It’s been a busy time for Connie Veillette, director of the Rethinking US Foreign Assistance Initiative here at the Center for Global Development. Last week we hosted a major address by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah describing the achievements of his first year in office and his ambitious plans for modernizing the agency. No sooner had Shah finished speaking than a group of Republican legislators proposed a budget cutting plan that would zero out USAID’s operating budget. I was eager to learn how Connie—an advocate for effective aid who spent much of her career working for Republicans on Capitol Hill—would assess these developments.
Connie says that Shah’s speech let the aid community know how serious he is about reforming USAID and offered important details both on future plans and on the progress that has already been made. (You can see her post assessing the speech, and opportunities and challenges for USAID here.) Shah, she tells me, has invested a lot of thought and hard work towards attaining greater efficiencies and effectiveness, incorporating rigorous evaluation in major projects, creating a culture of innovation, and being more selective in what USAID attempts to do, and where. We discuss Shah’s commitment to new cost-saving reforms, and his support of new evaluation efforts to learn what works, and what doesn’t.
I asked Connie what she makes of the proposal from the Republican Study Committee to eliminate the USAID operating budget. She says that the proposal seems to oddly confuse the agency with U.S. assistance, eliminating the operating budget for the former while leaving aid levels themselves pretty much untouched. See her blog post: Proposed Budget Cuts Confuse Aid with AID in which she floats an alternative proposal that would save more money by cutting aid levels, while leaving USAID the resources it needs to ensure that U.S. assistance is well used.
Towards the end of our talk, I asked Connie for her views on a private roundtable with Shah that she chaired following the speech. The discussion included former USAID administrators and prominent individuals associated with foreign assistance, who responded to Shah’s request for advice on how to proceed in the current, tough political climate. According to Connie: “It was a great opportunity to bring people together who had been in this world at some point in their lives and knew how to advocate and win battles… He got of good advice.” Topping the list: ask Congress to authorize a small number of USAID “Charter Missions” that would increase efficiency and effectiveness with a special mandate to set aside unnecessary and often contradictory bureaucratic regulations, while being held accountable for key outcomes.
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My thanks to Wren Elihai for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and to Will McKitterick for drafting this blog post.