Written Testimony of the Honorable John Barsa, Acting Administrator, before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Speeches Shim

Thursday, July 23, 2020


Chairman Engel, Ranking Member McCaul, and Members of the Committee – thank you for inviting me to testify today. It is an honor and privilege to testify in front of your Committee, and I look forward to your questions.

I also would like to also thank you for your bipartisan support, which has allowed the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to mount a robust response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that has touched nearly every person around the world. The United States needs to continue a targeted and comprehensive response that spans not only health and humanitarian assistance, but also economic, security, and stabilization assistance. This is not just a health crisis. As in our country, the second and third order effects go well beyond the health consequences of the pandemic. So it is in the national strategic interest of the United States to also address the ongoing second and third order effects of the pandemic, such as food-insecurity, economic recessions, and democratic backsliding. I am committed to doing so by using all our available resources, and I do not intend to allow our adversaries any opportunities to fill the vacuum in a turbulent world.

The President’s Budget Request

Every day, USAID’s highly professional and dedicated staff work to deliver sustainable development solutions, build self-reliance in partner countries, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, project American values globally, and advance our foreign-policy and national-security objectives.

The President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 for accounts that USAID fully and partially manages is approximately $19.7 billion, including $2.2 billion for USAID’s global health programs and $6.1 billion for the Economic Support and Development Fund (ESDF).

USAID will use these resources to advance U.S. foreign-policy and national security objectives by fostering stability in partner countries; promoting free, fair, and equitable societies; and expanding opportunities for American businesses. Our investments will strengthen our national security by addressing the drivers of violent extremism and combating the spread of infectious diseases, each of which represents a potential threat to the Homeland. The sum requested reflects the Agency’s commitment to the responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources and maximizing the impact of every dollar we manage.

In terms of humanitarian assistance, the President has requested nearly $6 billion for the International Humanitarian Assistance (IHA) account, which—when combined with carryover resources from FY 2020—will enable the United States to support an average annual level of nearly $9 billion for FY 2020 and 2021 for overseas humanitarian assistance alone. This maintains the United States’ role as the largest humanitarian donor in the world.

The Response to Covid-19 / Global Health

Faced with COVID-19, America is demonstrating clear and decisive leadership. The United States has mobilized to combat the virus, both at home and abroad, by allocating more than $12 billion that will benefit the global COVID response.

USAID has acted decisively since COVID-19 cases first began to arise internationally, by working with the U.S. Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and State as part of an All-of-America response. With $2.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding generously appropriated by Congress, including nearly $1.7 billion for foreign assistance implemented by USAID and the State Department, we are providing health care; humanitarian assistance; and economic, security, and stabilization efforts worldwide.

This funding is saving lives by improving public health education, training health-care workers, strengthening laboratory systems, supporting disease-surveillance, and boosting rapid-response capacity in more than 120 countries around the world. We are providing assistance to support communities affected by COVID-19 and equipping them with the tools needed to mitigate the impacts of the virus.

We are also forging partnerships with the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others to help respond. Leveraging the strengths of other partners allows U.S. investments to go further and do more.

For example, USAID has a long partnership with Hadassah Hospital, in the State of Israel, and a new one with Pepsi and Sodastream is underway to invent a high-flow respirator for COVID-19 patients, which would be available for medical centers in Jerusalem neighborhoods with an especially high incidence of the virus. The open-source designs can be downloaded for free for assembly anywhere in the world and have already been used in the Republics of El Salvador, Guatemala and Turkey.

The U.S. Government’s response to COVID-19 builds upon decades of U.S. investments in global health. In the 21st Century alone, the United States has contributed more than $140 billion in global health assistance:

  • Over the past 20 years, USAID’s funding has helped Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, vaccinate more than 760 million children, which has prevented 13 million deaths. Last month, the United States committed $1.16 billion to Gavi over four years, to support Gavi’s goal of immunizing 300 million additional children by 2025.
  • The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) has helped save more than seven million lives and prevent more than one billion cases of malaria worldwide since 2005.
  • The United States has invested more than $85 billion to fight HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest commitment in history by any nation to address a single disease.
  • USAID continues to invest in global health security, including to address existing and emerging zoonotic diseases, which account for more than 70 percent of new infectious-disease outbreaks. We have invested $1.1 billion in global health security since 2009.
  • Last month, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared an end to the tenth outbreak of Ebola in the DRC, which devastated families in eastern DRC for almost two years. The United States was the DRC’s principal partner in ending this outbreak, contributing to the response and building local health institution capacity to handle new outbreaks, like the Ebola outbreak in northwestern DRC announced in June, as well as other health threats facing Congolese populations. We are now scaling up a response to this outbreak.

Over the years, USAID has continued to invest in bilateral health work in countries to train frontline health care workers, ensure medical facilities have the proper equipment and medicine, and establish disease-surveillance and risk-monitoring networks.

We also have invested heavily in building national capacity for laboratory research and testing. And because so many infectious-disease outbreaks in humans are of animal origin, we have helped governments, academia, and the private sector improve health surveillance networks among livestock and wildlife—work that has facilitated the collection and testing of more than 100,000 samples in high-risk areas over the past decade.  

These investments in global health throughout the decades have enabled governments, civil society, and others in our partner countries to build capacity and strengthen health care and democratic institutions, which enables them to respond better to health crises.

We are in unprecedented times, with a rapidly evolving situation on the ground in almost every corner of the earth. We are working aggressively to obligate all of our resources for COVID-19 as swiftly and effectively as possible. At the same time, we want to ensure we are accountable for the effective use of funds for COVID-19 and are good stewards of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

I should note that, as is typical in our humanitarian programs, our partners have the ability to begin working as soon as USAID commits resources to them from the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account. They do not have to wait for the final obligation of funds to begin work, and we reimburse them afterwards when we sign an agreement.

On average, our Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) is obligating COVID-19 supplemental funding from the IDA account in 37 days from the time we receive a proposal from a partner. This is 40-percent faster than our previous timelines, and I intend this to become our new standard timeline.

To accelerate the pace of processing awards and ensure the full obligation of approved supplemental funding from the IDA account, BHA is implementing the following measures:

  • Quicker Turnaround: Imposing stricter deadlines on partners to develop applications and on BHA staff to provide technical approval;
  • Prioritization: Fast-tracking all COVID-19 proposals for review over non-COVID-19 applications; and
  • All Hands on Deck: Creating efficiencies across the spectrum of USAID’s business processes, from BHA’s field teams and headquarters staff, to the Office of the General Counsel, to the Office of Acquisition and Assistance in the Bureau for Management.

Over the Horizon

The world has been altered by COVID-19. So while we continue to address the current global health crisis, we need to consider the second- and third-order effects left in its wake. I remain focused on USAID’s efforts to help communities in our partner countries on their Journeys to Self-Reliance, and will continue to build on the vision that each one of our programs should look forward to the day when it can end. Our investments in global health throughout the decades have been a cornerstone of this approach.

We have also learned that outbreaks and epidemics are directly related to governance, transparency, and capacity considerations. For example, the robust international response to the recently ended Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC was notably challenged by a humanitarian crisis, weak institutions, marginalized and impoverished communities, and insecurity. Yet thanks to healthcare capacity and expertise – supported by USAID and U.S. government long-term investments in the country, the DRC government and international community was able to contain outbreak spread within DRC borders and prevent a global pandemic.

More often than not, we have the tools to prevent outbreaks from becoming epidemics—but we are hampered when countries such as the People’s Republic of China and other malign actors do not disclose information transparently or share pathogen samples, and instead destroy samples, obfuscate facts, imprison medical personnel, and silence journalists.

We also recognize that health emergencies have consequences that rapidly require broader development assistance—whether support for orphaned children, protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, stabilization for livelihoods, and addressing the deeper root causes of instability and governance. While a hallmark of our effort to promote the Journey to Self-Reliance is using analytics to measure progress, we must also measure regression to see how we might need to adjust our programs.

Looking to the long term, we remain committed to helping communities in our partner countries and addressing the pandemic’s second- and third-order effects. The COVID-19 pandemic is not simply a health crisis, and our response cannot be just a health response.  Already, the spread of the novel coronavirus and actions to mitigate COVID-19 have had significant secondary impacts—among the most devastating is in the areas of food security and nutrition. At the beginning of 2020, conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, and weather shocks were already driving high food-assistance needs across the globe.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), funded by USAID, estimates 113 million people will be in need of humanitarian food assistance this year, which represents an increase of approximately 25 percent in the span of just one year. The onset and progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, and measures taken to suppress its spread, are likely to increase the magnitude and severity of acute and chronic food-insecurity. An estimated 148 million more people will face extreme poverty and food insecurity as a result of COVID-19.

We must proactively—and comprehensively—address the many ways that this crisis has eroded food security and driven malnutrition worldwide. To that end, USAID is working with the World Food Program and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based organizations, to invest over $165 million of COVID-19 supplemental humanitarian resources to address food-insecurity in 21 countries, including in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, the Republics of Colombia and Ecuador, the Lebanese Republic, and 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that already were experiencing high-levels of hunger before the pandemic.

In addition to emergency food aid, we are addressing disruptions to agricultural production, trade, and local markets; the loss of livelihoods and nutrition; and the deterioration of essential social services, like water and sanitation, while building longer-term resilience. Each of our lines of effort plays an important role in strengthening food and water security and reducing the deterioration of development progress.

At the same time, we recognize how important democracy and citizen-responsive governance are in responding to the outbreak, and we are investing funds accordingly. Unfortunately, we are seeing democratic backsliding, closing space for civil society and crackdowns on freedom of expression, including for members of the press, as the pandemic continues to unfold. To counter this trend, we are helping support civil-society organizations and independent media outlets, strengthening the rule of law, working with national electoral commissions, and combatting disinformation—because we know responsive, transparent governments are better-equipped to help their populations deal with this crisis and eventually prevent the disease from coming back to our shores.

USAID also has begun to think about how we can successfully execute our mission in the COVID-altered world, in a way that is flexible and agile.

To focus specifically on operating in the COVID-altered world, I established a temporary Agency Planning Cell called Over the Horizon, to guide this effort.

While USAID’s COVID-19 Task Force has managed the near-term challenges directly related to the pandemic, Over the Horizon will perform research, conduct outreach, and prepare analyses around key strategic questions to help the Agency prepare for lasting challenges to the development and humanitarian landscape in the medium to long term. We are taking a hard look at our policies, programming, resources, and operations to determine what needs to be realigned or reprioritized as a result of the pandemic. The planning cell is working in concert and providing information to an Executive Steering Committee, composed of senior leaders from across the Agency, who will craft recommendations for my consideration.

Partner countries have a choice in development assistance partners, development models, and governance systems. USAID’s approach emphasizes free and open, enterprise-driven development to build resilient market economies founded on democratic principles and good governance without strings attached.

This approach stands in stark contrast to development models promoted by authoritarian regimes. This contrast has grown even more stark during the global response to COVID-19, as the Chinese Communist Party has worked to leverage the pandemic to advance its political propaganda focused on spreading disinformation.

We are planning for the medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 now because I am committed to ensuring that USAID will remain a trusted partner, the preferred partner, in countries across the world.

Hurricane Preparedness in the Caribbean

USAID—which leads and coordinates all U.S. Government international disaster assistance—is ready to respond to the 2020 hurricane season with a team of disaster experts and pre-positioned emergency relief supplies strategically located throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. USAID is also coordinating with relevant U.S. Embassies, national emergency-management offices, and humanitarian partners to plan for potential storms.

Year round, USAID works to reduce the risk and impact of future disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean, by coordinating with local governments and humanitarian organizations in the region to develop emergency and evacuation plans; train national disaster-response organizations and first-responders; and educate vulnerable communities so they know what to do when the next storm hits. USAID has a regional office in San José, Costa Rica, and disaster experts based across the region ready to respond to disasters when needed. In addition, BHA maintains a team of emergency food-security experts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2019, USAID deployed a Disaster-Assistance Response Team (DART) to respond to Hurricane Dorian in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The DART—which at its height comprised 106 members, including search-and-rescue personnel—led and coordinated the U.S. humanitarian response to the devastating storm. In addition, USAID delivered approximately 53 metric tons of relief supplies to the Bahamas from our warehouse in Miami—enough to help at least 54,000 people—via commercial airlift, U.S. Coast Guard transport, and a flight donated by UPS. USAID also provided emergency food assistance, including by swiftly working with the World Food Program to distribute 14,000 ready-to-eat meals immediately following the storm.

In FY 2019, USAID provided more than $34.5 million to programs in Latin America and the Caribbean to help communities prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the impact of disasters. This includes more than $15.2 million in funding to reduce the risk of disasters in the Caribbean.

To reduce the threat of devastating storm surges, USAID has launched a new project with the U.S. National Hurricane Center and national disaster-management agencies across the Caribbean to advance preparedness for, and early warning of, hurricanes. This program will save lives and help protect property by improving mapping for areas vulnerable to storm surge and strengthening forecasting for countries across the Caribbean.

In addition, just last year, my predecessor, former Administrator Mark Green, traveled to Barbados to announce an additional $10 million investment to bolster disaster preparedness and response across the Caribbean with the help of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, also known as CDEMA. These new resources will support activities that minimize the damage of disasters, reduce the loss of life, and enhance response efforts. This support is central to the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership, a forum for collaboration across U.S. government and Caribbean agencies on resilience against natural disasters in this region.

We have all witnessed the generosity and compassion our fellow Americans show each other when disaster strikes. It is this generous American spirit that drives USAID’s preparedness for, and response to, hurricanes in the Caribbean as well.


This Administration stands in solidarity with Interim President Juan Guaidó, his administration, the National Assembly, and the Venezuelan people as they work to recover their country and future. USAID will continue to support them in that noble effort.

Since FY 2017, the United States has provided more than $856 million in humanitarian, economic, development, and health assistance inside Venezuela and across the region, including nearly $611million in humanitarian assistance and approximately $245 million through the Department of State and USAID in economic, development, and health assistance.

Those resources are helping to meet immediate humanitarian needs, like food and safe drinking water; stem the spread of infectious diseases; and assist those who have fled to other nations in search of food, medicine, and other basic necessities because of the shortages caused by the mismanagement and venality of the illegitimate Maduro regime. We are also supporting institutions like the National Assembly and independent media, and promoting the defense of human rights and the fight against corruption through NGOs and Venezuelan civil society. Of particular concern to us now are the systematic atrocities being committed by the Maduro regime and its transnational criminal allies against the environment and indigenous communities in the Arco Minero across the southern reaches of Venezuela. Illegal gold mining in this region is propping up Maduro, fueling drug-trafficking and terrorist groups, and robbing Venezuelans of their natural resources.

Additionally, across Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID is also providing assistance to support Venezuelans who have fled the chaos and tyranny in their homeland—as well as the generous communities that are hosting them.

Even as we extend this financial and technical support today, we are continuing to plan for the future. In 2019, USAID signed the first bilateral assistance agreement between USAID and a Venezuelan Government in decades. This agreement allows us to expand our support to the National Assembly, a critical lifeline that keeps the hope of democracy alive within the country.

And, as we have for years, we will continue to support human-rights defenders, civil-society organizations, and the legions of reporters and media investigators that hold Maduro and his cronies accountable, even at great personal risk.

After a democratic transition, the bilateral agreement will allow USAID to fund efforts to repair health-care institutions that have collapsed, and to deploy much-needed resources to restore commercial agriculture. The $205 million from the Economic Support and Development Fund and Global Health account included in the President’s Budget Request for FY 2021 will further these efforts, predicated on the assumption that progress towards a democratic transition will occur over the coming year.

Outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

On June 25, 2020, the Government of the DRC declared an end to the outbreak of Ebola that has affected the Eastern part of the country since August 2018 and caused more than 3,470 total confirmed and probable cases and 2,287 deaths. This declaration came after 42 days—double the 21-day incubation period of Ebola—without a new confirmed or probable Ebola case in the DRC’s Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu Provinces.

Even though this Ebola outbreak is officially over, USAID’s work in the eastern DRC has not ended. It is essential to monitor and provide follow-up care to survivors of Ebola for an extended period of time. We will continue to provide community engagement and education to minimize the risk of transmission from survivors, as well as to mitigate their stigmatization.

On June 1, 2020, the DRC Ministry of Health declared a new outbreak in Équateur Province in the Northwest of the country, and USAID has mobilized assistance to contain the newly declared outbreak while we continue to remain vigilant in eastern DRC.

USAID’s assistance in both the eastern and western DRC outbreaks has primarily focused on breaking the chain of transmission, including through investments that strengthen the prevention and control of infections in medical facilities, bolster disease-surveillance and case-finding, expand access to vaccines, improve laboratory diagnostic capacity, and raise awareness about Ebola in at-risk communities.


The swarms of desert locusts in East Africa are the worst to hit the region in decades: billions of pests are eating their way through crops, vegetation, and livestock pastures. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Republic of Kenya, and the Federal Republic of Somalia are the most-affected countries to date, though the locusts are present in, or have previously invaded the Republics of Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea, and Djibouti; the United Republic of Tanzania; and the DRC. Heavy rains and flooding since 2019 have provided ideal wet conditions for locusts to breed, which has contributed to the large scale of the outbreak.

Through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), USAID is helping the Governments of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Sudan control infestations of locusts within their borders and guard against additional invasions. To date, USAID has provided nearly $20 million in humanitarian assistance to support regional efforts to control the locust swarms in East Africa.

USAID-funded programs are training community members, local officials, and scouts on the early detection, surveillance, monitoring, and reporting of locusts. USAID is also helping teams obtain equipment, including GPS, radios, and eLocust3 tablets—which gather field data and transmit it in real time to government officials and FAO staff.

USAID is closely monitoring the potential impact of locusts on food security for vulnerable families. Timely and effective control operations in affected areas are critical to mitigating a potentially significant impact on people’s ability to provide food for their families in 2020, especially as the pandemic of COVID-19 persists.

USAID development assistance is bolstering this emergency response with investments to build up local institutions to better monitor, mitigate and manage crop threats like locusts. Research efforts carried out by U.S. university partners are helping countries determine how best to respond to today’s locust outbreak and those to come.

Advancing International Religious Freedom

Preserving religious freedom and protecting the rights of members of ethnic and other minority groups are essential to any free, democratic, and just society. These ideals resonate particularly with Americans—our country was founded by those who sought to be free from persecution, and our diversity has long been a source of strength and vibrancy.

History has shown that the marginalization or persecution of individuals on account of their religious identity or beliefs may be a first step towards a broader deterioration in freedoms. As Vice-President Pence has often said, “An attack on one faith is an attack on us all.”

USAID supports religious and ethnic minority communities around the world, including across the Middle East, where pluralism has existed for thousands of years. Since the destruction of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS Caliphate), USAID has invested across the region to help members of persecuted minority groups heal and restore their communities. That includes through direct partnerships with local, faith-based organizations, with many of whom we are working for the first time.

On June 2, 2020, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom. USAID will work together with the State Department to implement this directive in all our programs around the world.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

No country can make meaningful progress without the inclusion of half of its population. Empowering women to participate fully in economic and civic life is essential to achieving more equitable, stable, and prosperous societies.

USAID has long prioritized the inclusion of women throughout our programs. Our experience shows that investing in women and girls accelerates development outcomes and yields dividends across the areas in which we work, from the prevention of conflict to health to economic growth. Economically empowered women are key drivers of self-reliance; when women thrive, their families thrive, and their communities and countries prosper.

We are proud to implement the White House’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP). Through the W-GDP Fund at USAID, we are making investments that advance each pillar of the initiative: women prospering in the workforce, women succeeding as entrepreneurs, and helping women overcoming barriers to full economic participation.

USAID’s investments in women’s economic empowerment, including from the W-GDP Fund, reached nearly nine million women around the world last year. The President’s Budget Request for FY 2021 includes $200 million for the W-GDP Fund, resources that will enable us to build on that success. We will expand existing activities and create new, innovative partnerships and programs to facilitate greater private-sector engagement; scale entrepreneurial skills-training for women; increase their access to finance, markets, and business networks; break down the legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers to their empowerment and equality, including gender-based violence; advance digital literacy; and expand efforts to recruit, retain, and promote women in male-dominated industries. The resources sought in the President's Budget Request for FY 2021 will help us make progress towards W-GDP’s ambitious goal of reaching 50 million women in the developing world by 2025.

Women’s voices and leadership are also vital to preventing and resolving conflict, countering violent extremism, and supporting post-conflict recovery. Our new Implementation Plan for the U.S. Government’s Women, Peace, and Security Strategy (WPS) outlines the steps USAID is taking to break down barriers to women’s participation in peace processes and political transitions; to promote women’s essential role and ensure their protection; and to provide women with skills and training to increase their engagement in political and civic life.

More on Transformation: Establishing New Structures

The world is constantly changing, and it is imperative that we at USAID change along with it. From the new nature of humanitarian and development needs, to shifts in government versus private financial flows, to innovative new technologies that have reshaped the way we work—today’s landscape is vastly different than it was just 20 years ago. Former Administrator Mark Green set USAID on a bold path of Transformation, through interconnected reforms to our workforce, structure, programs, and policies. We initiated this process with one goal in mind: building the USAID of tomorrow, an Agency better-placed to respond to dynamic challenges, foster self-reliance, and one day end the need for foreign assistance.

We have implemented a number of those reforms through milestones like the development of our Self-Reliance Metrics, the release of our Country Roadmaps, the launch of our Policy Framework, the publication of our first-ever Acquisition and Assistance Strategy, and the implementation of our Private-Sector Engagement Policy. The latest milestone in our Transformation is the formal establishment of several new Bureaus, the culmination of a rigorous process of design and consultation aimed at creating a structure that is more field-oriented, functionally aligned, and responsive to the evolving needs and challenges in the countries where we work.

In late Summer 2018, we submitted nine Congressional Notifications (CNs) on Transformation to Congress. I am pleased to announce that we have legally established the Bureaus for Resilience and Food Security, Humanitarian Assistance, and Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. These three Bureaus, which have since become operational, will elevate and align our humanitarian assistance, investments in stabilization and preventing and mitigating conflict and building out resilience that strengthens food security and for the long-term. The CN for our proposed Bureau for Policy, Resources, and Performance—which would bring together our strategy, policy, and budget teams through joint management of our Program and Operating Expense resources—remains outstanding. This is a critical remaining piece of our Transformation. I ask for your support for the CN, which you have had for 18 months. The other members of USAID’s leadership team and I are available and eager to answer any questions you might have so that we can move forward with that process. We also will be submitting CNs for changes to our Bureau for Global Health, the last and largest Pillar Bureau to undergo Transformation, as well as a revised CN for adjustments to our Bureau for Management and a CN for a reorganization of our Office of Security. We ask for your swift consideration of these proposals as well.

Over the last couple years, we have been unveiling outcomes of our Transformation. We have launched new policies, overhauled our procurement and hiring processes, consolidated existing Bureaus and launched new ones, and taken steps to better empower our workforce.

But we are not done. There’s more on the horizon as we continue to work towards becoming more nimble, effective, and efficient.

Thank you for your continuing support of a transformed USAID.

Hearing on the President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021
Committee on Foreign Affairs