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Bureaucracy at the Border: The Fragmentation of Foreign Aid


Scholars and policymakers have long agreed that the fragmentation of foreign aid impedes its effectiveness as a tool for foreign policy and international development. Nevertheless, many countries continue to obstruct their own foreign policy goals by spreading aid across multiple independent agencies with overlapping and sometimes conflicting agendas. Given how much the literature has said about the drawbacks of foreign aid fragmentation, why do many countries break up their aid rather than centralizing it through one large agency?

In this dissertation, I argue that foreign aid fragmentation is not a conscious policy choice; rather, it is a byproduct of bargaining and vote-buying within legislatures. Precisely because foreign aid is not politically popular or salient, lawmakers promoting aid legislation often face a struggle to attract votes. One solution is to channel foreign aid funding through specialized agencies that appeal to specific legislators who may not otherwise favor a bill, resulting in bureaucratic overlap and inefficiency. I develop a spatial model of vote-buying and test its derived hypotheses on foreign aid fragmentation through several angles in four empirical chapters.

First, using the US case, I find that foreign aid is more fragmented when the preferences of parties are far apart and the majority party is heterogeneous. In these cases, the particularistic interests of moderate majority party members result in specialized provisions that create fragmentation. I introduce a novel measure of foreign aid fragmentation and use it to test these hypotheses. Second, I trace the mechanisms of the theory in the creation of the 1992 FREEDOM support act. I find that moderate legislators were able to withhold their support for the bill in exchange for funding of their pet projects. This led to a more fragmented aid environment.

Finally, I extend the model in two separate chapters. First, I show that divided party government plays a role in fragmentation by limiting substitute bargaining tools. Second, using a cross-national sample, I show that countries with plurality electors systems, which tend to create incentives for legislative vote-buying, also have more fragmented foreign aid budgets. This provides further evidence that aid fragmentation comes from legislative bargains.

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