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Entries in USAID (9)

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.

 

Friday
Feb052010

D3 Weekly Link Roundup

Baba Tim over at Free Range International properly eviscerates 60 Minutes and Lara Logan for a lame ass piece of reporting on Special Forces (who don’t come out looking too hot themselves) in Afghanistan.

 

DOD releases the Quadrennial Defense Review.  The Atlantic Council has an analysis.

 

Republicans take on the Military over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen (who was nice enough to once give me a coin) is an American Hero.

 

Foreign Affairs has a nice compendium on what to read on foreign aid along with a breakdown of the three main competing approaches to foreign assistance.

 

State & USAID’s FY11 Budget Request is released, increasing the size of both organizations and expanding the foreign assistance budget.  The folks at the Center for Global Development see it as a strong signal for development.   Some in Congress fear that with 10% employment and other urgent issues here at home, it will face a “difficult political environment.”

 

The Economist reviews the Bill Gates’ 2010 Annual Letter on development.

 

The State Department’s dueling Twitterati.

 

Henry Kissinger pens an op-ed in the Washington Post advising the Obama Administration to focus his Iraq policy on more than just troop withdrawals.  

 

John Robb on a “Byzantine”  grand strategy for American foreign policy. (Hint:  Avoid COIN like the plague). 

 

Some Haitians want the U.S. to take over.  Also, who’s paying for Haiti?

 

Mountain Runner who is a must read for all things related to public diplomacy highlights an article by former U.S. Information Agency Associate Director Walter Yates entitled: “The Voice of America: Origin and Recollections.”

 

And finally, the proposed Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is rejected because his name when translated into Arabic means “biggest dick.” 

 

Wednesday
Feb032010

New FY'11 State Department Budget Request Released

The Obama Administration released its Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for State and USAID (all 791 pages of it) on Monday.  As with most matters related to Foggy Bottom or the RRB, The Cable’s Josh Rogin has the goods.

 

Here's a summary:

 

 

The request is for $52.8 billion, a 10% increase over FY10.  Of note is the creation of 599 new jobs for State and USAID to support foreign operations, about 75% of which will be overseas.  Rogin also has a rundown of various DOS bureaus that are supposed “winners” and “losers” in the budget. 


Also in the request is that State will take over the $1.2 billion Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Funding program from DOD, which is used to train Pakistan’s military.  Rogin quotes unnamed sources who suggest that if DOS can manage the funds properly, they may be able to take over in the next year the “1206” account, a half billion dollar program managed by DOD to train foreign militaries outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.  This foreign assistance funding has been the subject of a turf war recently between the Departments of State and Defense over who would control the money.  


Laura Rozen over at Politico has some additional notes on the budget here, and Democracy Arsenal’s David Shorr sees the increase in personnel strength as good news.  He wrote a rather good article for the Foreign Service Journal where he highlights the lack of capacity State and USAID have when it comes to addressing stabilization challenges and explains why it’s important we invest in the workforces of our civilian agencies if we want to advance American interests in war-torn and developing countries. 



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.

 

Tuesday
Jan262010

U.S. Government Jobs in Post-Conflict Stabilization, State-Building, Humanitarian Aid, and Development

Here are a set of links to various USG departments and agencies you can join if you want a career (or at least part-time gigs) in war zones or developing nations carrying out diplomacy, defense, and development related activities.


U.S. Agency for International Development

USAID is the premier USG agency charged with disaster response and international development.  It’s tied with the U.S. military when it comes to post-conflict stabilization since so much of the “war after the war” is handled by troops on the ground.  Click here for descriptions of the various career tracks and employment opportunities being offered.  You can also click on these links for the currently available Civil Service (DC-based) positions, and both Junior Officer and Mid-Level career opportunities with the Foreign Service.  USAID is also offering a couple Foreign Service Limited (temporary) appointments to send General Development Officers to Afghanistan, which you can find here.

 

If you have grad degree, you may want to consider the relatively recent Development Leadership Initiative.  It’s a program that seeks to add 600 new Foreign Service officers to the agency by 2010.  In the 1990s USAID was in many ways hollowed out and ended up more or less becoming a contracting agency that outsourced its work to NGOs and for profits that make up Development, Inc.  DLI seeks to correct this, but the clock is ticking for those of you who want to get in while jobs are plentiful (relatively speaking).

 

Finally, there’s the Personnel Service Contracts.   These are employment contracts between individuals and USAID and are used throughout the globe.  You can choose a country where there is an AID mission and I’ve met some PSCs who are the entire AID mission, reporting to a regional office in another country.  Click here for the FedBizOpps site that lists all the opportunities. 

 

The Military

By which I mean the real military, such as the Army and Marine Corps.  The Navy and the Air Force do good work, no doubt, but when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and state-building missions, their assistance falls mostly under logistical and other support services.  This is not to say they aren’t on the ground at all, it’s just that for these two branches their primary missions involve air and sea dominance, and since humans don’t live in either of these places, most of the work is done by Soldiers and Marines.

 

If you really want to interact with the locals the best branch (as far as the Army is concerned) is Civil Affairs.  You can join the CA branch immediately as an enlisted soldier, but as an officer you have to spend a few years in one of the basic branches.  I recommend the Infantry, followed by Armor, since you’ll get to interface with the population a lot more than in a branch like Quartermaster or Adjutant General.  If you’re female, the Military Police or Engineers are the best choices since being in the first two aren't options, and because MPs and Engineers do have a large number of responsibilities outside the wire.   Click on the links to find the recruitment pages of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.

 

Department of State

Despite what many people claim or think, DOS is not really in the business of post-conflict stabilization or state-building.

As with USAID, there are several different ways to join.  Your two main options are as a Foreign Service officer, or by joining the Civil Service, though there’ are other ways which you can read up more on at the DOS Career’s page.   You can also take a non-career appointment as a direct hire, which has positions in the U.S. and abroad.

 

If you join the Foreign Service you’re going to spend your first few years sitting at a window processing visa apps and performing other consular services, which is a gate through which all FSOs must past.  After that, depending on your “cone” (career field), you’ll be engaging in a variety of work overseas, including analysis (cables are the bread and butter of the Foreign Service) and “public diplomacy” activities to increase America favorability rating. 

 

If you join DOS’s Civil Service, there’s a wide range of things you can do that are similar to what FSOs do overseas, but you be doing so domestically, and you’ll be avoiding the visa work.  The main problem though is that you’ll be somewhat of a second-class citizen . . . DOS prioritizes the work and careers of FSOs over those in the Civil Service, and poor leadership and management skills help exacerbate the problem.  The benefit is you get to remain in the U.S. and can spend your entire career in one location, and if you’re DC-based, can likely network your way up. 

 

For immediate openings in Iraq and Afghanistan, (what’s known as 3161 positions, after the legislation authorizing the practice), you can go to USAJOBS and do a query by location.  You can also just click here for Iraq, and here for Afghanistan.  

 

The Peace Corps

If you’re young, joining the Peace Corps as a volunteer is a great way to get some local level development experience that you can leverage into a career appointment with State or USAID, or to get a job with non-governmental organization.  You don’t even need a college degree . . . just be 18 and a U.S. citizen.  You can even be a retiree.  Joining the Peace Corps has some other benefits . . . you get free foreign language study and the opportunity to use it in your duty location, and there are also student loan repayment programs.

 

Being a Peace Corps volunteer isn’t necessarily easy, however.  You’ll often be the only American in your village or town, and will be living amongst the people, which mean you’ll likely have the same quality of life standards.  This isn’t a bad thing as it will help you bond with those you’re helping and better understand their needs (and appreciate how lucky one is to live in the U.S.).  It also means you’ll have the sort of cultural immersion experiences few Western expats ever get to have.  Click here for the how to apply and become a volunteer.

 

USDA Foreign Service

Until I started working for the Department of State, there was one facet of the U.S. government that I never even knew existed: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service

 

Their mission is to “improve foreign market access for U.S. products, build new markets, improve the competitive position of U.S. agriculture in the global marketplace, and provide food aid and technical assistance to foreign countries.”

 

Right now there are USDA FAS personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan helping to assess agricultural needs and advise on projects to support agricultural reconstruction, as well as build the capacity of local agricultural officials to develop and implement agricultural extension and development programs.  Since both countries have populations that rely to a large extent on subsistence farming and are capable of growing crops but don’t export them due to cost concerns, the work they’re doing is incredibly important.

 

Click here for specific Iraq FAS job information, and here for Afghanistan. 

 

The FBI, Homeland Security, or CIA

All these agencies have personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are all intelligence focused.  You’re not going to be doing humanitarian or traditional development work though you may engage in state-building via Security Sector Reform (SSR), which includes training and providing advisory support to local institutional leaders.  For the most part though, you’ll be handling assets, conducting investigations, and analyzing information. 

 

Click on the following links for the career opportunities pages of the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security.

 

That’s all I have.  I’ll be doing more jobs posts this week and next.  If anyone reading thinks I’m forgetting any opportunties, go ahead and let me know in the comments section.



Monday
Jan252010

How to Get a Job in Iraq or Afghanistan with the Federal Government 

I’m often asked about how to get a job in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Many people want a State Department or USAID  job or something with an NGO doing humanitarian aid or development. 

 

Unfortunately, if you’re young and just out of college or are not a federal employee in a relevant agency (such as State, USAID, DOJ, CIA, FBI, or USDA), the chances of getting to Iraq or Afghanistan under the auspices of the U.S. government are slim.  One reason for this is most positions in Iraq require men and women with experiences and specialized skills that are difficult to acquire.  Employers desire people who have worked in a war zone or developing country before, in addition to knowledge of how to work with local government officials or properly design and implement assistance projects.   Many positions also require interagency experience and knowledge of how the federal government operates in conflict zones.

 

If you have what it takes to work in Iraq or Afghanistan (or at least think you do) and you’re not a member of the federal government, then the number one resource for finding positions to do post-conflict stabilization, humanitarian aid, or development work (or intelligence, public affairs, management or IT) is  USAJOBS, “the official job site of the US Federal Government.”  Just type Afghanistan or Iraq into the search function and it’ll pull up everything that’s currently available along with duties, qualifications needed, and the benefits that come with employment.  Best of all, you can apply online.

 

To maximize your chances, make sure you have a resume that conforms to the federal resume standards.  Use this handbook to get a sense of what’s expected.  Also plan on answering a lot of questions in a way that clearly and concisely shows you’re qualified for the position.  These questions are known as “KSAs” and are used to determine if you have the requisite Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities to do the job.  In order to get my position at a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq with the Department of State I had to answer nearly thirty questions, about two-thirds of which were writing intensive.  Once I was short-listed I had to answer about ten more...which took two days to knock out at a coffee shop in Dubai.  I recommend copying and pasting the questions into a Word document and taking your time to do them properly, in part because there is no spell check function on the USAJOBS entry boxes.  Using Word also allows you to save your responses so you can copy and paste them to other applications.

 

Beware of positions that that have an opening date (when it’s first posted) and closing date (the deadline for applicants) that is only two weeks.  By law most federal jobs have to be advertised, but the reality is the person who will fill that position has been identified and the human resources official posting it is just going through required hiring process.  You can still apply for the job, but you’re likely not going to get it.  Your best bet is for positions with multiple openings and with closing dates that are months from now. 

 

For more information, the USAJOBS site has some resume and KSA tips here.  I’ve also found this site to be useful.   You may also want to consider hiring a professional resume writer.  When I left the Army I used a professional service and paid about a $100 to have one done up in the federal style.  I sent in my original resume, my officer evalution reports, spent about 30-45 minutes on the phone with the writer, and went through 4-5 drafts with her.  The result was an end product far superior to anything I could have written myself.


Scoring a position in Iraq or Afghanistan with the federal government isn’t an easy thing to do unless you’re already in an agency that has responsibilities in these countries.  Such individuals have already gone though a long and comprehensive vetting process and there are certain key positions that can only be filled by permanent members of the civil or foreign service. From an HR perspective they’re also easier to manage, since you don’t need to recruit and vet new staff.  If you really want to spend a career in war zones or developing nations helping with the civilian side of post-conflict stabilization, then you should seriously consider joining USAID or State as a career member of the Civil or Foreign Service.   Once you do there’s almost a 100% chance you’ll be sent to a war zone or developing nation within your first couple years of employment if you request it.

 

Tuesday
Dec152009

USG to Hire Up to 1000 New Aid Experts & Foreign Service Officers

From Ivy Mungal at DEVEX:

 

The U.S. government may hire as many as 1,000 aid experts and foreign service officers in the coming year, after Congress finally passed a broad 2010 budget bill that includes funding for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and Millennium Challenge Corp.

 

This breaks down to about 300 new USAID personnel and 700 new foreign service officers.  The Peace Corps and Millennium Challenge Corporation are each getting a funding increase too, but no word on what that will mean in terms of staff.  It's worth noting that the 300 new USAID personnel are going to be brought on under the Development Leadership Initiative, essentially, an attempt to rebuild USAID's permanent foreign service workforce.  That means they'll be technical experts working overseas and not managing contracts from the RRB.

 

Click here for a copy of the Senate Committee on Appropriations Foreign Operations Summary with all the details.

 

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.