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USAID: Interview with International Development Worker

Since 2009, USAID’s budget has gone down by about 16 percent. The United States’ foreign aid organization is already underfunded, making up less than one percent of the federal budget. Yet, USAID has 1,920 projects across almost every continent in the world.

With so little funding, it is impressive how much the organization can accomplish. Given the funding cuts, I talked to an active international development specialist and visiting professor at Colorado College.

Dr. Joseph Derdzinski had much experience with law and security forces in foreign countries during his time in the U.S. Air Force. Since then, he has conducted research on the democratic consolidation processes of post-authoritarian states as well as serving on election observation missions in Afghanistan and Egypt.

Q: Why do you think that USAID’s funding has gone down so significantly since 2009?

A: USAID was a main focal point of building infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan, so USAID funding was contingent on Afghanistan and Iraq. The reduction in USAID’s funding and budget is largely due to a reduction of foreign military personnel as well as development agencies from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q: Why is the organization so underfunded?

A: It would make sense to fund more fully the agency, but there’s very little will from taxpayers or incentive for elected officials to increase USAID’s funding. In the annual federal budget, foreign aid doesn’t get the same level of attention as other budget items or priorities. This is due in part to the low level of understanding of how little funding foreign aid programs actually receive.

During or in the immediate wake of a war, foreign development funding is easier to justify, but it’s harder for a lawmaker to make a case for aid once the war is over. Moreover, everything to do with the war in Iraq, including development projects, was never part of the annual budgets. They were a supplement to the annual budget.

Q: Can you give me an example of how foreign aid helps the United States?

A: What’s happening in Greece in terms of migrations of people into Greece is a good example. The great majority who aren’t from Syria are fleeing authoritarian regimes and economic woes. And that’s the same as what’s happening at the U.S. border. Migrants to the US are fleeing social unrest and oppressive regimes.

And so, if the goal is to keep people in their home countries, one potential impact of international development is to allow people the option to remain in their home countries.

Q: Would you say that the budget cuts make working in international development difficult?

A: Yes, now more than ever it is more challenging to work in international development.

Conclusion: USAID is an important and undervalued organization in the United States. While at first glance, the work that USAID is doing may appear to primarily benefit the countries that are receiving assistance, it is in fact work that is beneficial to the United States as a whole. International development creates jobs for Americans, protects national security, and as Dr. Derdzinski described, can assist with the United States’ immigration dilemma.

With all of these factors kept in mind, foreign development assistance should no longer be something that is difficult for lawmakers to justify, but rather should be an integral part of policymaking.

Clare Holtzman

Sources: Colorado College, Foreign Policy, USAID 1, USAID 2
Photo: United States Air Force Academy