Is Washington, DC a logical place from which to fight global poverty? (Updated)

I thank those of you who have been reading some of my older posts while I have been primarily away from the blog the past few weeks.

Let me take time now to throw out a couple of “macro” observations as an observer of “development” practice in recent years and a life long observer and frequent past participant in American politics.  The first is just how strange it is from one perspective that organizations like USAID and especially the Millennium Challenge Corporation are located “inside the beltway” in Washington, DC.

Don’t get me wrong, Washington certainly has its share of poverty, but in general the Washington inhabited by agencies like USAID, the MCC and the World Bank operates in the thrall of the micro-economy generated by the brokering of the American federal government’s expenditures on the order of $4 Trillion annually.  It is a sui generis antiseptic boomtown quite disconnected from the economy of the rest of the cities and towns even of the United States, much less the rest of the world. Especially that of those facing the extreme poverty that the Millennium Development Goals were intended to overcome.

It just seems to me that we might, say, move one of our agencies like the MCC to West Virginia, for instance.

West Virginia is one of our poorer states, and one where we have this terrible problem of conflict between the need for jobs and the immediate and long term environmental harm done by strip mining and “mountain top removal” for coal.  West Virginia has an economy rooted in natural resources and agriculture, like most of the world, and unlike the District of Columbia–but it is close by, just a short drive.  Long serving Senator Robert Byrd was for many years famous especially for bringing federal agencies outside Washington to his state of West Virginia.  While this was widely derided as “pork barrel politics” by people from other states, those federal agency jobs go somewhere.  Putting a poverty fighting agency there might directly fight poverty as well as help us learn more about how to be most helpful elsewhere.

Update: On the topic of US aid transparency, here is great piece from Jennifer Lentner (@intldogooder) on Oxfam America’s “The Politics of Poverty” Blog: “More U.S. international aid data released–now what? A user’s perspective”.  Jennifer interviews Hon. Albert Kan-Dapaah a former minister in the Ghanaian government and former chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.  He finds the current data important but “pretty scanty” toward meeting the needs of public officials and of civil society watchdogs.

New bi-partisan legislation—the Foreign Aid Transparency Act of 2013—would open the books on US foreign aid. More transparency will enable people like Hon. Albert Kan-Dapaah to hold their governments accountable for how they invest US resources. Learn more and contact your representatives here.

And stay tuned to Politics of Poverty to get more user perspectives on aid transparency data!

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