MELISSA BLOCK, host:`
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
The economy may be in trouble and the budget deficit growing, but advocates of increased spending on foreign aid see some promising times ahead. That's because Barack Obama and John McCain have talked about the need to help poor nations develop, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Every so often at town hall meetings on the campaign trail, Republican John McCain calls on people from a grassroots organization known as the One Campaign. They ask him what he'll do to help poor nations fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and illiteracy. McCain has said he sees foreign assistance as a key factor in securing America.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): It really needs to eliminate many of the breeding grounds for extremism, which is poverty, which is HIV/AIDS, which is all of these terrible conditions that make people totally dissatisfied and then look to extremism, particularly Islamic extremism.
KELEMEN: At a speech here in Washington this summer, Democrat Barack Obama also spoke about development aid as a strategic imperative for the U.S. in today's world.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I know development assistance is not the most popular of programs. But as president, I will make the case to the American people that it can be our best investment in increasing the common security of the entire world and increasing our own security. That's why I will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion by 2012 and use it to support a stable future in failing states and sustainable growth in Africa, to halve global poverty and to roll back disease.
KELEMEN: John McCain has not been that specific about how much money he would spend, but he has set a goal of trying to eradicate malaria in Africa and fight corruption.
Steve Radelet of the Center for Global Development sees a total change in attitude in Washington about development aid, and he's hoping this will translate into some real reform.
Mr. STEVE RADELET (Center for Global Development): The way we are organized to deliver foreign assistance and to invest in low-income countries is really quite behind the times. Our apparatus was set up in the early '60s. The legislation is the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed in the early days of the Kennedy administration.
(Soundbite of archived speech)
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: I am today signing the Foreign Assistance Act. It provides military assistance to countries which are on the rim of the Communist world and under direct attack.
KELEMEN: The Center for Global Development put together this video to show how needs have changed.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man: How can foreign assistance policy written in 1961 address the issues of today? It can't.
KELEMEN: There have been many studies on ways to update U.S. foreign assistance programs and better coordinate them. The study Radelet was a part of shows that there are too many government agencies with a hand in this: the Departments of State, Treasury and Agriculture, and a weak U.S. Agency for International Development. He wants to see a much stronger, independent USAID and a cabinet-level official in charge of development. He's been trying to make the case to both the Obama and McCain campaigns.
Mr. REDOLENT: They have both hinted at the need for reorganization, but neither have been particularly explicit as to what that reorganization might look like. Appropriately so - it's a little early to be into the specific details of what the reorganization would be. But both have recognized the importance of making these investments going forward.
KELEMEN: The next president will likely build on some of what President Bush did - dramatically increasing spending on the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, and setting up a program to investing countries that are reforming. But Gayle Smith of the Center for American Progress says the problem is that these efforts are all, as she put it, stovepiped, and leave many gaps.
Ms. GAYLE SMITH (Center for American Progress): Take, for example, the global food crisis. The fact of the matter is we spend almost four times as much on food aid as we do on agricultural development. Our investments in agricultural development around the world have fallen precipitously over the last many years. There's no one on first to track that and watch that.
KELEMEN: So the pitch she, Radelet and others will be making to the next president is to rethink how the U.S. government is organized to aid poor nations around the world. And she says she thinks there's a constituency for this.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.