All good mysteries contain twists of plot, characters and motive. The saga of a leaderless USAID keeps on delivering on all three fronts. Last week, you all took out your calendars and saw that if an Administrator was to be in place by year-end, the nominee would need to be an already-vetted official. And you voted -- the vast majority did not think the administration would nominate someone in time, and you were split on whether expediency via the already-vetted candidate was the best approach. Well, the plot now thickens: on November 16, Alonzo Fulgham will need to relinquish his Acting Administrator title and, without a nominee, the position will be entirely vacant.
According to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, during Presidential transitions, vacancies can be filled through an "acting" capacity for no more than 300 days (in non-transition years, it is 210 days; an extra 90 days is provided to accomodate the burden of transition):
"(b) With respect to any vacancy that exists during the 60-day period beginning on a transitional inauguration day, the 210-day period under section 3346 or 3348 shall be deemed to begin on the later of the date occuring--
(1) 90 days after such transitional inauguration day; or
(2) 90 days after the date on which the vacancy occurs."
November 16th is that 300 day mark. So then what happens? Presumably, Alonzo returns to his original role as Chief Operating Officer. And, presumably, he would be able to carry out the majority of functions of the Administrator through routine, standing delegations but could only sign any actions as COO. Or the functions could be performed by Jack Lew who, as Deputy Secretary of State, already de facto has those authorities. And if there is a nominee before November 16th, Alonzo will be able to continue as Acting Administrator, via the "spring back provision" until the nominee is confirmed. How will this ever-twisting mystery end? It's anyone's guess at this point. But we are at the stage where underlying motives and plans for the longer-term role and positioning of USAID may become more clear. Keep an eye on the following for signs of the degree of autonomy and elevated voice intended for USAID:
1. What "character" in the story will assume the authorities of Administrator? Jack Lew or Alonzo as COO?
2. How hard will the State Department fight S.1524, the Kerry-Lugar Foreign Assistance Reform and Accountability Act? Recognizing that no administration wants its operations mandated through legislation, particularly when it is trying to fix them on its own (ref: the QDDR), if the State Department is serious about elevating development policy and reforming foreign assistance, they should be heading in the direction of the bill anyway -- creating a strong policy and evaluation function in USAID. Will State Department fight to kill it or work with Congress to negotiate a bill of shared interest?
3. How will USAID (and MCC and PEPFAR for that matter) fare in the Presidential Study on U.S. development policy when the interagency takes on the final phase of "organizing for success?"
Or maybe, just maybe, we'll get an actual nominee -- recent activity on our poll shows an unusual flurry of write-ins for Raj Shah, currently serving as Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics at USDA. Could this be the final twist of fate?
UPDATE: For those interested in the details of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, including the "spring back provision," I find this set of Q&A hugely helpful.