I blogged recently on USAID’s ongoing procurement reform here. But it seems to be designing and instituting this reform without input from its own formally constituted advisory committee composed of representatives of the industry that will be affected.
The Department of State has 20 formally constituted advisory committees, but the only one associated with USAID is its “Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid” (or “ACVFA”), which has its own web site here. First established by President Truman in 1946, this committee’s objective is “To serve as a focal point for relations between the U.S. Government and private and voluntary organizations active in the fields of relief, rehabilitation and development overseas.” It has an interesting set of 6 subcommittees on Economic Growth, Governing Justly and Democratically, Humanitarian Assistance, Implementation Mechanisms, Investing in People, Monitoring and Evaluation, Public Outreach. According to its current justification page*, the committee did not meet in 2010 “but plans to resume meetings in 2011”.
It’s members include representatives from for-profit and non-profit private sector implementers of US foreign assistance programs who are large contributors to and stakeholders in US foreign assistance. As contributors, the quality and energy of their efforts are major determinants in the success of our foreign assistance policy. Some of them, like CARE, not only bid for and implement government contracts to provide technical or humanitarian assistance, but also raise their own money privately. As stakeholders, each individually stands to gain or lose financially from the ongoing procurement reform. They also have views on how to make procurement work better, but their views might be difficult to distinguish from self-interested special pleading.
So why has USAID avoided using this committee for input on its procurement reform plans? In addition to the awkward problem of distinguishing the technically useful suggestions they might have received from the self-interested special pleading, there might have been a legal problem. The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) which provides the legislative authority for the ACVFA requires that each member sign a declaration that he or she is not a lobbyist. While the general discussions about how to improve foreign assistance that have been typical of past ACVFA agenda might be safe from the charge that the committee members are lobbying, explicit discussions of how USAID might best reform procurement might require virtually all members of the committee to recuse themselves. Better not to have the meeting at all?
* - To see the posted information on USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid, navigate your browser to the FACA database here. You don’t need to log on. Just click on the underlined word “Search” at the top of this page. Then in the space designated “Search for Committee by Name or Number”, enter the number 164, which is the identifier for this USAID committee. You will see a menu of items specific to this particular committee. Clicking on the “Justification” or the “Members” menu choices will bring up the information I refer to in the text of this blog.