Share

Horse RaceOne hundred days into the Obama administration many in the development community are asking: where is the USAID administrator? Impatience is mounting for news of leadership on development policy and reform of U.S. foreign assistance. President Obama named his picks to lead defense and diplomacy—Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton—well before he took office. But despite the lofty rhetoric during the campaign and transition about using the full set of smart power tools—defense, diplomacy and development—a nomination for the top development job has yet to be made.

How does this compare with presidents past? George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all got their first USAID administrator out of the starting gate faster than Obama.

President USAID Administrator Dates and Details
George W. Bush Andrew S. Natsios Nominated February 2001; confirmed April 30, 2001
Bill Clinton J. Brian Atwood Nominated April 1993; confirmed May 10, 1993
George H.W. Bush Alan Woods/Mark Edelman Alan Woods carried over from Reagan until he passed away in June 1989; Mark Edelman took over in July 1989
Ronald Reagan Peter McPherson Confirmed by February 1981
Jimmy Carter John Gilligan Confirmed by March 1977

Interestingly, J. Brian Atwood’s USAID confirmation hearing was held on Clinton’s hundredth day in office and Atwood started running USAID May10. But barring a big announcement in the next few days and lightning-quick action from the Senate, it is unlikely that Obama will name an administrator of USAID and have him or her confirmed by May 10.

Some may argue that no incoming president in recent history has faced the multitude of crises that Obama and his team are currently trying to tackle. And of course, should a USAID head be named and confirmed by even the end of May, the Obama administration won't be so far behind the others. The real issue is that the 2008 elections and Obama’s own campaign raised expectations for making development a national priority.

Both John McCain and Obama (as well as many of their primary opponents) spoke of global development as a key pillar of U.S. national security, prosperity and image in the world. Obama, in his global development strategy, said he would lead an effort to modernize U.S. foreign assistance and elevate, streamline and empower a 21st century U.S. development agency which would be “essential to ensuring that development is established and endures as a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy.” And both Democratic and Republican party platforms recognized the importance of development policies as part of the U.S. national interest, and vowed to dramatically overhaul U.S. foreign assistance (see Development Shows Up at U.S. Presidential Conventions and in the Party Platforms for more details).

President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates all support better U.S. development policy as part of smarter U.S. foreign policy. But while they are off and running to confront a multitude of global challenges, their development leader has yet to even make it to the starting gate.