The Farmer Out of the Dell: Who's Next in the USAID Courtship Ritual?

August 07, 2009

As others before me have reported, Paul Farmer, the longest-rumored contender for the USAID Administrator nomination, is out of the running. And so begins again a courtship ritual that, funny enough, is captured in the old children’s rhyme that bears his name. Not so funny is the fact that seven months into an administration that ran on a smart power platform promising to elevate development to equal footing with diplomacy and defense, there is still no appointee at the helm of the agency charged with executing U.S. development policy and foreign assistance. (Yeah, yeah, I know the Secretary of State is technically in charge since USAID is a sub-cabinet agency. But as I have said before, she has a full-time job on the diplomacy front and needs a powerful wingman 24/7 on the development front.)I can’t help but chuckle at myself for thinking that, back in January, the president would signal his bold new approach to foreign policy and global engagement by nominating his USAID Administrator alongside his National Security Advisor, Secretaries of State and Defense, and Ambassador to the United Nations as part of his 21st Century National Security Team. When the USAID Administrator still hadn’t been named within the first hundred days, I stopped chuckling. Another hundred days later, front-page Washington Post news items and op-eds in the New York Times reflect the growing frustration within the growing constituency for global development. Seriously, why is it that administrators have been named for GSA, EPA, SBA and NASA but we can’t find and keep a candidate for administrator of USAID?Some blame it on the vetting process, an arduous task for any nominee but perhaps more arduous for USAID Administrator. A good candidate should have experience in developing countries and with foreign nationals, a quality that adds more time to form filling (i.e. listing every “foreign national” the candidate has had contact with) and the vetting process. Working overseas or in international organizations also complicates tax filings which come under microscopic scrutiny during the confirmation process--something that can catch legitimate problems but also scare off candidates.While it is still unclear whether it was the vetting process that caught or exasperated Farmer, I have to think that earlier rumored candidates, and most high-level potentials, simply aren’t interested in a position that no longer reports on a daily basis to the Secretary of State (as she herself clarified in her recent Town Hall meeting at USAID) and instead reports to her deputy. An arduous vetting process coupled with diminished authority is a virtual perfect storm for leaving the post vacant and the elevation of development and reform of foreign aid stalled.And so, as it appears we are back to square one in terms of a search for USAID Administrator, let’s start here a list of candidates you would like to see considered. I’ll start:Sylvia Mathews BurwellStu Eizenstat


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.