US Foreign Aid Agency Poised To Award First Domestic Coronavirus Loan Amid Congressional Concern

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The head of the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. says the agency is about to award its first loans under a presidential order giving it domestic powers for the first time.

The agency, tasked with providing international loans to overseas projects as a counter to moves by adversarial governments, was ordered by President Trump to investigate the shortage of medical supplies, raising concerns among congressional Democrats. The CARES Act provided $1 billion for the agency as part of the Defense Production Act fund.

DFC head Adam Boehler told NPR the agency expects to announce its first loan in the next few week, and it’s “highly likely to be in the pharmaceutical manufacturing space.”

Democratic lawmakers called for a review of agency activities after Trump signed an executive order in May giving it domestic authority for the first time to provide loans to projects that would aid the U.S. medical stockpile.

“This federal agency normally invests in economic development projects in other countries. I said, ‘How about investing in our country?’” Trump said in announcing his decision redirecting agency resources.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey told NPR: “As the federal government responds to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important that its work is being done efficiently and without impacting other critical functions.

“The reports we are mandating in our State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill will help ensure that the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. is able to focus on its core mission of offering an alternative to authoritarian governments that seek to gain influence through state-directed investments and lending. I look forward to seeing what recommendations the GAO [Government Accountability Office] puts forward to ensure that this important function is not jeopardized.”

Daniel Runde, a top official at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Bush administration and a member of the Republican party also expressed concerns about the DFC’s new mission. He told NPR there are real concerns the agency will divert attention, people and resources from the agency’s long-term objective of responding to China’s overseas investments.

Boehler said the agency is dedicating about 16 of its 450 staffers to the domestic project.

“It is an extremely manageable portion of my business,” he said, adding the diversion is temporary to help “fix a critical problem.”

“My view on this is — these are extraordinary times. Hopefully, it’s once in a lifetime,” he added. “And I think everybody, for the most part, understood why we would look to invest domestically.”

 

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