By Senator Bill Frist, MD
April 29, 2015 | The Hill
Most Americans agree foreign aid helps improve our nation’s image globally and protects Americans’ health by preventing the spread of diseases.
In fact, it does more than that. Our comparatively small investment in foreign aid enhances national security by stabilizing weak states and helping to fight the causes of terrorism. It encourages economic development, opening new global markets for American business. And it supports our humanitarian goals and values, advancing peace and democracy.
Considering the benefits, the surprising truth is that the U.S. spends less than 1 percent of our budget on foreign aid, and that amount has been dwindling due to sequestration. At a time when we are faced with global unrest and budget cuts, we must make strategic investments in foreign aid programs that have a record of success.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a prime example. An innovative and independent U.S. foreign aid agency created in 2004 by a bipartisan Congress, the MCC was structured to approach U.S. foreign assistance like a business. It has a singular mandate: systematically reduce poverty by fostering economic growth in the world’s best-governed poor countries. With only a small slice of the federal budget, from the beginning the MCC focused on investing wisely in the best programs to provide the most good for the most people.
The MCC lays the foundation for its success by demanding high standards for its potential partner countries. Each year, the MCC develops a scorecard for low- to middle-income countries based on their performance in three areas: just governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens. At the end of this rigorous process, only about 30 percent of countries qualify to partner with the MCC. Of those, a select few are invited to develop program proposals for MCC-funded investments.
This process ensures that U.S. foreign assistance is effective and strategic and that it catalyzes reforms. The lives of people living in poverty globally are significantly improved, as countries pursue eligibility for MCC funding, knowing the MCC can suspend funding for sustained trends of dismal political and economic performance. For example, pro-democracy changes in Malawi, improved economic rights for women in Lesotho and business-friendly reforms in Georgia have all been prompted by governments working to establish their eligibility for MCC funds. The effect is so pronounced that a 2013 College of William and Mary global survey ranked the MCC’s scorecard as the most influential tool to incentivize policy reform around the world.
Through MCC grants, more than 148,000 farmers have been trained, $65 million in agricultural loans have been dispersed, and over 4,900 kilometers of roads are being designed and constructed. MCC aid is being used to strengthen weak economies, promote growth opportunities and raise the standard of living for the world’s most disadvantaged populations.
Having served on the MCC’s board of directors, I have seen the success of this program’s accountability-driven approach. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a program worthy of its funding. It represents the best of foreign aid and plays a crucial role in our international diplomacy. As Congress continues to work on the fiscal 2016 budget, the Millennium Challenge Corporation deserves its full support.
Frist served as a senator from 1995-2007 and as majority leader from 2003-2007. He is a former Millenium Challenge Corporation board member.