NEW YORK – A proposed bill that incentivizes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase collaboration with local organizations would help improve aid efficiency and effectiveness, according to the U.S. Bishops’ international humanitarian aid agency.

The Locally-Led Development and Humanitarian Response Act was introduced in both the Senate and House on March 20. In both chambers the bill has been referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and still has a number of hurdles to cross before votes.

Commenting on the legislation in a March 20 statement, Bill O’Keefe, the Catholic Relief Services executive vice president for Mission, Mobilization and Advocacy, said that the organization wholeheartedly supports the objectives of the bill as a step towards lasting change.

“International assistance must include a shift to more direct funding and more genuine empowerment of local organizations as they implement, evaluate and lead their own development,” O’Keefe said. “Over multiple administrations, (USAID) has made efforts to varying degrees of success to strengthen local organizations capacity and increase resource allocation to local entities. Lack of agreement and of will across implementing agencies, Congress and USAID have prevented lasting change.”

Introducing the bill, Sen. Christopher Coons said that development and humanitarian assistance programs are more effective and sustainable with local communities at the forefront.

“After all, local communities often know best where resources are needed and how assistance can be implemented most effectively to meet local needs,” Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said in a March 21 statement. “The Locally Led Development and Humanitarian Response Act will push a larger share of funding directly to local leaders, reduce burdens on local partners, and create incentives for USAID to strengthen projects led by local communities.”

USAID is an independent federal government agency that receives policy guidance from the Secretary of State. It provides economic, development, and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States, according to its website.

Presently, only about 10 percent of all USAID funding goes to local entities.

This proposed bill looks to change that with measures that include making it easier for local organizations to submit grant applications in their native languages, authorizing USAID to provide local organizations with time extensions to report certain requirements, and authorizing USAID to limit competition to local organizations for awards of up to $25 million.

The bill would also require USAID to submit an annual report on progress to advance locally-led development and humanitarian response, addressing how much funding is implemented directly and indirectly by local entities, if USAID has enabled more local leadership in its programs, and more.

Last year, O’Keefe testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that humanitarian and development assistance were at a crossroads. With the new bill proposal, he said Congress now has to decide which path it’s going to take.

“In one direction, we can continue to do what we have done for decades – underestimating and underinvesting in local organization, directing the vast majority of assistance to international organizations and international implementing partners,” O’Keefe said.

“In the other direction, we can seize momentum and advance more locally-led development and humanitarian response,” O’Keefe continued. “The second path, exemplified through this piece of legislation, will improve aid efficiency and effectiveness, lead to more sustainable programs and provide a foundation for more resilient systems.”

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