Forget Waiting: Three Foreign Aid Tasks for Three Months

November 13, 2012
President Barack Obama's re-election gives him four more years to carry out his US global development policy vision. While no one expects the lame duck session to produce mighty development policy, my colleagues and I have a few ideas explained in short videos that could  help President Obama and his development team get a running start on his second term.Here are the three foreign aid to-dos I explain in the video that can happen before President Obama’s second inauguration on January 21, 2013:1. Give development a voice in the decisions that matter: make the USAID administrator a permanent member of the NSC. The USAID administrator is invited to participate in many National Security Council (NSC) meetings. The president could go one step further and make the USAID administrator a permanent member of the NSC, as was proposed in CGD analysis in early 2009.  Such a step would elevate development alongside defense and diplomacy—a 2008 campaign pledge and the foundation of President Obama’s US Global Development Policy—and give development a distinct voice at the highest government decision-making body. It would also help retain, or if necessary recruit, a high-caliber USAID administrator. The ideal moment to amend Presidential Policy Directive 1 in this way is before a new Secretary of State is chosen, which would keep the focus on the policy decision rather than politics or personalities.2. More brains, more development gains: fill the President’s Global Development Council and vacant MCC board seats. The White House announced last February that they would create the president’s global development council. The public and the US development agencies sent in their nominees later that month. But there is still no word on who will join the council to advise the president and other senior US officials on global development policies and champion development with the American public. I’d like to believe there are just too many development experts to choose from and striking the right balance of skills must be hard, but surely it can’t be so hard that it can’t happen. The White House can make the decisions here alone and doesn’t need action from Congress. This seems like an easy win that would generate some good buzz in the development community and could happen in a matter of weeks. If it’s really so hard to decide, maybe the White House should put out a shortlist for a wisdom of crowdsexperiment and let the public vote online. At the very least, it would be open, transparent and help generate some of the public attention and interest the council itself aims to create.Meanwhile, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is still missing two of its four public board members (and hasn’t had a full board since September 2009).  I’ve explained before why the non-governmental board members matter and where the nomination and confirmation process can break down. My hunch is that the two remaining nominations (Lorne Craner, nominated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) for a second term, and another candidate proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are with the White House office of personnel and that the hold-up is related, in some way, to Senator Reid’s nominee. At a minimum, the White House should be able to resolve the issue and announce the nominees before the end of the year. If the White House acts soon, the Senate could confirm the nominees before the end of the 112th Congress. Even better if this all happens before the December 18th MCC board meeting when the board will decide which countries will be eligible for FY2013 assistance and further discuss how the agency will use evidence from its impact evaluations.3. Keep pushing for more open aid data. The Obama administration has already taken huge steps towards more and better data on US foreign assistance. I let out a big “hooray” when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new guidance on the collection and public sharing of US foreign assistance data last month. It will still take time for twenty-two US government agencies to report their aid data in a consistent format. But the administration could ensure that five key agencies—State, USAID, MCC, Treasury and the Department of Agriculture—report complete aid budget data (planned, obligated and spent) before January 21, 2013 to keep up this good momentum and cover a good chunk of the aid budget in time for FY2013 budget decisions. The data should also be reported to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).These are my top three foreign aid items for the next three months. I’m eager to hear your views—in blog comments or directly—on obstacles to the above or other ideas.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.