Sen. John Kerry will be questioned by his Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) colleagues this week during his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of State. My colleague Jenny Ottenhoff shared what she’d like to hear members ask Kerry, including a question on the future of US foreign aid. Turns out Sen. Kerry has a detailed answer to this: the one he delivered four years ago.
Here’s the question Ottenhoff and others are hoping SFRC members will ask Kerry on foreign aid:
As part of its effort to elevate and revitalize US development efforts, the Obama administration pledged to make the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) the “premiere development agency in the world”. As secretary of state, how will you work with USAID to help achieve this vision? What steps will you take to elevate development alongside diplomacy and defense?
I was going to draft a cheat sheet to help Kerry answer the question (H/T to Alexis Sowas’ cheat sheet for Kerry’s Pakistan question here), but Kerry answered the question himself in a major speech he delivered nearly four years ago at the Brookings Institution on development and diplomacy in the 21st century. CGD’s Sarah Jane Staats wrote about Kerry’s remarks in 2009, in which he called for a grand new vision to put diplomacy and development alongside defense, at the heart of America’s foreign policy. Here are the five steps he outlined to rebuild USAID and other foreign assistance programs:
1. Clarify the policies and goals. He noted there is currently no overarching policy for U.S. foreign aid and development and the current Foreign Assistance Act lists over 150 policy directives and goals.
2. Bring greater coordination to our aid efforts. Sen. Kerry said the twenty-some agencies implementing U.S. aid programs often have diffuse and conflicting goals and that while 60 percent of foreign aid goes to 10 countries for political/military, counter-narcotics and HIV/AIDS, the other 40 percent is spread thin in 140-plus countries. He called for a comprehensive development strategy to determine which agency is in charge, what we hope to achieve and how best to accomplish our goals.
3. Strengthen professional expertise and capacity. Sen. Kerry spoke of the need for training and recruitment of highly skilled public servants and technical experts which depends on restoring intellectual capacity, and policy and strategic planning to ensure that USAID is a place where innovative ideas can take shape.
4. Streamline outdated laws and heavy bureaucracy to untie the hands of aid workers. Sen. Kerry again cited the confusing directives, reporting requirements and procedural roadblocks that exist in the Foreign Assistance Act, last authorized the year Kerry arrived in the Senate—1985.
5. Rebalance the relationship between Washington and the field. Sen. Kerry said country teams need to have more power to shape programs, determine needs and take calculated risks when they see real strategic opportunities.
Some of these reforms have come to fruition over the past three years. Congress approved funding for USAID to recruit and hire approximately 1,100 new staff through the Development Leadership Initiative. Other reforms are a work in progress—see the introduction of Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-CA) 923-page rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. And others have yet to be considered—US foreign assistance still lacks focus or a grand strategy and there is no “lead agency” in charge of coordinating aid efforts.
I’ll be listening closely to the confirmation hearing tomorrow for whether Kerry picks up on these themes or changes his tune.