USAID — In the State Department’s Orbit

The SFRC held a hearing yesterday on USAID in the 21st Century. The three witnesses at the Senate panel have similar things to say about the state of USAID: the impact of the creation of the “F” Bureau at the State Department, a seat at the National Security Council, the loss of USAID’s autonomy and what that means. Below are some of my selected excerpts:

From Andrew Natsios, USAID Administrator from 2001 to 2005: Full testimony here (pdf).

“The current gradual absorption of USAID by stealth into the State Department through the merging of the agency’s budgeting system, procurement, electronic mail system, its logistics, office space, motor pool, reduction in USAID field presence, and warehousing capability in the field, is gradually eroding the Agency’s capacity to carry out its mission. OMB has been facilitating this merger using the argument of efficiency, ignoring the program consequences of this merger. I believe the result will be organizational failure. Unless this trend is reversed the foreign aid program of the US government will end up the way our public diplomacy program did when State absorbed USIA. USAID and State are like oil and water. This is not an attack on the State Department. I served as a diplomat for a time and I must say I have great respect for our diplomats and for the fine work the State Department does around the world, but that work should not be confused with development.”

“One of the principles of war I learned as a military officer was unity of command; that should be equally true for aid programs with the US government as well.”

“I would urge Congress to support the tripling of the size of the USAID foreign service to 3000, which would require a relaxing of Embassy restrictions on the size of USAID field staffs, the rewrite of the Embassy security statute to allow more flexibility to get staff to the field and then let them leave the embassy compounds more regularly. The Embassy Security Act is now a serious impediment for USAID getting its work done.”

From Steven Radelet, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development (he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Africa, the Middle East, and Asia from January 2000 through June 2002) Full testimony here:

“The U.S. development voice is more like a choir, without a conductor. We have twenty-some different agencies with different policy objectives, structures, and bureaucracies and little strategic oversight and coordination. And that is just our foreign assistance.”

“As a real signal of the importance of development in national security, the USAID Administrator should be included as a member of the National Security Council and other high-level interagency deliberative bodies.”

“Although the F-Bureau was created in part to better coordinate and elevate foreign assistance, it has come at the expense of a weakened USAID and has divorced on-the-ground implementation of programs from the important policy and budgetary decisions that underpin them.”

From Carol Lancaster, who was deputy administrator at USAID (She is currently Assistant Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and was previously Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1980–81): Full testimony here.

“USAID has become little more than an implementing agency for programs decided in the Department of State (the “F bureau and elsewhere). During the reforms associated with “Transformational Diplomacy” in the Bush administration, most of the policy and budgetary expertise in USAID was relocated to the F Bureau, taking away from the Agency the capacity to analyze and develop US development policies and link budgets to policies.”

“My greatest concern about the future of USAID is not about any of these internal challenges or about inter-agency collaboration. It is about where USAID is now located – integrated into the Department of State in most essential ways (planning and budgeting) except for its personnel service.”

“The danger is that the more USAID is drawn into the State Department orbit, the more its development assistance programs and the more all US aid programs become tools primarily of diplomacy. One key reason for this tendency is that not only USAID’s autonomy but its development voice will be lost. Indeed, its autonomy is already lost.”

“If USAID is not to have a measure of autonomy from State, it must have a measure of protection for its mission within State. Its personnel system should become a new cone for State Department officers with appropriate training, rotation, promotion and other elements of an effective career system. There should be a new Deputy Secretary of State in charge of development – the post of Administrator of USAID is at the Deputy Secretary level and needs to have that degree of status and clout if development is to be an important pillar of US foreign policy.”

It seems to me that to a certain extent this is a bureaucratic struggle between State-USAID that almost mirrors the State-DOD struggle in foreign affairs, most especially in the area of public diplomacy. Except that DOD has not yet absorbed the PD expertise at State into the Pentagon, whereas, State has done that with the policy and budgetary expertise at USAID.

But if indeed development is the third stool in the new national security strategy that includes defense and diplomacy – then one might wonder how is it that USAID is not on equal footing with DOD and DoS? And really — how come we still do not know who will be its Administrator in the next four years?

Related Items:

The Honorable Andrew S. Natsios (pdf)
Distinguished Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Washington, DC

Dr. Steven Radelet (pdf)
Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development
Washington, DC

The Honorable Carol Lancaster (pdf)
Professor of Politics, Mortara Center for International Studies