Ideas to Action:

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US Development Policy


Last week, President Obama’s Global Development Council (GDC) released a second report calling for bold, as well as incremental, reforms to “make US development efforts more catalytic and innovative.” This is a high-powered group of outside thinkers and doers, and their recommendations are excellent. At this point, however, it’s unclear whether the White House will act on their advice. The litmus test will be whether the Obama Administration goes big and bold at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa this July, which arguably is their last real chance to act. If this doesn’t happen, then the GDC members should consider going a little rogue and directly consult with congressional members who could put their recommendations into practice. And, perhaps even the various presidential candidates who hope to succeed President Obama in 2017.

The second GDC report lays out a number of compelling ideas whose time has finally come. They endorse recent proposals for a US Development Finance Bank, which would consolidate existing US development finance tools into a financially self-sustaining, results-based institution. They call for greater support for social impact investing. And, the GDC encourages USAID and other aid agencies to embrace outcome-based financing models, such as Cash on Delivery. Their report includes ideas for improving resource mobilization in developing countries, such as increasing tax collection, improving customs systems, and combatting international tax evasion. My colleague Frances Seymour was also pleased to see the emphasis on deforestation.

These are bold recommendations that would further modernize US development institutions and approaches. Yet, the White House fact sheet did not even “welcome” or publicly “acknowledge” the Council’s latest report. There are only two dry paragraphs on the Council’s creation and its latest set of thematic recommendations. Following that, there are six pages of the Administration’s accomplishments in the development space. The message seems to be – we’ve already covered all of the Council’s recommendations. In other words, there’s nothing else to see here folks, so please move along. 

Granted, the Obama Administration has launched some innovative initiatives, such as Power Africa and the Global Innovation Fund. It also has implemented a number of institutional reforms, like USAID Forward. But, there is a lot of work that remains undone. As noted, perhaps the White House is just holding its fire for Addis Ababa. I sure hope so. But, if that isn’t the case, then it might be time for GDC members to go a little rogue. Better that than letting their report collect dust somewhere in the West Wing.


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.