A Cabinet-level Development Agency

Right Problem, Wrong Solution

Several groups have called for a separate cabinet-level department of global development, locating U.S. foreign assistance in one place removed from the Department of State. They do so for three reasons: first, to redress the fragmentation of foreign assistance throughout the U.S. government, but especially among different parts of the Department of State; second, to elevate the status of assistance relative to diplomacy and defense in the U.S. national security strategy; and third, to address the debilitation of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by replacing it. These concerns are real enough and serious, but the proposed new department is not the best solution. It brings more costs than benefits.

This report argues that the better course would be to revise the current structure, ending the continuing fragmentation, reversing it within the State Department family, and reinvigorating and reforming USAID. Ultimately, however, the debate over structure is really a debate over philosophy. What kind of foreign assistance program should the United States have and on what principles should it be based? The reconsideration of principles might usefully include the deeper, more important question of whether foreign assistance has a significant effect on development and if so, how much, under what conditions, policies, and programs, and with what organizational form.

Podcast (6:59 mp3, Requires iTunes)

Gerald Hyman
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Office of the President