ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much Mr. Chairman, let me also thank Chairwoman [Kay] Granger, Ranking Member [Barbara] Lee, Ranking Member [Rosa] DeLauro, and other distinguished members both of the subcommittee and the broader Committee. And I’m really grateful to those of you who are here. I know there is an awful lot going on up here – or so I’m told or I read in the newspaper. Special thanks to Congresswoman [Grace] Meng for your remarks, of course, your dedication to this set of issues, and for subbing in for Ranking Member Lee who I had a chance to speak to last night. We had our own mini budget hearing, so I answered numerous questions already and feel well prepared for today.
I also want to just single out the Subcommittee and Committee staff with whom our team works with every day – you could not have a more knowledgeable, more dedicated group of individuals. There’s nothing that USAID does out in the world that we could do without, actually, those engagements, they really make us better, every day.
As both of you have indicated, and as is fairly obvious, the challenge the world faces today is clear: The decades of development gains that successive Administrators and successive Congresses worked together to secure and that have laid the foundation for an era of relative peace, relative stability, and relative prosperity – those gains are seriously imperiled.
During our lifetimes, the United States has helped accelerate tremendous progress in reducing extreme poverty, in fighting disease, in addressing hunger, getting kids – including girls – in school, and in fueling democracy’s rise – over several decades.
As you all know, many of these trends are now heading into reverse. The pandemic decimated health systems, leading to a resurgence in diseases from measles to tuberculosis. The pandemic also battered many country’s finances. After a decade of heavy borrowing, and perhaps we’ll talk a little more about that, and more rising inflation – exacerbated by Putin’s war – 60 percent of the world’s poorest countries are at or near debt distress. This is a very new dynamic in so many of the countries that we are working. Natural disasters, as we know also from here at home, are increasing in frequency and intensity, leading to a sharp rise every year in humanitarian needs. The upshot of it all is stark: For the first time in decades, literally since the 1950s, human life expectancy is on the decline and extreme poverty is on the rise.
At the same time, democracies everywhere are under attack. Our rivals are using transnational corruption, digital repression, disinformation – and in Ukraine of course, actual artillery fire – to undermine freedom, to elevate autocrats, and to curry favor.
It’s a daunting list of challenges. And I know some question whether the United States should be taking on these challenges through our development investments, or whether the scope of this range of interlocking challenges is too great to make a meaningful difference.
But the fact is our national security – the security of the American people – hinges on this work. Deprivation and indignity abroad can fuel resource competition, political fragility, and extremism that endangers us here at home. Disease outbreaks, we well know, can cross oceans, and recessions in foreign markets can threaten our own economic growth.
We are connected. In 2023, we are most definitely connected. If we don’t lead efforts to take on these challenges, the People’s Republic of China and Putin have proven ready to step in, whether through opaque loans on unfavorable terms, or with mercenaries in tow.
An international order that values democracy and human rights and that respects international borders is not a given. Indeed, authoritarian actors are challenging and aiming to reshape the order. We have to invest in the stable and the humane world we need.
USAID is immensely privileged to have a leading role in tackling the most significant challenges of our time, in close coordination with our interagency partners who are advancing diplomacy and defense. We are immensely grateful to the American people – and to you – for giving us the resources to make a major difference.
That said, we know that to drive progress on the scale we need, we have to bring other donor countries, the private sector, multilateral institutions, foundations, and local organizations in our partner countries along with us – we have to be catalytic, evermore catalytic.
So USAID has set a new reform agenda aimed at delivering progress beyond our development programs – using our expertise, our convening power, and our advocacy to draw others in, to leverage more resources, to spark innovation, and to inspire broader movements for change.
The Biden-Harris Administration's FY 2024 request of $32 billion for USAID’s fully- and partially-managed accounts will allow us to make more of that transformative impact.
We will invest in countries experiencing democratic openings, of whom there are several very notable examples, helping them show that democracy delivers tangible results for citizens, economic results, as well as political results. We will work with nations to attract private sector investment and drive broadly shared economic growth. We will support countries that are rebuilding their decimated health systems. And we will meet growing humanitarian needs not just with emergency assistance, but with longer-term investments in resilience.
And finally, we will, crucially, invest in our workforce to carry out this ambitious agenda. Since 2019, our operating expense funds have increased at half the rate that our programming has grown – giving us more to do with fewer people and resources. But this budget will help us invest in the people and systems we need to power an Agency that is nimble and that is responsive.
We know that, with the United States leading the way, the world can drive meaningful progress against our toughest challenges – because we have decades of gains in global health, in education, and decades of prosperity to prove it. It’s on us, now, to resume that progress.
A few months ago, President George W. Bush posed a question. “What’s the role of a great country in the world? Is it to look inward? Is it to think about how to solve big problems?” As he said, “We all decided to work together to solve big problems.” I hope we can all continue that legacy.