Foreign aid administrators are ephemeral as the light of fireflies in the dark. There have been ten of them in nine years, and it is hard not to wonder if David Bell, the newest director of the Agency for International Development (A.I.D.), wishes fondly for the safety of his old office back at Littauer. Quietly, for self-assertion is a dangerous quality in his position, Mr. Bell has in the last three weeks seen his program transferred to the hands of pure caprice. Both he and the President have ceased to exercise any control over the appropriation of foreign aid funds.
How this came to be makes a silly story. Last December Mr. Kennedy asked General Lucius Clay to head a foreign aid study group with the grotesque name of "The Committee to Strengthen the Security of the Free World." To this committee were appointed men who had in common, for the most part, some faith in the principles behind foreign aid, considerable doubts about the efficiency of its administration, and unmistakable leanings toward the most solid, banker's, balanced-budget sort of economics. (Save for Eugene Black, ex-President of the World Bank, and the economics Edward S. Mason, they also held in common no special knowledge of there subject, but that may have been accidental.) The President's purpose in choosing this blue-chip bunch was very shrewd. He was not nearly so interested in gaining unofficially thought-out views of economic and military programs as he was in providing himself with a club with which to clip Otto Passman, chairman of the Foreign Aid Appropriations subcommittee, behind the ear. The Committee, which would surely recommend a few minor cuts in expenditure and give the rest of foreign aid its blessing, would at last lend the programs an appearance respectable enough to cow the Congress.
What Mr. Kennedy got, as it happened, was not so useful a political weapon as he had hoped for. The Committee set up certain criteria for aid administrators to observe and recommended a cut of $500 million in this year's appropriation. But the President was unshaken; he genuflected before the report and made a show of reducing his January budget estimate by $420 million. The theory, once again, was to anticipate conservative objections to a larger appropriation and although his more cynical friends advised him that the only result would be a still lower authorization for the Appropriations subcommittee to play havoc with, he decided to count on the House's regard for his insistence that the final request for $45 billion must be "rock-bottom."
At this point the game got all too predictably out of hand. First, Rep. Thomas Morgan, chairman of the authorizing committee, was notably unimpressed with the "rock-bottom" request. He was fairly certain, in fact, that his committee would sanction a figure "something under" last year's actual appropriation of $3.9 billion. Second, General Clay himself, after weeks of haunting Mr. Bell's office and House hearing rooms, began to run wild. He had examined the President's apparent humiliation to his committee's wishes, and had discovered that two-thirds of the White House education was a "paper cut" of unobligated funds rather than a reflection of his recommendations. The General was now prepared to recommend $300 million more in cuts to Mr. Morgan this week. Already it is obvious that the cynics were right, and that when Mr. Passman comes to run his disapproving eye over A.I.D. the authorized ceiling in its funds will be at least $1.2 billion below what the President once requested.
As for the President, he must be wishing he and never heard of the Clay Committee. But since fact he has sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind, it cannot be unreasonable to try to see thy exactly everyone is revising his judgments on foreign aid.
The Report: Vacuous Rhetoric
The somewhat shocking fact is that the document which both sides have cited as holy writ is pages of windy formulas, murky prejudices, and dogmatic affirmations of faith expressed in the virulent humbug of Washington official language. The worst failing among many is its meaningless generality. "Our views concerning specific countries have been discussed at length with the Administration of A.I.D." Mr. Bell must be relieved to know that they have views, but his relief hardly explains why the rest of us were not let in on them. Indeed, except for India and Pakistan, all names that might give us a clue to what the Committee is talking but are between them and A.I.D. And yet the committee's most sensible conclusions are that aid overextended" in only a few countries, and that administrators must pay greater attention (for example, in setting loan repayment terms) to the differences within individual countries.
Having all but admitted that a general theory of foreign aid which ignores specific requirements is nonsense, General Clay, three weeks after the report's release, has persisted in ensuring that the public may hear only nonsense. He has even deliberately closed the Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on specific countries, for fear that his advice to cut appropriations to (perhaps) Indonesia will complicate the business of the U.S. Embassy in Djakarta. Somebody ought to point out to the general that the near certainty of his advice being taken will eventually complicate things a good deal more than a public hearing ever could; if his object was to make life easy for the diplomatic corps he should have thought of it long ago. In any case, his and his Committee's refusal to discuss specifics makes it impossible not to sympathize with the one dissenting member, George Meany, who wrote that "the Report's recommendations on future requirements serve no purpose other than to encourage reduction of A.I.D. resources to support present and future projects. The report gives no documented basis for proposed reductions."
Particular countries and the rationale for the $500 million figure that the Committee plucked, seemingly, from the air, are not the only points that it has been reluctant to talk about. It shows concern about the deficit in U.S. balance of payments accounts, but will not say where these deficits lie or how changes in foreign aid might correct them, aside from approval of an existing policy to the funds to purchases of American goods. It dismisses debate of all the proposals for new international monetary arrangements with the grandiloquent dogma that: Upon international dollar convertability at the existing gold parity rest the international payments mechanism which has evolved since the war, the economic health and prosperity of the U.S. and its friends, and our role of political, economic, and financial leadership in the free world.
The Committee also does not mention population. It completely begs the question of long-term planning (which occupied much space in its first-rate predecessor, the Draper Report) with a warning against the over-use of mathematical economic models, and hence raises not an eyebrow at the frustrating Congressional practice of reapproprating aid funds each year. The notion that the Congress itself--by making it impossible for field administrators to promise funds in bargaining for development contracts--contributes to A.I.D.'s inefficiency, has never occurred to the Clay Committee.
There is no end to this catalogue. The report has commendable respect for the part private industry must play in development. This respect obscures the troubles connected to American glorifying of private sectors in nations without much reverence for free enterprise. Without arguing for it, it approves of the Hickenlooper Amendment (providing for withdrawal of aid funds after expropriation of U.S.-controlled industries without proper compensation) which has in practice given administrators in Ceylon nightmares. The report drew from the habit of some Latin American governments (of subsidizing inefficient state-owned concerns for purposes of patronage) the general moral that the U.S. should not support state industries which compete with private ones. If followed, this principle will prohibit A.I.D.'s granting India's request for $600 million to cover the external costs of a new government steel mill, a project that Ambassador Galbraith has strongly supported.
One common element in all these statements is their political conservatism: the Congress, the international monetary system, the Hickenlooper Amendment, the too-delicate nature of population control, are taken as they are, as given, unchangeable. Not that the report does not suggest changes, but even when it does, either no reasons are given for them, or no indications of how they might be brought about. "The Committee regards Africa as an area where the Western European countries should logically bear most of the aid burden." How easy it is to "regard Africa", so much easier than finding means to convince Europe of its responsibilities--means other than America's famous gift of moral suasion. Ten men of good will and intellect have labored three months on this report, and have presented nothing to the public beyond what Mr. Black or Professor Mason could have thought up in an armchair in three hours.
If foreign aid were not such a serious business, one could reflect with satisfaction that the President got what he deserved. Nothing much can be done now to still all the noises the Clay Report has raised, short of keeping the General from adding appendices by locking him up somewhere. The best that can come out of this mess may well be a little governmental reflection on the proper use of independent committees. It should be clear to Mr. Kennedy that the trouble started when he appointed the Clay group purely as a tactical warhead for use against the Congress. Apparently aware of the President's purpose, the Committee did not (at least one hopes it did not) take itself very seriously.
Proposal: A Committee System
Part of the Clay Committee's difficulties must lie in the fact that Presidential committees are rare birds in this country, and therefore have no clear code of behavior to follow. The reason for their rarity is simple enough: the American Congress is assumed to fulfill the same function as the fact-finding commissions in European countries, and in truth, in matters that affect only the workings of the Executive, it fulfills it not too badly. Furthermore, extra-governmental organs such as the American Assembly at Arden House or the businessmen's Committee on Economic Development are always busy looking at the government's affairs. There has appeared to exist no need for any more committees.
Presidents, in fact, have only made official groups of private citizens when there seemed some extraordinary reason to do so. Mr. Eisenhower used the committee system rather erratically: his study groups varied from the Gaither Committee on Defense, whose controversial report he classified, to the Draper Committee on foreign aid, whose superbly thorough report he ignored, to the transcendental Committee on National Goals, whose virtually worthless report he applauded. The Clay Report has presented still another style of investigation, and still another sort of reception from those who sired it.
If committees in America are going to do any good, the government must have a consistent way of looking at them. It would do no harm to allow Presidential use of such boards of inquiry to become a regular and familiar practice. Fortunately, the Administration has ready models for a committee system not only in the British Royal Commissions, but also in the workings of its own Civil Rights Commission. Abstracting from these institutions, it is easy to state the general requirements of a good Presidential Committee: (1) It should be called into existence for the general purpose of gaining an influential opinion on an important issue of government policy. (2) It should be composed of private citizens knowledgeable about the issue but not, if this can be avoided, rabid about it. (3) The Committee should have unlimited access to information, and it should spend enough time to do its job thoroughly. (4) It should make its findings available in some readable form to the general public, and sufficient publicity should accompany their release to ensure that they are read.
Nothing in America save the Civil Rights Commission--and maybe, in a necessarily limited way, Henry Kissinger and Leon Keyserling--now fulfills these requirements. Yet how often is it said that the Kennedy Administration needs enlightened criticism, that the press is not doing its job, and that even professors who would be critical are set back by their lack of information? The country badly needs straightforward and informed comments on its government's policies, recommendations that cannot be lightly disregarded, and that, even if not adopted, command respect. Without intelligent help, the Presidents may simply continue to repeat the performance of the Clay Report, and that will certainly command them no respect.