Heritage Reportedly to Recommend Full Merge of State/USAID, New Cone, Elimination of “J”, and More

Posted: 2:08 pm  PT
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James M. Roberts is a research fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth in the Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation. His bio says that he previously served as a foreign service officer at the State Department for 25 years and worked closely with USAID. As a Foreign Service Officer, he completed tours of duty at U.S. embassies in Mexico, Portugal, France, Panama and Haiti.  In an op-ed published on TheHill today, he writes that The Heritage Foundation will soon publish “a detailed background report with extensive analysis of the current dysfunctional state of U.S. government foreign assistance programs and detailed recommendations on how to fix them.” The op-ed includes highlights from that forthcoming report.

Excerpt via TheHill:

13 recommendations to reform U.S. foreign aid:

1. Eliminate duplicative foreign aid programs, improve coordination of remaining programs, end congressional “earmarks,” and terminate programs that do not work.

2. Replace USAID with a new “United States Health and Humanitarian Assistance Agency” (USHHAA) to manage all health and humanitarian assistance programs.

3. Fully integrate USHHAA into the State Department, with the USHHAA administrator reporting to the secretary of state as the under secretary of state for foreign assistance.

4. Merge State and USAID administrative functions in Washington and in the field. Put USAID’s Foreign Service Officers into a new “Assistance Cone” at State and consider more far-reaching reforms of the Foreign Service to give the U.S. government more flexibility to respond to future challenges.

5. Move all development assistance to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an independent agency that stresses the primary importance of the rule of law, effective governance, and recipient country accountability.

6. Transfer USAID’s Development Assistance account to the MCC and add the under secretary of state for foreign assistance to the MCC Board of Directors to better coordinate all U.S. foreign assistance.

7. Eliminate the under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, and eliminate or move its offices, bureaus, and responsibilities to other parts of the State Department or to USHHAA.

8. Eliminate the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and transfer policy responsibilities to the regional bureaus and the refugee assistance responsibilities to USHHAA.

9. Ensure that all other U.S. foreign aid programs at agencies as diverse as Justice, Interior, or Agriculture are coordinate and consult with the under secretary of state for foreign assistance. Technical or specialized assistance, such as responding to pandemics, should be led by the experts but coordination is critical to ensuring effective broader application of U.S. government resources.

10. End the role of the Department of Agriculture in food assistance by terminating the P.L. 480 program, with its inefficient shipping and purchase requirements. Give USHHAA full authority over all U.S. food assistance.

11. Eliminate outdated agencies such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the United States Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. These agencies were established in a world where private investment in developing countries was scarce. This is no longer the case. The focus should be to encourage developing countries to access these resources based on their policies, not send the message that government subsidies are necessary for development.

12. Re-designate the State Department’s Economic Support Fund account as the “Policy Goal Implementation Fund” with the express purpose of generating goodwill and support for U.S. foreign policy and security objectives, including promoting resilient, democratic, prosperous and secure societies around the world.

13. Better coordinate military and security assistance under the joint authority of the Departments of Defense and State.

Read the full piece here.

Other commentaries by Roberts include Why Trump’s Budget Proposal for the State Department Makes SenseTrump Wants to Shut Down OPIC. Will His Nominee Do It?Congress Should Support the Trump Administration’s Proposal to Close Down OPIC, and more here.

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Tillerson to Shut Down @StateDept’s Sounding Board, Erase 7 Years of Institutional Collaboration

Posted: 5:11 am ET
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On August 17, the State Department released an eDepartment Notice that the Sounding Board will be “retired” as of August 31st. A red banner reportedly went up on the Sounding Board site only on August 23 reminding users that the site will close on August 31 and that they should save any content they want to preserve in their local files before August 31st.  None of the contents in the Sounding Board will be archived.

The Sounding Board is an employee internal forum for ideas and collaboration launched in 2009 by then Secretary Clinton, and maintained throughout Secretary Kerry’s tenure.  Together with Communities and Corridor, they were all created and maintained to “enhance diplomatic initiatives by providing effective employee collaboration and information sharing capabilities.”

Some employees think of the Sounding Board as part of the agency’s process improvement and see it as a valuable feedback loop.  It is also a central repository of employee opinions and suggestions. In the last seven years, the Sounding Board was reportedly used by over 120,000 users, generating 4,000 ideas. It also resulted in the implementation of some 130 suggestions/requests. We understand that some of the implemented ideas include the creation of pedestrian walk signals outside the Harry S. Truman building which increased employee safety, the creation of ePerformance guides, improvements in the female bathrooms in HST and others that helped with employee engagement and morale.

The State Department did inform employees that it is planning on establishing a “new forum for employee suggestions and responses,” but apparently it did not explain what was wrong with the current Sounding Board, and why a new forum is considered necessary.  There is also no timeframe when the new forum will be operational and employees were instructed to use the Redesign Portal to provide their ideas to management in the meantime.

So after August 31, stuff will just go to some kind of “digital suggestion box” in the Portal and no one can see (presumably with the exception of those designated to watch the suggestion box) what topics are under discussion or what subjects are important to employees. Also — we have no way to verify this since we have no access to the portal —  apparently the ideas accepted in the Redesign Portal are restricted to topics related to the redesign effort only.  So how’s that going to work?  Does anyone know?

Employees were informed that they can still share their concerns with the Director General through the DGDirect email, and collaborate with others using Communities@State, an internal blogging program; and Corridor, an internal professional networking application. Those platforms, of course, are not suited for a community back and forth discussion that is unique in a forum setup.

So the State Department basically gave employees a 2-week notice that it is shutting down the Sounding Board, that the contents will not be archived or be available for viewing, and that the replacement forum will not be ready when the current forum shuts down next week.

Look, given that the State Department is already suffering from abysmal morale, this is one way of just digging a deeper hole. While we can understand why Secretary Tillerson and his circle might want to start from scratch with a new employee forum, this is not the way nor the time to do it.

Cost Savings

What savings do you get with a Sounding Board 2.0?  And seriously, what is wrong with the current Sounding Board? What is the justification for shutting it down? How much money does the State Department generate in savings in building a new forum vs. maintaining the old forum? For an agency with a 30% projected cut in funding, the questions “how much” and “why” deserve some answers.

Options

We expect that it would be objectively trivial in cost and time to preserve the Sounding Board. Some suggestions floating around:

1) Keep the Sounding Board “as-is” until the new forum is operational. Archive the Sounding Board when the new forum is activated.

2) Keep the Sounding Board “read-only” until the new forum is operational.  This would curtail the submission of new ideas but allow employees to read/view the archive as needed until the replacement forum is activated.

3) Hybrid Sounding Board/Redesign Portal, except that the “redesign” has a lifespan. If State bundles the Sounding Board with the Redesign Portal, what happens after the reorganization is completed? Bundling them together requires unbundling them later on, which we imagine could require more work than if it were a stand alone forum.

4) The Sounding Board is government record, is it not? Does the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the nation’s record keeper has anything to say about this planned destruction of government record?

Demolition

The State Department may call this the Sounding Board’s “retirement”but in fact, since its archive will not be retrievable/viewable, this is actually a demolition. And it’s not just the demolition of the employee forum itself, but a demolition of the employees’ collective ideas, contributions, and memories.  In reality, it would erased the last seven years of the institution’s collective work.

If the State Department goes through with this, it could only re-enforce employees perception that its new leadership does not walk the talk. You cannot say that the “Secretary values and wants employee feedback” and expect people to believe that if at the same time, you’re demolishing the system that affords employees the ability to provide feedback.

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U.S.Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Gets a Senior Advisor

Posted: 1:33 am ET
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