May 14, 2018

The Build Act (S. 2463)

By Corey Spies

There’s a lot going on in D.C. right now! The Farm Bill is up for renewal so debate over the SNAP program is raging, the opioid crisis has led to new legislation that’s moving quickly, and midterm elections are looming. While that’s all exciting, I chose to focus my first blog post on a lower-profile Senate hearing that ended up being the most interesting event in my week.

On the morning of Thursday, May 10, The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to discuss the modernization of development finance through passing of The Build Act (S.2463). This hearing focused on the creation of a new office that would bridge the gap between USAID and OPIC (the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US Government’s development finance institution). Much of USAID’s recent activity has been suppressed by budget cuts imposed by the Trump Administration, so I was interested to see what the plan going forward was in this sphere.

What I saw was a surprisingly heartening, 3-hour, productive bipartisan discussion. Senators and witnesses alike offered testimonies that critiqued the antiquated donation-driven models of past development initiatives and advocated for evidence-based foreign investment strategies. Each spoke of the importance of leveraging community assets and on-ground expertise of organizations such as USAID while transitioning initiatives from grant-driven projects to investment funded, scalable operations of impact. These concepts have long been advocated for by leaders in the field of international development, as charity operations that depend solely on foreign generosity generally fail to create sustainable commercial operations with the ability to function independently in the context of a local economy. I found it encouraging to hear our elected officials communicate with a panel of development experts so effectively and respectfully, as was not necessarily the case in other hearings this week.

On the right side of the aisle, rhetoric focused on the economic benefits of incentivizing and protecting US investors in developing markets, the importance of competing with China in these markets, and the value of US soft power in politically volatile nations. Witnesses spoke of the strides the Trump Administration has made in encouraging The Build Act as a means to these ends. On the left, witnesses and senators dialed in on the specific means by which USAID would be included in these new investment strategies as the major source of expertise in community-level knowledge throughout the developing world. Individuals also sought to clarify specific language used in the act and illuminated a need to specify the scope of the act, the definition of “development” as it relates to financial growth as well as social impact, and certain details of the future relationship between USAID and OPIC.

As many of you reading this blog are likely also veterinary students, you may be wondering why I’m so interested in this particular act. Veterinarians sit at a unique interface at which they have the ability to create change that betters the health of humans, animals, and our shared environment. Understanding animal disease as well as health and productivity lends to a distinctive approach in overcoming the multifaceted barriers to achieving food security. Applying scientific and systems thinking to far-reaching problems and prescribing effective strategies for change is an occupational strength of veterinarians and will be a valuable asset to many development initiatives in the decades to come. Legislation like this will outline the role of the US in developing markets as well as for veterinarians who will inevitably be needed as part of emerging food industries.

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