The Obama administration’s new Feed the Future initiative awaits the appointment of what is being called a global food security “coordinator.” But a “coordinator” is not what this signature U.S. development program needs. It needs a leader: an official with policy and budget authority to execute his or her responsibilities. That leader should be USAID Administrator Raj Shah.
Why a leader and not a coordinator? U.S. development programs suffer from gross fragmentation and a confusing array of mandates and directives. The creation of another new coordinator for a single sector-focused initiative without making sense of the rest simply adds to the chaos. (And may eventually require a coordinator for all the new coordinators!) Moreover, one person needs to be accountable to President Obama, Congress and American taxpayers for the new resources. That same person must be accountable to Secretary Clinton, in whose department the initiative resides and to whom he or she would report.
Why the head of USAID? In her speech at CGD in January, Secretary Clinton vowed to “rebuild USAID into the world’s premier development agency”. This requires attracting and retaining staff who combine field experience and policy savvy, and letting them exercise both. Feed the Future is an opportunity to use current USAID staff expertise and to attract more of the best and brightest. USAID can also use its staff and presence in developing countries to garner input from the field—not Washington—on what is working and why. And USAID can use its reformed policy shop to learn from this feedback and make mid-course corrections.
Why Raj Shah? By happy accident, USAID Administrator Shah has enormous expertise in agriculture, having worked on these issues not only as under secretary for research, education and economics and chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also during his tenure at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And he has shown impressive leadership in his first months at USAID. Putting USAID Administrator Shah in charge of Feed the Future, my colleague Sarah Jane Staats suggested, is the simplest answer; it is also the best answer because of the mandate and expertise of the agency and its current leader.
Managing Feed the Future outside of USAID, without making USAID Administrator Shah responsible and accountable, would have to be read as a new rebuke to the agency and to him.