Ideas to Action:

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This is a joint post with Casey Dunning.

One of the stand-out attributes of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is its board of directors.  It’s chaired by the Secretary of State; vice-chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury; and includes the USAID Administrator, U.S. Trade Representative, the MCC CEO, and four public (non-government) members.  The board plays an active and important role in MCC decision-making.  But right now, three of the four public board seats are vacant.

MCC’s legislation requires the four public MCC board members to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.  Majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate each nominate an individual (for a total of four board positions) that the White House then approves. Previous public board members Alan Patricof and Lorne Craner have both agreed to stay on for a second term, but their names await approval from the White House (and are currently not listed on the MCC website).  The fourth spot – recently held by Catholic Relief Services president Ken Hackett who served two terms – is entirely vacant.  The list of nominees to replace Hackett is reportedly with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office and has not yet made its way to the White House for approval.

Why do the empty MCC board seats matter?

1. Don’t mess with a good thing. The MCC public board members provide critical, independent voices and expertise on country selection, economic growth and poverty reduction analyses, compact approval and termination, risk assessment and more. The board is one of the most unique and innovative aspects of the MCC. While we struggle to make sense of the rest of our development apparatus, why let one of the brighter spots in the system suffer from benign neglect?

2. Don’t kill the (good) messengers. As non-government representatives, the four public board members are in many ways the most effective MCC messengers. They are closely linked to important constituencies from NGOs and the private sector and given the nature of their nominations, they come with strong ties to Congress too.

3.  Time’s a-wasting. The MCC is currently undergoing important policy reviews that will have deep effects on future MCC practices: a change to candidate categories, a conceptual shift in the threshold program, and a total review of the selection indicators.  The MCC is also trying to enhance its engagement with the private sector (the same sector absent from the board right now). The MCC is about to complete its first compacts, turn policy reviews into reality, and decide on FY2011 country selection. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is undertaking two major reviews of U.S. development policy and Congress is drafting new foreign assistance legislation. It’s a terrible time to be missing a third of the board of directors and three out of the four public board members.

The MCC, Senator Reid, and the White House should ensure the three remaining seats are filled before the September 15th board meeting.