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Foreign Relations Committee Releases Comprehensive Report on U.S. Civilian Aid in Afghanistan

U.S. Projects Should be “Necessary, Achievable, and Sustainable”

Washington, DC – As part of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ongoing efforts to examine progress in Afghanistan, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) today released a report that evaluates how the United States is spending civilian assistance in Afghanistan. The United States currently spends more on aid to Afghanistan than any other country. With the upcoming transition to an Afghan security lead in 2014 and the increased responsibilities U.S. civilians will absorb from the military, there is a critical planning window to make any necessary changes to support a successful transition. 

Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan is the most comprehensive Congressional investigation to date of U.S. foreign assistance to Afghanistan and focuses on funding appropriated by Congress to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This report is the product of two years of staff research and travel. It is intended to provide constructive and timely guidance for administration officials at every level who are working to guarantee that U.S. taxpayer-financed aid to Afghanistan is spent in the most effective and efficient manner possible. 

“We’re using assistance to build the capacity of Afghan institutions and their economy which is critical to our national security objectives in the region. There are real success stories from our assistance efforts. But the administration acknowledges that serious challenges remain and that’s why we’ve conducted a thorough review of civilian aid investment in Afghanistan,” said Chairman Kerry. “Given the unprecedented levels of aid in Afghanistan and the Committee’s oversight responsibility, we offer this report because we owe it to American taxpayers to spend limited money as effectively as possible and the administration is looking for the most effective approach. This report contributes to their own review process by arguing that assistance should meet three basic conditions before money is spent: our projects should be necessary, achievable, and sustainable.”

Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan offers three overarching recommendations for the Obama administration to pursue a more effective assistance strategy in Afghanistan:

1) Consider authorizing a multi-year civilian assistance strategy for Afghanistan. The administration and Congress should consider working together on a multi-year authorization that includes: (a) a clearly defined assistance strategy; (b) the tools, instruments, and authorities required for a successful development approach; (c) a plan as to how U.S. funding will leverage and partner with Afghan domestic policies, with multilateral efforts – including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Islamic Development Bank – and with private sector financing; (d) the civilian resources needed for a successful military drawdown and transition; (e) the steps needed to ensure accountability, oversight, and effectiveness; and (f) metrics that measure performance and capture outcomes. The strategy should also establish benchmarks for the Afghan government to fulfill its international commitments, outline goals for improving donor coordination, and include specific annual funding levels. This process would clarify the U.S. assistance strategy, offer greater predictability on future funding levels, and provide Congress with robust tools for oversight.   

2) Re-evaluate the performance of stabilization programs in conflict zones. We must challenge the assumption that our stabilization programs in their current form necessarily contribute to stability. The administration should continue to assess the impact of our stabilization programs in Afghanistan and reallocate funds, as necessary. 

3) Focus on sustainability. We should follow a simple rule: Donors should not implement projects if Afghans cannot sustain them. Development in Afghanistan will only succeed if Afghans are legitimate partners and there is a path toward sustainability. The Afghan government must have sufficient technical capability and funding to cover operation and maintenance costs after a project is completed. A sustainability strategy would consolidate our programs, increase on-budget aid, streamline our rules and controls, and pursue a limited number of high-impact programs that do not require complex procurement or infrastructure. We should also focus on raising domestic revenue, reducing aid dependency, and developing partnerships with the private sector to create jobs. Success should not be measured by outputs or the amount of money spent, but by the ability of Afghan institutions to deliver services, the Afghan private sector to generate jobs and grow the economy, and Afghan civil society and public institutions to provide avenues for citizens to hold their government accountable and participate in political and civic life. More thought should be given to the type of projects we fund. Our aid should be visible among Afghans, and we should have a robust communications strategy in place so Afghans know what U.S. civilian aid in Afghanistan is accomplishing.