July 14, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on FY 2022 USAID Budget Request

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the FY 2022 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget request. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Samantha Power, administrator of USAID.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Administrator Power, for being here today.

“This is truly an important moment for U.S. foreign assistance. Thanks to American ingenuity and a swift vaccine rollout, our country is finally opening back up for business. And yet, many countries around the world are still struggling to combat COVID-19.

“We’ve known since the beginning of this pandemic, we will never be fully secure at home if we allow this disease to run rampant abroad. Carefully planned and appropriately targeted U.S. foreign assistance can help other countries get a handle on their COVID-19 outbreaks and counter the second-order impacts of the pandemic.

“Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to USAID to this end. However, emergencies like these present numerous opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer dollars. I am interested to hear from you how USAID plans to use these resources while guarding against their misuse.

“Ms. Power, you and I have discussed the fact that Chairman Menendez and I recently introduced a bill intended to overhaul the U.S. global health security architecture. This bill would place the State Department firmly at the center of our global health security efforts by providing sorely needed foreign policy and aid coherence. It would also recognize and enshrine USAID’s role as a prime implementer of U.S. global health security assistance.

“I hope to hear your thoughts on this legislation.

“Regarding Asia, I believe that advancing an effective strategy to compete with the People’s Republic of China must be the United States’ top policy priority. I expect that we will hear today about how the proposed USAID budget would address this strategic imperative, and also how it would bolster U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.

“USAID should prioritize countering malign foreign influence by authoritarian nations. This objective is also a key priority in the Strategic Competition Act, legislation Senator Menendez and I authored, which recently passed our committee. I look forward to hearing the specifics of what USAID plans to do to counter this type of influence, and where it plans to prioritize programming both in terms of geography and issue areas.

“It is notable that this malign influence is exercised not just through governments, but also through multilateral institutions. The PRC’s ability to co-opt and manipulate the international COVID-19 response through the World Health Organization, and now through COVAX, is appalling. I hope to hear how USAID, and you, as our representative to COVAX, will shed light on the irony that China has contributed nothing to COVAX, and yet now stands to profit from it when indeed they started this whole mess in the first place.

“Turning to Afghanistan, since the withdrawal announcement, the Taliban have ramped up their attacks on government-held areas and now control almost a third of all districts. 

“I am deeply concerned that the administration’s foreign assistance plans for Afghanistan do not reflect the reality on the ground. In truth, we will have a hard time implementing aid programs and providing the necessary oversight of taxpayer dollars given the increased instability in Afghanistan.

“I have appreciated the administration’s consultations with Congress on assistance to the Palestinian people. But as long as the Palestinian Authority continues its despicable pay-for-slay program, we will scrutinize every dollar to ensure it is compliant with the Taylor Force Act and other laws. The administration should secure concessions from the PA on pay-to-slay before opening the floodgates of assistance.

“In recent years, the United States has committed more than $1 billion to support Sudan's fragile democratic transition. We must be good stewards of this assistance. While I recognize the need to live up to commitments under the Abraham Accords, including for wheat purchases, this must not come at the expense of commitments to democracy and human rights.

“My staff recently returned from Ethiopia, where they saw firsthand the efforts of USAID to help mitigate the suffering of people in Tigray and other parts of the country. USAID leadership should follow the "Do No Harm" principle in delivering assistance, while leaving the politics of U.S.-Ethiopia bilateral relationship to the diplomats.

“I am concerned by the proliferation of political crises in the Western Hemisphere demanding immediate and substantive attention from the United States. We were all appalled by last week’s assassination of Haiti’s President and the attack on his wife, and urge USAID to work with like-minded partners help restore democratic order and self-reliance.

“The United States has spent close to $3.6 billion in foreign aid to Northern Central America, without much success in improving governance, conditions, or reducing illegal migration from the region. Before committing additional substantial U.S. funds, the administration should describe how it will hold the governments in this region accountable for their commitments to improve governance and protect would-be refugees arriving at their borders.

“Likewise, the United States is the largest provider of foreign assistance to help Venezuela’s neighbors manage the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the Maduro regime and its allies in Cuba, China, and Russia. USAID must make absolutely certain that our humanitarian efforts do not legitimize the Maduro regime in any way or its foreign allies for that matter.

“Thank you again for being here today. And with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.

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