A little-known private advisory group set up in the State Department last year to study the world food problem is about to propose a redirection of some U.S. foreign aid away from government-to-government programs and toward expansion of Third World countries' private sectors.
The panel consists of representatives from agribusiness companies, big banks and oil companies. Draft recommendations to be considered by the group at a meeting today suggest that members share a general dissatisfaction with the current thrust of U.S. foreign aid policy and the organization principally responsible for implementing it, the Agency for International Development (AID).
Two of its main draft recommendations are to transfer "primary economic development responsibility for our foreign assistance program" from AID to the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) and to switch AID's more than $2 billion budget for bilateral development projects to the corporation.
A third proposal calls for setting up a Private Enterprise Institute to provide "a practical solid basis for the application of market-oriented, private sector development policies in developing countries."
Adoption of these proposals would appear to reduce AID's role in the dispensing of foreign aid to overseeing U.S. security assistance programs, which account for about 65 percent of this fiscal year's $16.6 billion administration foreign aid request, and administering the multilateral and Food for Peace programs.
"It is prohibitively difficult for AID to both administer a multibillion-dollar program under explicit congressional guidelines ('Basic Human Needs' legislation) while dramatically changing the direction of AID's programs to support privately driven economic growth," the draft recommendations say.
Known formally as the Subcommittee on Food, Hunger and Agriculture in Developing Countries, the panel of 19 outside private consultants was set up under a National Security Directive issued by President Reagan on July 9, 1984.
The subcommittee is formally under the State Department's Advisory Committee on Investment, Technology and Developmment, but it has a presidential mandate and its recommendations will go directly to the White House, giving them greater weight and far larger exposure in the administration.
Chairman of the group and its moving force is Carol Brookins, president of World Perspectives, a Washington-based news analysis service specializing in commodities and agriculture business news.
While denying any intent to do in AID, Brookins said in an interview that subcommittee members shared "a strong feeling not enough is being done to move resources into the private sector in Third World countries and more direct movement of U.S. resources into private sectors is needed."
The draft recommendations, drawn up by a seven-member working group under Brookins, say that despite some AID projects aimed at stimulating private enterprise in developing countries, "U.S. foreign assistance as a whole still goes overwhelmingly to support government projects."
A recent AID report found 17 percent of development assistance funds were going to private sector activities, it said.
Its final recommendations, expected to be issued in the next few weeks, will be sent to the White House and Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Allen Wallis.
The 19-person panel appears to be relatively unknown outside the State Department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Asked about the group, several top AID and State Department officials said they were unaware of its existence.