To the Editor:

Carol Lancaster has made a valuable contribution to the discussion about the future of U.S. foreign aid, but some of her points need rethinking ("Redesigning Foreign Aid," September/October 2000).

She is correct, for example, in stating that the U.S. aid program's overarching goal of "sustainable development" does not provide the same cohesion and broad support that anticommunism did during the Cold War. But "development" -- increasing prosperity, freedom, and social progress -- should not be discarded as a unifying theme, for it is the only way all of the program's goals can be achieved. Moreover, Lancaster's proposal to separate transnational issues from development and her suggestion that diplomacy is the main purpose behind Washington's transnational programs neglect the fact that transnational issues are not diplomacy's primary preserve.

Lancaster's suggestion to split the U.S. aid program into smaller units among several different organizations would create a far more confusing and uncoordinated program than the current one. And relying on the World Bank (in which the United States has only limited influence) to implement much of what is now done by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would not serve America's interests in the increasingly important developing world.

To deal with the complex challenges now facing the developing world, a number of institutions, including multilateral and bilateral organizations, are developing a more coherent strategic framework for international aid. USAID has adapted to this new framework and is now seen as a critical actor in not only the international aid community and aid-receiving countries but also the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. The worst thing the United States can do now is to make organizational changes without accounting for this new framework.

Lancaster's article is virtually silent on the effectiveness of the U.S. foreign assistance program. Because USAID is engaged in societies with considerable religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity, the challenge is to help unite these various groups, particularly where value systems conflict among the different segments of society. Creating institutions that reflect consensus within a society and thus lead to greater national cohesion has become an increasingly important objective for the international aid community and its partners in the developing world. USAID has played a key role in bringing this issue to the forefront in that community as well as within the U.S. government.

It has also achieved many specific successes. USAID immunization programs, for example, save more than three million lives a year. Forty-three of today's top 50 importers of American agricultural products were once U.S. foreign-aid recipients. In the 28 countries with the largest USAID-sponsored family-planning programs, the average number of children per family has dropped from 6.1 in the mid-1960s to 4.2 today. Of the 57 nations that successfully democratized during that same period, 36 (including Serbia) received governance assistance from USAID. Since 1987, USAID has initiated aids prevention programs in 32 countries and has become the recognized leader in designing and developing such programs.

I hope the Bush administration will seriously study the issues raised in Lancaster's provocative article, as well as the responses it has stimulated from those who support development aid as an essential component of U.S. foreign policy.


Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development