GAO Cites Waste in U.S. Food Aid Programs—But Does Not Call for Budget Cuts

James M. Roberts /

Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) and others in Congress have repeatedly expressed concerns about “fragmentation, overlap, and duplication” in non-emergency food aid programs administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

But a study released this month by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), while acknowledging the problem, falls short in recommending reforms—meaning that American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for wasteful and duplicative federal spending.

In a 2008 study for the Brookings Institution, foreign assistance expert and New York University (NYU) professor Bill Easterly criticized food aid programs generally as being “intrinsically not very effective” and “essentially a way for high-income countries to dump their excess agricultural production on markets in low-income countries.” Yet in fiscal year (FY) 2008 through FY 2011, USAID and the USDA obligated about $3 billion for food aid programs, often in the same foreign country.

The GAO reports that USAID and USDA’s efforts have “been fragmented and uncoordinated across the U.S. government” and that it “examined the extent to which these agencies’ non-emergency food aid programs pursue similar objectives.”

Yet somehow the GAO was unable to conclude the obvious need for substantial program reform and elimination. The best the GAO could do was to observe lamely that the two agencies “have established some processes to plan and coordinate country activities in efforts to limit overlap.”

As the nation approaches the so-called fiscal cliff this week, the redundancy and waste cited by the GAO in these two programs seems like an obvious place to make deep budgetary cuts—right now.