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Strengthen Fundamental Development Assistance

Fundamental development assistance is and should remain USAID’s core function.

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In the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, USAID is increasingly engaged in stabilization activities. The FY 2011 budget request for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone is $5.2 billion, almost $1.6 billion more than the last year’s baseline appropriation for these three countries.

This had led some development professionals to make a distinction between “fundamental” and “instrumental” assistance. Fundamental assistance seeks to improve the lives of beneficiaries as an end in and of itself and is best conducted in countries where leadership and local communities are committed to reform and development. Instrumental assistance, in contrast, sees aid to beneficiaries as a means to an end, where the actual goal is a security objective that is abetted through development or humanitarian assistance. Instrumental assistance is often carried out in conjunction with host governments that are engaged in, or emerging from, intensive conflicts and upheaval and whose capacity and commitment to development may be in question.

Fundamental development assistance is and should remain USAID’s core function. It is important, at the same time, that the agency remain involved in instrumental assistance and further explore its comparative institutional strength in operating in conflict environments. Both types of assistance are designed to ultimately replace USAID’s programs with ones driven—and funded—by host country governments and local institutions, although this goal is more easily accomplished with fundamental rather than instrumental assistance.

Fundamental assistance, in its own right, has a preventative nature that looks to strengthen institutions and civil society around the world. Programs from Peru to Ghana and Botswana to Indonesia have helped improve standards of living while leaving structures behind that are necessary for those countries’ sustained growth. These development programs have helped make countries more prosperous and stable, creating better economic partners and allies for the United States. It is essential that USAID continue to promote and further hone its expertise in fundamental assistance. We recommend that $3 billion over three years be devoted to strengthening this capacity at USAID.

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