The Agency for International Development (AID) is responsible for administering economic as well as humanitarian assistance worldwide. Especially targeted are developing countries of the Third World as well as countries in Eastern and Central Europe and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union. The agency is divided into four geographic bureaus: Africa, Asia and the Near East, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and the New Independent States, and another bureau for Humanitarian Response. Overall, AID administers programs in nearly 100 foreign countries.

AID was organized under Re-Organization Plan No. 2 of 1979 (5 U.S.C. app.) and Executive Order No. 12163 of September 1979. AID administers programs under authorization of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and is overseen by the U.S. Department of State. AID was established under the administration of President John F. Kennedy and is administered by the acting director of the International Development Cooperation Agency. The director serves as the principal international development adviser to the president and the secretary of state and also receives foreign policy guidance from the State Department.

AID organizations are present in those countries where bilateral programs are being implemented. These organizations operate under the supervision of the U.S. diplomatic representative to that country, usually the ambassador. The organizations report to the assistant administrator of the respective geographic bureau.

AID programs are administered at three different organizational levels depending on the scope of involvement. An AID Mission directs programs in countries which are recipients of major programs and multiple types of assistance. AID Offices are established in countries that receive moderate aid or those that are involved in programs with limited objectives. AID Offices and Missions are downgraded to Sections of Embassy when programs are being phased out or for small-scale programs with narrowly defined objectives. AID Missions are headed by a mission director and Offices by an AID representative. Programs administered under a Section of Embassy are handled by an AID affairs officer who works under the diplomatic officer responsible for planning and implementing the program. The AID Offices for Multi-Country Programs administer programs involving the cooperation of more than one country.

There are also Development Assistance Coordination and Representative Offices which serve as a liaison between the United States and international organizations concerned with development assistance. These offices may be staffed by AID personnel but may be under the direction of other agencies of the U.S. government.

AID programs for economic and human resource development operate under the aegis of four beliefs. First, a market economy and free-market forces are necessary for the stimulation of economic growth in countries receiving assistance and for promoting American private-sector development. Second, economic growth is dependent upon sound decision making and rational policy formulation. Third, the host country must be willing to implement programs for institutional development—such as funding for training centers, colleges, and universities, and the structuring of new and relevant government agencies when needed. Finally, economic expansion is often tied to technology transfer from more developed nations.

Within this framework of democracy, market economics, and rational planning and development, AID programs focus on four areas of activity: population and health; economic growth; environment; and democracy, humanitarian assistance, and postcrisis transitions.

Through its population and growth programs, AID strives to stabilize world population growth while protecting women's reproductive rights. AID does this by supporting programs for voluntary family planning, reproductive health care, and the health care needs of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The agency promotes economic growth by strengthening developing market economies and removing impediments to their growth, and by encouraging broad-based participation in the economies of developing countries.

AID's environmental programs have two objectives: eliminating threats to a healthy global environment while still promoting economic growth. Programs concentrate on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, maintenance of biodiversity and the gradual reduction of harmful industrial and agricultural practices, and promoting environmental awareness amongst the general populace as well as policy makers.

The agency promotes democracy by implementing programs designed to eradicate human-rights abuses, election fraud, and undemocratic social and political movements and parties, as well as by strengthening weak or ineffectual democratic policies and political parties. In the realm of human assistance AID strives to promote programs that focus on disaster prevention and preparedness, and aid to victims of natural and other disasters.

The Agency for International Development is proud of its many accomplishments over the decades. These include saving more than three million lives annually through immunization programs, providing family planning programs for more than 50 million couples worldwide, and supplying governing assistance to 36 countries that made the transition to democratic governments between 1980 and 1995. AID is also aware that most Americans feel too many of their tax dollars are going for foreign assistance. In response, the agency is quick to point out that 80 percent of AID's contracts go directly to American firms. The American economy has also profited from the foreign export markets that have opened to the U.S. economy as a result of AID programs. AID is also part of American counter-narcotics strategy through its agricultural programs, which provide alternatives to illegal crops in various South American countries.

Throughout the 1990s, however, AID came under fire for many of its programs and policies. Critics charged that the agency often misused the word "aid" in selling its policies to the American public. The government would often make loans for the purchase of American goods and then term this "foreign aid." Other critics felt that humanitarian needs and economic development opportunities were being passed by in favor of American foreign-policy objectives. A case in point is the $2 billion in economic aid given to Egypt and Israel in accordance with a pledge made during the Camp David agreement.

In spite of its successes, AID is in a constant struggle to justify its existence to sectors of the U.S. government and to the American public. AID is under continual Congressional budget scrutiny; in 1996 a serious effort to merge AID into the State Department was fended off. In a 1996 interview David F. Hales, then director of AID's Global Environment Center, told Engineering News Record, "We have not been good over the history of this agency in explaining what we're doing."

[ Michael Knes ]


"AID's Mission Expands as Global Needs Shift." Engineering News Record, 3 June 1996, 48.

Hecht, James L. "Good Intentions." Christian Century, 6 November 1996, 1063.

U.S. Agency for International Development. "About USAID." 1997. Available from .

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