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Reorganization of USAID Is Focus of Senate Bill (Congressional Quarterly)

July 29, 2009

Congressional Quarterly quotes CGD deputy director for outreach and policy Sarah Jane Staats on U.S. foreign assistance reform.

Reorganization of USAID Is Focus of Senate Bill

A bipartisan group of leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee offered a significant addition to the debate on overhauling U.S. foreign aid Tuesday with legislation aimed at rebuilding the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The bill (S 1524) is designed to restore USAID as a center of technical expertise and development practice, a preliminary step to a broader revamp of aid programs. It follows pledges from foreign policy leaders in both the House and Senate to rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act (), which has not been completely rewritten since it was enacted in 1961, as well as calls for rebuilding from the State Department.

“There is clear, bipartisan momentum behind efforts to modernize the U.S. foreign assistance system to meet the diverse geopolitical and economic challenges we face,” George Ingram and David Beckmann, co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, an umbrella group seeking a broad reorganization, said in a statement. “While there are many issues to be resolved, we are optimistic about success because both houses of Congress and the Obama administration are making dynamic progress.”

This bill, to be marked up after the August recess, is sponsored by panel chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and ranking Republican Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, as well as Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the leaders of the subcommittee that oversees foreign aid.

In the House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., is building support for a bill (HR 2139) to require the administration to develop a broader, government-wide foreign assistance strategy.

The administration, meanwhile, announced earlier this month it would undertake a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, modeled on the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review.
‘Ready, Willing and Able’

Though these efforts share similar goals, there is growing impatience in some quarters for more progress, or at least a clear plan, from the Obama administration.

A reorganization of this size would require communication and buy-in from Congress and the administration, said Sarah Jane Staats, deputy director for Outreach and Policy at the Center for Global Development.
Kerry’s bill, she said, “sends a signal that Congress is ready, willing and able.”

The administration has requested money to build up the staff at USAID, but it has been slower to act. The White House has not announced a choice to head the agency, a situation that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called “frustrating beyond words” earlier this month.
The quadrennial diplomacy review comes in part in response to congressional prodding.

“Part of what we wanted to do was to do one before we found ourselves under a mandate,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, State Department director of policy planning, told reporters when it was announced July 10. Berman’s bill to authorize State Department and foreign affairs programs (HR 2410), which the House passed June 10, would require such a review.
USAID’s supporters complain it has become a contract manager, not a source of expertise or implementation. The agency needs to regain its ability to plan and evaluate a wide range of aid, Lugar said, and the Senate bill focuses on that.

“It is especially important that Congress weigh in on this issue because the administration has yet to appoint a USAID administrator or fill any confirmable positions in the agency,” he said.
The bill would establish a policy and planning office within USAID, functions the Bush administration moved to the State Department. It would create evaluation programs for both USAID and for aid programs across government. It also would call for a new hiring strategy designed to increase training and bring in experts from outside government.
“We have increased funds for development and elevated its priority, while allowing USAID to atrophy,” Lugar said. “We don’t really know whether these programs are complementary or working at cross-purposes.”