Urges USAID’s foreign assistance to help counter Communist China
WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development, delivered opening remarks at a hearing on efforts by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to “localize” the delivery of U.S. foreign assistance in friendly and partner nations. USAID’s “localization” efforts seek to administer U.S. foreign assistance in such a way that funds go more directly to local actors in recipient countries—rather than through intermediate entities that are often U.S.-based—so that these local actors play the leading role in implementing U.S. foreign assistance in their home countries.
During questions with witnesses, Hagerty urged Michele Sumilas, Assistant to the Administrator of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL), to ensure that USAID’s efforts to “localize” U.S. foreign assistance advance the President’s National Security Strategy and supports the U.S. and Allied strategic competition with Communist China. The Senator also urged USAID’s foreign assistance always to highlight the generosity of American taxpayers in contrast to “the Communist Chinese Party’s approach to diplomacy, foreign assistance, and foreign infrastructure development,” which he described as “predatory, corrupt, and coercive, but also often ‘very big’ and very conspicuously branded as ‘Made in China’.”
Hagerty also cited the Trump Administration’s implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program first begun under President George W. Bush, as a “localization” success story. “As Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Bill Steiger wrote in a report published by the George W. Bush Institute in February 2023, ‘Fewer than 15% of the prime recipients of PEPFAR funds managed by USAID were local partners in 2016. By 2021, USAID transitioned more than 63% of its worldwide PEPFAR awards to local implementers and is on track to hit 70% this year’,” Hagerty said.
Opening remarks as prepared for delivery:
Chairman Cardin, first of all, I want to thank you for convening this hearing today.
I also want to recognize our two panels of witnesses who have graciously agreed to join us—we look forward to hearing from you.
Today, our subcommittee is focusing on the topic of “localization” at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The idea behind “localization” is straightforward and, in theory, laudable.
“Localization” seeks to administer U.S. foreign assistance in such a way that funds go more directly to local actors in recipient countries—rather than through intermediate entities that are often U.S.-based—so that these local actors play the leading role in implementing U.S. foreign assistance in their home countries.
In principle, both Democratic and Republican administrations have aspired in their own ways to increase the “localization” of U.S. foreign assistance.
But, as is sometimes the case with the most well-intentioned ideas, between the saying and the doing lies the middle of the ocean.
The Obama administration sought to advance “localization” as part of its “USAID Forward” agenda.
Indeed, then-Administrator Rajiv Shah ambitiously sought to “localize” 30% of mission funding to local actors by the year 2015—but that obviously didn’t happen.
The Trump Administration also saw “localization” as a critical part of its USAID “Journey to Self-Reliance Initiative.”
Though it’s probably fair to say that the Trump Administration’s “Journey to Self-Reliance” saw localization as most likely to occur and succeed as countries neared the end of their journey to self-reliance.
The Biden Administration has announced its own ambitious goal for USAID to “provide at least a quarter of all our program funds directly to local partners by the end of FY2025.”
In January 2023, the Congressional Research Service reported that USAID “has faced challenges in operationalizing its localization work. These include potential increased financial risk when working with local partners when compared with U.S.-based entities, inconsistent definitions of ‘local entities’ leading to confusion among stakeholders, and potential conflicts between localization objectives and USAID development goals.”
At the same time, it may be helpful to look at one program in which the U.S. government is widely—if not also universally—understood to have successfully implemented “localization”: namely, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, also known as PEPFAR.
As Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Bill Steiger wrote in a report published by the George W. Bush Institute in February 2023: “Fewer than 15% of the prime recipients of PEPFAR funds managed by USAID were local partners in 2016. By 2021, USAID transitioned more than 63% of its worldwide PEPFAR awards to local implementers and is on track to hit 70% this year.”
As USAID and Congress discuss and debate next steps on “localization,” I believe it’s important for us to look carefully and closely at previous efforts in order to understand what worked and what did not work.
We should seek for future efforts to be as well informed as possible, to set achievable goals, and to demonstrate effectiveness and accountability.
In that spirit, I very much look forward to hearing from our witnesses—in both panels—about this subject and specific recommendations to better inform decision-making in the Executive Branch and Congress when it comes to future efforts to advance “localization” of U.S. foreign assistance.
Mr. Chairman, back to you.