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Proposed Food Aid Reforms Make Sense But ‘Iron Triangle’ Politics Will Make Implementation Difficult

In a Foreign Policy opinion piece, Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at the School of International Service at American University and a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, examines the debate surrounding reforms to the U.S. food aid program as proposed in President Obama’s FY 2014 budget request. “The suggested reforms are technical, but they make sense,” he writes, and details the proposed changes. “Bottom line: The proposed reforms would streamline the program and better provide food to those who need it. Instead of subsidies for U.S. farmers, subsidies for U.S. shippers, and subsidies for nonprofit organizations, which consume 30-40 percent of the food aid budget, the food and some economic stimulus might actually get to the intended recipients,” he states.

But “[a]gribusiness, American shippers, some of the nonprofit world — not to speak of the agriculture appropriators and the Agriculture Department — don’t appear warm to the idea,” Adams continues. He describes what he calls the “food aid Iron Triangle” — with the private sector in one corner, the federal government in another, and Congress in the third — and discusses their respective views on the proposed reforms. “Change is really hard in Washington, even when it makes good common sense,” he writes, concluding, “If ‘normal’ congressional politics prevail, I can see who will win this fight. USAID’s authorizers don’t have the domestic clout the Ag committees have. Their appropriators don’t get campaign contributions from the countries overseas that receive the food — that would be illegal. So stay tuned for an outcome that doesn’t change the current program very much at all” (5/14).