MCC Needs its Own Senate-Confirmed CEO

September 13, 2018

Nearly two years into the Trump administration, the Millennium Challenge Corporation is still without a Senate-confirmed CEO. Of the more than 50 independent federal agencies (including commissions and boards) whose top officials require Senate confirmation, MCC is one of just 14 (mostly tiny) agencies without a permanent leader in place.

The White House nominated Sean Cairncross to fill the CEO role in January, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave him the green light in March—but since then his nomination appears to have stalled. Meanwhile, today’s MCC board meeting will be the seventh under acting leadership and the first under new acting CEO Brock Bierman.

Bierman has development and private sector expertise, both of which are valuable for the head of growth-focused MCC. But the fact that he holds a concurrent role at USAID conveys potentially problematic implications. Bierman is a sitting USAID assistant administrator, a duty he performs concurrently with his responsibilities as MCC CEO.

Having a USAID official at the head of MCC is unprecedented and could have important implications for MCC's operations, reporting lines, and governance structure:

  • Reporting lines. The head of MCC now reports—albeit in a separate capacity—to the head of USAID. Under this configuration, it becomes difficult to disentangle an independent MCC from USAID’s bureaucracy.

  • Governance structure. MCC is governed by a board of directors formed of five public members (the secretaries of State and Treasury, the US trade representative, the USAID administrator, and MCC’s CEO), along with four private sector members. When MCC’s CEO is also a member of USAID’s leadership, MCC’s independent voice on the board is potentially diminished while USAID’s is multiplied.

  • Agency functioning. The position of MCC CEO is not a part-time position—nor, for that matter, is USAID assistant administrator. Even the most competent and dedicated professional would have difficulty fully fulfilling the roles of both, suggesting issues and actions that need CEO involvement and/or approval may be delayed or given short shrift.

How much each of these challenges becomes a real problem for the MCC depends on how long this arrangement persists, and how Bierman manages both the separation of the two roles and their joint magnitude. It also depends on whether issues arise that might put MCC and USAID at odds with one another. After all, the agencies are often well aligned.

The best bet to avoid these potential pitfalls is to give MCC its own Senate-confirmed CEO. . . soon.


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.