Difficult to digest
WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier this week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency known as the “supreme auditor” for the federal government, released a report evaluating food aid oversight and implementation.
The report honed in on the additional budget flexibility granted to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Food for Peace program that was provided in the 2014 Farm Bill. This allowed USAID to spend as much as 20 percent of their budget in an unrestricted manner – up from 13 percent. This has resulted in more money going into cash and vouchers as opposed to being spent to directly purchase U.S. commodities. This was the first review since the bill was implemented into how USAID is applying the additional budget flexibility.
After reviewing the report’s findings, House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) offered a statement indicating that it confirmed his suspicions: “USAID has used the vast majority of its new authority on cash, vouchers, and [Local and Regional Purchases] - modalities not previously authorized under [the Food for Peace program].”
Conaway added, “Not only does this report solidify my concerns about USAID's ability to monitor the use of cash and vouchers overseas, but also that demands for even more [budget] flexibility are premature.”
USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward shared similar concerns, saying, “I think this report bolsters our argument for maintaining or reducing the amount of cash and vouchers that USAID can use through food aid programs, clearing the way for in-kind donations of American-grown commodities, like rice.”
Ward added, “Chairman Conaway is right, it’s premature for USAID and the implementing organizations to ask for additional flexibility to use cash and vouchers, purchasing food from our competitors overseas, when they aren’t even using all of the flexibility of funds they’ve been given.”
But preserving the in-kind commodity shipments are not the only challenge ahead.
Ward said, “In recent months, our critical food aid programs have been put on the chopping block by the administration and appropriators in proposals to curb federal spending. So it’s important that we continue to share the valuable success stories generated through these programs over the years.”
USA Rice continues to call for additional food aid shipments of nutritious, U.S.-grown rice and now for the industry-developed fortified rice. In January USA Rice led the effort to send a letter to President Trump asking for the prioritization of American-grown in-kind commodity contributions through international food aid programs.