Foreign Aid: An Introduction, and More from CRS

06.22.16 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

U.S. aid to foreign countries and populations takes many forms in support of a range of objectives, from strategic to humanitarian. A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service illuminates the structure of U.S. foreign aid, and traces the evolution of U.S. spending abroad.

“Adjusted for inflation, annual foreign assistance funding over the past decade was the highest it has been since the Marshall Plan in the years immediately following World War II,” CRS reported.

“Aid objectives include promoting economic growth and reducing poverty, improving governance, addressing population growth, expanding access to basic education and health care, protecting the environment, promoting stability in conflictive regions, protecting human rights, promoting trade, curbing weapons proliferation, strengthening allies, and addressing drug production and trafficking.”

The CRS report provides authoritative data on (or reliable estimates of) foreign aid over time. “Data presented in the report are the most current, consistent, and reliable figures available, usually covering the period through FY2015.” One thing the report does not do is attempt to assess the efficacy of U.S. foreign aid in meeting its declared objectives. (Update: For a CRS report on evaluating foreign aid, see here.)

See Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy, updated June 17, 2016.

Other new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The United Kingdom and the European Union: Stay or Go?, CRS Insight, updated June 20, 2016

The First Responder Network (FirstNet) and Next-Generation Communications for Public Safety: Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

State Sponsors of Acts of International Terrorism–Legislative Parameters: In Brief, updated June 17, 2016

FY2017 Defense Appropriations Fact Sheet: Selected Highlights of H.R. 5293 and S. 3000, June 17, 2016

What’s RICO?, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 20, 2016

Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) FY2017 Appropriations: Overview, June 20, 2016

Spending and Tax Expenditures: Distinctions and Major Programs, June 17, 2016

The Appointment Process for U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Overview, updated June 17, 2016

“The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people” who are incapable of understanding or defending their own interests, wrote Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1927 concurring opinion (in Whitney v. California).

For Brandeis, the antidote to such inertness is self-education, writes Jeffrey Rosen in his fine new book “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet” (Yale University Press, 2016).

Brandeis “believed passionately that citizens have a duty to educate themselves so that they are capable of self-government, both personal and political, and of defending their liberties against overreaching corporate and federal power,” Rosen writes.

There are many ways for individuals to pursue such self-education. But on matters of public policy, CRS reports are particularly helpful because of their painstakingly non-partisan character and their often rich factual content.

The longstanding dispute over whether Congress should authorize direct public access to CRS reports was reported most recently in “Should Congressional Research Service Reports Be Kept Secret?” by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, June 20.