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 to review the FY2023 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 welcome Administrator Power. Glad to have you here. Certainly you are at the center of one of the most important undertakings that we do as America internationally.
“Before we get started, I want to try to reset a little bit about what our understandings are here.
“During your confirmation hearing on March 23, 2021, you pledged “to work tirelessly with members on both sides of the aisle” and to be “transparent and accessible.”
“So, you can well imagine I was disappointed by the nine-month delay in getting responses to questions for the record. Nine months is way, way too long. These were submitted at your first budget hearing on July 14 th, 2021. One member, from the majority, has just received a response this week. We’re going to have to do a lot better than that if we’re going to do what we’re required to do, and that is our oversight obligation.
“I’ve spent all of my adult life in either the executive branch or the legislative branch, and I know the legislative branch is always an irritant to the executive branch but it was set up that way because of our important oversight rule.
“Now, turning to the budget, I’m concerned by the administration’s continued misalignment of priorities and resources.
“For example, even with historic levels of hunger and displacement, the president proposes to reduce humanitarian assistance by 34%, while prioritizing massive increases for vague climate commitments.
“I suspect, I think undoubtedly, the president is counting on Congress to make the humanitarian accounts whole while he focuses on securing funding for the favored projects. This is an unlikely outcome.
“If the administration is going to propose such reductions, they should at least get serious about spreading humanitarian aid dollars farther, including by eliminating the cargo preference requirements that have outlived their statutory purpose, unnecessarily increase costs, and delay deliveries of life-saving food by months. I’m eager to work with you to finally put more food into our food aid.
“As you probably know, and I think almost everyone on this committee has experienced, virtually everyone we meet with from the international community is concerned about the coming food scarcity. It’s going to be a real issue with what’s going on in Ukraine, what’s going on with the draught, and the areas that are particularly affected by that. Everybody is going to have to step up and is going to have to redouble our efforts.
“I also have concerns about the president’s prioritization of multilateral commitments for global health over funding for proven bilateral programs. This includes an unprecedented request for $6.5 billion in mandatory spending for an international financing mechanism and a health workers initiative that are nowhere near fully baked yet and not ready.
“It’s clear, indeed I believe more than clear, that carefully planned, strategically targeted foreign assistance can advance the national security, economic, and humanitarian interests of the United States. It’s also clear that poorly planned and executed programs can have the opposite effect. We need to get it right.
“So, I’m pleased by the emphasis on promoting democracy, rights, and good governance. In too many places, democracy is in retreat. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, I am eager to hear how this budget specifically will help promote good governance, combat corruption, and empower democratic voices.
“Which brings me to Ukraine. The United States has been very, very generous in its efforts to get life-saving assistance to the people made vulnerable by Putin’s unprovoked, brutal, and murderous war in Ukraine.
“As the United States begins to reopen its embassy in Kyiv, I hope USAID will also return and resume its in-person efforts to ensure aid is actually getting to local networks that are committed to going the last mile.
“In Africa, I remain concerned about how USAID is approaching assistance to Sudan and South Sudan. Both countries continue to face complex crises, and it is quite clear the United States’ response is not moving the needle. I understand the complexities, I understand the difficulties, but the needle isn’t moving. Things have to be done differently. These situations are unsustainable and require a review by the agency.
“Meanwhile, in Kenya, accountability for the mismanagement and theft of U.S. assistance, particularly global health assistance, remains elusive. I have requested USAID’s OIG make more frequent inspections of troubled USAID missions, such as in Kenya, so the agency can better uphold its commitment to “zero tolerance” which we all know you have for waste, fraud, and abuse.
“Turning to the Indo-Pacific, I want to understand in greater detail exactly how USAID will use the Countering PRC Malign Influence Fund, especially when it comes to building economic resilience among partners.
“Regarding the Pacific Islands, we have stepped up our diplomatic and development engagement with the Pacific Islands in recent years, but there is more to do, including alongside Australia and New Zealand. I want to understand what USAID is doing in this critical part of the world.
“Regarding the Middle East, I’ve been very vocal about my concerns with this administration’s Syria policy. Caesar sanctions have been too few and we’re failing to curb Arab outreach to the Assad regime.
“International and economic isolation remain the best tools to seek accountability for Assad’s crimes – we can never return to business as usual and Assad has got to be held accountable.
“In the West Bank and Gaza, as we continue discussions on assistance to the Palestinians, we must push harder for Palestinian reforms. Specifically, we must achieve complete elimination of the pay-to-slay program and use any and all leverage to do so.
“On Afghanistan, I’m concerned by the administration’s plans to issue a national interest waiver that would allow direct financial benefit to the Taliban. Instead of opening the door to financial assistance, we should be conditioning it upon the Taliban first meeting human rights and counterterrorism benchmarks.
“The Taliban’s recent edict ejecting women and girls from school and the re-imposition of guardianship laws are exceptionally troubling. We should focus on creating real leverage if we ever want to see changes in Taliban conduct.
“I look forward to working with you to address these challenges, and they are heavy challenges, including by carefully aligning priorities and resources.
“We look forward to your testimony. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.