The Perfect Game of (State of the Union) BINGO

January 13, 2012
This is a joint post with Christopher Molitoris. On Tuesday, January 24, President Obama will deliver his third State of the Union address to Congress, the American public, and global audiences seeking to better understand the domestic and foreign policy priorities for the United States in 2012.   With a presidential election year in full swing and a still-uncertain U.S. economic recovery, it’s unlikely global development will get much mention in the president’s address.  But that won’t stop us at CGD from tuning in to assess the president’s remarks using our state-of-the art policy proclamation evaluation instrument: CGD State of the Union Bingo.Together with CGD friends and colleagues, we’ll track in real-time how the president measures up to his commitment to development by listening for the key development-relevant words listed on our bingo cards.  Will he mention his new pledge to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment? Pakistan? Climate? Trade?Fun and games aside, we hope to hear indications of President Obama’s foreign and development policy goals in the coming year and signs that he’ll follow through on past promises.  To highlight areas where we think it’s politically plausible for the president to make specific commitments, we’ve created our dream winning bingo card, complete with the words we hope to hear the president say. The winning squares represent practical and realistic policies that would benefit the United States and poor people in the developing world and—importantly—that the president could enact without new legislation:

Pakistan:  “Despite recent deterioration in the U.S. – Pakistan relationship, I want to confirm America’s long-term commitment to the Pakistani people by establishing a new facility for small business lending in Pakistan.”Even though Congress didn’t provide an authorization for the creation of a Pakistani-American Enterprise Fund in the megabus spending bill (as the draft FY2012 Senate Foreign Ops explicitly did), enterprise funds are not the only tool for encouraging business development in Pakistan, nor does the Administration need any specific Congressional authorization to take action.  Building off previous joint efforts in Palestine, Egypt and Jordan, a USAID-OPIC partnership could provide a combination of loan guarantees and technical assistance (to both lenders and borrowers) to Pakistani small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  Because OPIC and USAID have engaged in similar partnerships together, there is a clear roadmap for making this happen.Haitian Family Reunification Program As part of our support for recovery in Haiti, I am directing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to create a Haitian Family Reunification Program that would expedite the admission to the United States of Haitians who are the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent U.S. residents.”Migration is already a proven and powerful force for reducing Haitians’ poverty.  A program for Haiti similar to the Cuban Family Reunification Program would allow already approved beneficiaries of family-based permanent residence (“green card”) petitions to live and work in the United States while they wait for a visa. These beneficiaries come from the much larger contingent of Haitians who have already been approved for a family-based visa petition, but because of the visa backlog, must wait anywhere between three and 11 years for a visa. It is time they are reunited with their families, and begin happy and productive lives contributing to communities here in the United States. About 15,000 people would be admitted under such a program.Global Health – “I am instructing that full leadership of the U.S. Global Health Initiative be passed to the premier development agency, USAID.”Shortly after taking office in 2009, the Obama administration launched the $63 billion Global Health Initiative (GHI).  But three years later the Initiative languishes without centralized leadership, and each participating agency issues its own global health strategy (see here and here).  If GHI is to succeed at what it was created to do –  integrate USG-supported health and disease programs into a single coherent whole – then the GHI should be under a single leader with the entire budget residing in one agency.  As Nandini Oomman has pointed out, USAID is better-equipped than any alternative USG agency to be that leader.  There have been steps to nudge the process along, like the State Department’s QDDR, which suggests that USAID would assume leadership of the GHI by September 2012 and the recently passed megabus spending bill which requires a status report by mid-February on the transition of the GHI to USAID leadership.  But with 2012 underway and these deadlines approaching quickly, the administration needs to make some difficult decisions quickly and transition the GHI to USAID once and for all.Transparency – “In order to increase the transparency in how we do business both home and abroad, I have directed USAID, the Pentagon, and soon all government agencies, to start publishing their contracts.”Private contractors in the United States and across the developing world cost governments and taxpayers billions in mismanagement, inefficiency, and corruption. The Pentagon’s $640 toilet seats or roads in developing countries that cost 50 percent more because of bribes are just some examples. CGD senior fellow Charles Kenny argues that contract transparency, or publishing government contracts with private contractors, can reduce costs, fight corruption, and improve public oversight. The President should commit to publish the full text of government contracts and encourage other countries to do the same as a vital step towards open government and better governance worldwide.U.S. Development Bank – “My administration will reorganize a number of existing policy tools, institutions, and mandates, to create the United States Development Bank.”In his last State of the Union, President Obama announced a plan to reorganize the 12 federal agencies that promote U.S. exports, and last week he asked Congress for authority to proceed with this reorganization. Todd Moss and Ben Leo have suggested a complementary approach: creating a U.S. Development Bank. The bank, built around the money-earning Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), would promote business while shrinking the budget deficit. It also supports development and national security priorities at a time when traditional aid faces cuts.What do you hope to hear from President Obama?  Let us know which words would be on your dream bingo card in the comments section below.  And wherever you tune in to the State of the Union address, bring CGD’s 2012 State of the Union Bingo cards and play along.  We’ve updated the online version so you can participate on your iPad, smart phone, or laptop (or go old-school and print them out!)  Win or lose, we hope President Obama’s address sparks thoughtful discussions about the importance and future of the U.S.’s role in global development.


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.