Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Part of the problem... And why we need a new Foreign Assistance Act

A favorite quote of mine:

I love the F process. Now I know where all the money is going and what it's being used for.

- Senate Appropriations Staffer
This is the logic of an accountant, not a policy maker with a commitment to outcomes. [To understand why a remark like this about the F process can be frustrating - the above remark is reasonable on its face - you have to have a sense of what' s been lost in the F process as it was implemented. Natsios is passionate on the issue.]

Yes, I know it's hard to believe...but sometimes Congress is part of the problem. Wish I could say this mind set is restricted to staff, but staff think this way because some Members and Senators want them to. Accountability is important, but principally because it leads to better outcomes over the long term. Accountability detached from outcomes ceases to be accountability and becomes a bureaucratic twitch.

This mindset is the artifact of decades of mistrust between Congress and the Executive, and won't change simply because Democrats control both the Executive and Legislative branches. This distrust is institutionalized, and we will not have effective foreign assistance programs until it's resolved.

Good oversight doesn't come from mistrust. It comes from a healthy and collaborative relationship between the different branches of our government. Military leaders have to trust their subordinates to execute the intent of their orders, but still "inspect what they expect." Focus needs to shift in Congress from means to ends.

A reauthorization of the Foreign Assistance Act isn't simply an opportunity to rationalize authorities. It's an opportunity to form a political compact between Congress and the Administration that will empower our government to achieve the policy outcomes we all care about. Let's hope House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Berman is

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