress, we would have told you, for example, that providing U.S. assistance to a terrorist-controlled university in Gaza was out of the question and, in fact, violates U.S. law. According to news reports, USAID transferred large sums of U.S. taxpayers’ money to Al-Quds University, which just last month held a weeklong celebration honoring the Hamas leader credited with inventing suicide belts in the mid-1990’s.

News accounts and research by our colleagues in Congress show that the Administration has also granted millions of dollars in scholarships to students at Al-Quds and Islamic Universities without obtaining a pledge that the recipients will not engage in terrorist activities. Now, my understanding is that one of the prime goals of U.S. foreign policy is to fight terrorism. And the notion that the U.S. Agency for International Development funds organizations and individuals engaged in terrorism or the glorification of terrorism is deeply disturbing. The students who receive scholarships could be participating in the university chapters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all the while receiving money from AID. This outrageous support for terrorism must and will end.

Had you consulted, Mr. Ambassador, with Congress, you would not have blocked legitimate efforts to conduct oversight over foreign aid reform. But that is precisely what you have done in a cavalier manner.

On November 14th of last year, four senior Committee members, Representatives Watson, Payne, Smith and Blumenauer, sent you a detailed set of questions about foreign aid reform. In return, you sent a brusque, three-paragraph letter promising a briefing.

If these Members wanted a briefing, they would have asked for one. Your job was to respond to them in writing as requested. This was not done.

I will enter my colleagues’ letter and your dismissive reply into the record of this hearing so all of us will have the chance to refer to them. I am also formally requesting that your full written reply to the questions asked by our colleagues be entered into the record of this hearing.

Despite endless prodding for further information as the reform process got under way, Congress has been provided with nothing more than a cursory overview of the fundamental foreign aid restructuring process—mere notification of steps already taken, decisions already made.

We are not a potted plant watching the Administration function. We are part of the decision-making process.

Last month, we were finally given a chance to review the results of your efforts when the President rolled out the fiscal year 2008 budget. I want you to know that I am not reassured.

I was stunned and astonished to learn that India is to receive 35 percent less U.S. foreign assistance, made possible by cutting economic growth assistance by 95 percent and dropping assistance for human rights and the environment altogether.

What message does it send to the Indian people that, after the United States signs a historic civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the Government of India, a move the Administration hails as one of its few strategic successes in eight years, we turn right around and cut nearly all of the development assistance for India?

We have entered a historic era of cooperation with India. We should be building new bridges to the Indian people, not tearing them down. I know that our assistance to India is modest, particularly in relation to the need, but this is a horrible signal to send to hopefully a newly-trusting ally.

I am equally troubled that for the fourth straight year in a row, the beleaguered democratic and civil society organizations in Russia and the former Soviet republics will see devastating cutbacks in assistance—approximately 40 percent. At a time when supporters of democratic reform, the rule of law, and human rights are being assassinated or carted off to the gulags of Siberia, we should not be starving these groups of vital support.

A few days ago, I met with the most distinguished remaining members of civil society in Russia at our embassy residence in Moscow. They are desperately pleading for aid as the Putin regime is squeezing them literally out of existence. We have had disturbing reports in the last few days that one critic of the Putin administration “fell” from a fifth floor apartment in Moscow. Some of us still remember that at the time of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Czech foreign minister also fell from a fifth-floor apartment. Subsequently, it was revealed that he didn’t fall, he was pushed. Time will tell whether we are looking at a similar situation. This is not the time to squeeze and cut the handful of incredibly of incredibly courageous non-governmental organizations that desperately attempt to maintain some degree of freedom in Russia. This is a time to double and triple our aid to them, not to reduce it.

You, Mr. Ambassador, rarely bothered to consult with those who know best the needs for assistance in the field. Only the ambassadors, mission directors, and program officers who are in-country and are dealing with the people there every day can truly understand local needs. Successful and sustainable foreign assistance programs can only be developed and implemented by people with detailed knowledge of the realities on the ground.

To remove the decision-making authority from these people will only be a profound disservice to the very goal which these reforms are trying to achieve, namely to increase the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs.

I support the President’s basic foreign assistance budget request and the need for a coherent and efficient foreign assistance program. But what we have seen so far is simply penny wise and pound foolish.

I now turn to my friend and colleague from Florida, the esteemed Ranking Member of the committee, for her opening statement.

 

 

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