Congress should put aside partisanship and turf protection as it considers bold changes to a decades-old and increasingly inefficient international food-aid program.
U.S. global food assistance provides vital humanitarian and emergency assistance to people facing famine, natural disasters or conflict. It is a central to U.S. leadership toward peace and security. This is why modernization now is so critical.
The Obama administration’s 2014 budget proposed overhauling the Food for Peace program, building on a similar reform proposal from the George W. Bush administration to reduce high administrative costs and thereby reach more hungry people. The Obama proposal would allow greater flexibility in how food aid is procured, transported and delivered through the use of local and regional food procurement, cash assistance or our current system of moving U.S. commodities via U.S.-flagged ships. Such reforms would overcome inordinate costs and lengthy delays in the U.S. response to crises that the Government Accountability Office and numerous other studies have documented.
The existing program was created in an era in which dealing with U.S. farm surpluses was as much a motivating factor as feeding hungry people. It was the perfect way to support U.S. farmers and to demonstrate American humanitarianism. Agricultural surpluses are no longer the norm, though, and experts predict continuing global food-price volatility with the direst consequences for the poor and vulnerable.
Today, we are in a period of budget austerity, in which old ways of doing business must be re-examined. We must look for efficiencies to maximize results for every dollar spent. The proposed reforms do exactly that, allowing us to reach 2 million to 4 million more people who need help.
U.S. food aid is a key component of the U.S. national security strategy. Nations that struggle with severe poverty and hunger are at greater risk from terrorism and instability. This has been especially evident since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Beyond the national security imperative, we strongly believe that no global superpower that claims to possess the moral high ground can afford to relinquish its leadership in addressing global hunger. As a moral nation, founded on moral principles, we diminish ourselves and our national reputation if we turn our backs on the obvious plight of hundreds of millions of people who are living on less than a dollar a day and facing severe risk from hunger and disease. Even while facing budget constraints, the United States must maintain its global leadership in humanitarian activities.
Amid economic and budgetary realities, it is inevitable that some will question the role of the United States in global affairs at any level, extending even to U.S. humanitarian programs. Almost everyone expects that U.S. foreign-assistance funding will be constrained for the foreseeable future. U.S. assistance, however, when properly administered, remains a bargain for U.S. national security and for our own economic and moral standing in the world. Even in the worst of times, the United States remains a wealthy nation with interests in every corner of the globe.
Stakeholders and vested interests on all sides — inside and outside government — should work together cooperatively toward reforms now. To do so would be participating in a victory of cost savings, stability in aid programs, greater flexibility and efficiency, enhancement of self-sufficiency in some of the most desperate regions of the world, and an appreciation of U.S. leadership in the world.
Richard G. Lugar, a former Republican senator from Indiana and chairman of the Agriculture and Foreign Relations committees, runs TheLugarCenter.org. Thomas A. Daschle, a former Democratic senator from South Dakota and Senate majority leader, is senior policy adviser at the global law firm DLA Piper.