“Development is not and cannot be a sideshow,” said U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) head Rajiv Shah, in a speech at the Center for Global Development
on January 19. This year marks the 50th anniversary of USAID
, and there are some promising changes in the works for the agency as it transforms itself into a “modern development enterprise
Over the past year, the Obama administration launched the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (the QDDR – see our full set of reviews on this first-of-its-kind document), Feed the Future, and the Global Health Initiative. In accordance with these new strategic initiatives, USAID has launched USAID Forward to implement a series of reforms to strengthen its capacity to meet the world’s development challenges effectively and efficiently. The agency has tried to foster a “spirit of innovation, science, technology, and smarter strategic thinking to each of [its] areas of core focus: gender, education, water, and climate,” said Shah. In his speech at CGD, he announced a new, re-worked evaluation policy and outlined a number of cost-saving actions, including graduating countries that no longer need aid, promoting procurement and contracting reform, and eliminating some costly senior positions in the agency.
Value to Shareholders
Moving forward, USAID is working to further reduce inefficiencies and increase transparency, said Shah, and is “focused on delivering the highest possible value for our shareholders – the American people and the congressional leaders who represent them.” He added that “like an enterprise, we’re relentlessly focused on delivering results and learning from success and failure.”
These are exciting changes for the development community. But, if Congress significantly cuts funding, by, for example, passing a plan similar to one endorsed by 165 Republican representatives a few weeks ago, these changes might not see the light of day – the plan proposed to save $1.39 billion by eliminating agency operating expenses. Putting that in perspective, the USAID operating budget for the past fiscal year was $1.69 billion. (Strangely, while the plan all but eliminates the agency that administers them, it does little to cut actual outgoing foreign assistance monies.)
The plan, however, may reflect the views of much of the American public. A World Public Opinion poll showed that Americans believe the government spends up to 25 percent of its budget on foreign aid and want to cut back to 10 percent, while in fact, aid represents just one percent of the federal budget (compared with more than 20 percent for defense).
What the proposed plan fails to take into account is development’s role in promoting peace, security, and prosperity globally. Said Shah at CGD, “as the President and the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense have all made abundantly clear, development is as critical to our economic prospects and our national security as diplomacy and defense.”
A More Efficient Investment
Shah elaborated on this idea in an interview with Foreign Policy last month: “In the military they call us a high-value, low-density partner because we are of high value to the national security mission but there aren’t enough of us and we don’t have enough capability,” he said. “This is actually a much, much, much more efficient investment than sending in our troops, not even counting the tremendous risk to American lives when we have to do that.”
Chad Briggs, a professor for the USAF Air University, pointed out the multiple benefits to the military that increased State and USAID agency in the field could provide in his review of the QDDR:
Considering the existing responsibilities of the United States overseas and the potential for future risks and crises that will need to be addressed, the QDDR’s recommendations to strengthen engagement abroad can only be a positive step for U.S. interests. If the various hurdles enumerated above and elsewhere can be addressed, the QDDR’s focus on emerging risks may also ease the burden on DOD resources and force deployments, recognizing that not every engagement abroad should be resolved by the military alone.If done right, development can provide both economic growth and democratic governance and help stabilize countries before, during, and after conflict or crisis in a cost-effective way while simultaneously addressing transnational human and environmental security issues like hunger, poverty, disease, and climate change (see Yemen for an example where the application of soft power now could reduce the chance of deploying more hard power later).
Policymakers should support USAID’s current efforts to make smarter investments, “which over time will save hundreds of millions of dollars, as opposed to trying to save a little bit now by cutting our capacity to do oversight and monitoring,” said Shah in Foreign Policy.
Sources: Center for Global Development, The Economist, Foreign Policy, USAID, U.S. Department of State, World Public Opinion.
Photo Credit: “Pallets of food, water and supplies staged to be delivered,” courtesy of flickr user USAID_Images.