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Entries in Rajiv Shah (4)

Wednesday
Feb162011

Notes on USAID

For the last month I’ve been preparing a class on Iraqi politics for military units rotating into Iraq to finish out Operation New Dawn, which transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom last October, and which is scheduled to end once the Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States expires on December 31st of this year.

 

Classes ended yesterday and I’m happy to say mine went off rather well, which is a relief since it is my primary deliverable on this contract, and it had been a long time since I spoke in front of a group of about a hundred people. With that complete, it’s time to update the blog.

 

Last month, at the Center for Global Development, (the CNAS of the development community), USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech entitled: “The Modern Development Enterprise.” The speech, available here, goes into detail about the steps USAID has been taking and will continue to take in order to transform into “the world’s premier aid agency.”

 

Shah began by describing the Obama Administration’s approach to development as one that is “focused on sustainable economic growth, committed to mutual accountability, [and] selective in scope and concentrating foremost on results.” He then went on to discuss in depth how USAID has been executing that approach and highlighted the need for continuing to do so because “development is as critical to our economic prospects and national security as diplomacy and defense.”

 

He mentioned that one way USAID has been attempting to change the way it does business is by focusing more on strengthening the internal government systems of a developing country to provide public services for its citizenry, as opposed to USAID just providing various forms of aid to populations. Says Shah: “Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.” And when it comes to health care, “instead of scattered approaches that fight individual diseases one at a time, we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.”

 

Additional institutional improvements enacted recently include an attempt at procurement reform, the creation of a policy planning and learning bureau, and the reestablishment of USAID’s budget office.

 

Shah went on to announce USAID’s new evaluation policy, the big takeaway from the speech, which hopefully leads to more learning, accountability, and better results in the way U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent. The new policy emerged, Shah notes:

 

“[Because] the results [implementing partners] claim often have little grounding in fact . . . [there often exists] a relationship between implementing partners and evaluators akin to that between investment banks and ratings agencies. Just like investors couldn’t tell the difference between AAA bonds and junk, taxpayers can’t tell the difference between development breakthroughs and subprime development.”

 

So from now on, he says:

 

“Every major project will require a performance evaluation conducted by independent third parties, not by the implementing partners themselves. Instead of simply reporting our results like nearly all aid agencies do, we will collect baseline data and employ study designs that explain what would have happened without our interventions so we can know for sure the impact of our programs.”

 

Shah then committed to releasing the results of all evaluations within three months of their completion, “whether they tell a story of success or failure,” and that the data would be integrated into the foreignassistance.gov dashboard.

 

“I want the American taxpayer to know,” says Shah, “that every dollar they invest in USAID is being invested in the smartest, most efficient and most transparent way possible.”

 

You can find the entire evaluations policy here.

 

In the rest of his speech Shah covered USAID’s plans on attracting more talented employees, attempts at cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse by building a culture of oversight, and in general, his plans for running USAID more like a business that focuses on results, holding people accountable, and getting the most bang for the taxpayer dollar. Key to doing so, he says, is by creating structures and a culture that supports initiative and innovation on the part of the workforce.

 

My thoughts after reading the speech are that USAID seems to be doing a whole lot more to address the organizational challenges associated with running the agency, as opposed to focusing on actual programs overseas. This is a good thing. Addressing both are certainly important, but you can’t really do the latter successfully until you’ve first tailored organizational systems and culture in a manner most conducive to achieving your goals. This is especially important in stabilization situations. Failure to do so has been the subject of much criticism in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Shah’s reforms are more focused on true development (economic growth and capacity building) as opposed to post-conflict stabilization activities, but they none the less make sense since USAID’s primary mission is development and by strengthening weak states we can help prevent them from turning into failed states where conflict erupts. By developing a culture in which people and organizations are held accountable and where evaluations are transparent, USAID will be able to do a better job in the future, regardless of the nature of its involvement.


Friday
Feb052010

From the Department of WTF?

Conyers has lost all credibility.  Not that he had a lot to begin with.

 

Thursday
Jan282010

The Hollowing Out of USAID

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) during the recent confirmation hearings for new USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah . . .

 

“During the last two decades, decision-makers have not made it easy for USAID to perform its vital function.  Reorganization initiatives resulted in the agency’s loss of evaluation, budget, and policy capacity.  There is a broad consensus among development experts that the loss of these functions at USAID is inhibiting the success of our development programs. Our development efforts will never be as effective as they should be if the agency that houses most of our development expertise is cut out of relevant policy, evaluation, and budgetary decisions.”

 

Senator Lugar went on to reference (S.1524), the new Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, which has made it out of committee but has not yet been voted on by the Senate or House.  The bill seeks to give USAID more autonomy and authority while making it more accountable. 

 

According to Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee . . .

 

"S.1524 intends to strengthen the capacity of USAID to more effectively undertake development programs in support of the Secretary [of State's] priorities.  We believe that diplomacy and development can and should be mutually reinforcing.  To that end, this bill will provide appropriate tools so USAID can function at the highest level and achieve key foreign policy priorities under the guidance of the Secretary.  I would also like to point out that maintaining institutional distinction between our diplomatic agenda and our development programs is essential.  Quite simply, development and diplomacy often operate on different timelines, assumptions and objectives requiring specialized expertise and capabilities.  We must ensure that our development programs coordinate effectively with our diplomatic programs, but this does not mean we should merge the two functions into one entity.”

 

Based on certain hyperbolic news reports, there seems to be a bit of a "war" brewing between the Senate and State Department over how to manage development assistance (a recent showdown between Defense and State over assistance funding was just settled . . . in DOD's favor).  There's also word that the "Development Community" is worried "the policy center of gravity seems to be forming" over in Foggy Bottom, thereby weaking the development community's mandate and interests. 


It'll be interesting to see how things unfold when the upcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review and the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development are released later this year.

 

Finally, for those interested in Defense matters, which make up the largest of the "Ds", Inside Defense has a preview (read: leaked) copy of the QDR, which is supposed to come out next week.

 

Wednesday
Nov112009

Dr. Rajiv Shah, the New USAID Administrator 

 A key part of the President’s national security strategy is the projection of smart power, of which “development” is (supposedly) an important pillar.

 

Yesterday President Obama nominated Dr. Rajiv Shah to be the new USAID Administrator, filling an essential position that has been vacant since the beginning of his term.

 

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, seems to have no issue with it

 

Some quick thoughts . . .


  • According to the press announcement, Shah never worked for USAID or in a post-conflict country, and there is only a brief mention of some time spent in India working on a development project, which doesn't look like it included significant development experience.  Yet he’s taking charge of the primary U.S. agency responsible for overseas development and humanitarian aid work.

 

  • He’s not a political heavyweight.  And at only 36 years of age, one shouldn’t expect him to be.  This matters if development is going to be given sufficient heft in future foreign policy and national security initiatives.  State has Hillary Clinton, while Defense has Bob Gates.  Both of these individuals have decades of experience in politics and in Washington.  I recognize that Development will always be the little brother to Diplomacy and Defense, but development, humanitarian aid, post-conflict stabilization, and peace-building activities play a key role in preventing and managing conflict, and USAID is uniquely suited when it comes to addressing these issues.  For this reason, any Administrator needs not just relevant experience, but also sufficient pull with Congress and the Administration in order to secure appropriate staffing and funding levels, in addition to playing a meaningful role in helping shape foreign policy.

 

  • None of this is to say Shah won't be a good Administrator.  His youth, energy, and familiarity with food security issues in the developing world may help lead to a stronger USAID, especially if he remains in the position for a long period of time. 


Laura Rozen has more here, here, and here.