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US Development Policy

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Last Friday, Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, sent a letter to President Obama underscoring their "concern about the direction of U.S. development policy."  While most specifically concerned about the leadership vacuum at USAID -- still no USAID Administrator -- the letter also communicates a broader concern that development voices are being shut out of major policy decisions and interagency processes at a time when U.S. leadership on development is more needed than ever. 

  Referencing the greatest foreign policy challenges facing America today -- wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and instability in Pakistan -- the Senators argue it is "essential to empower a single development agency with the appropriate tools, resources and policy voice so that it can undertake its responsiblities in an effective and capable manner."  They urge the President to nominate a USAID Administrator ASAP, even to consider expediting the process by selecting a candidate with development credentials alreadyvetted for another position.

I must say, I love this letter.  It supports all the positive actions undertaken (budget and staffing increase requests) and efforts underway (the Presidential Study Directive, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the Administration's Global Health and Food Security initiatives, and their own Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act) to upgrade U.S. development policy and foreign assistance.  But it essentially argues that a strong, empowered USAID is a necessary ingredient to the success of them all.

The letter's call for a "single development agency" with a "policy voice" harkens back to a portion of the Senators' legislation that would restore development policy and planning capacity to USAID, distinct from that of the State Department.  I fear that without that capacity restored and without a healthy degree of budget authority delegated, filling the Administrator and senior management posts with the calibre of experience necessary to present long-term development options into what are typically short-term decisionmaking processes (let alone implement them) will be difficult.  And in that void, it should come as no surprise  that all the debate in town this week on Afghanistan and Pakistan is around the leaked U.S. military strategy.  If only, we had an equally serious  civilian development strategy to leak and debate too.

Disclaimer

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.