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Raj Shah officially announced Wednesday what has long been rumored—after five years serving as USAID Administrator, he's leaving one of the more thankless positions in Washington. 

Shah brought USAID new ideas and initiatives, sometimes to a fault according to some USAID insiders. But his real legacy may turn out to be a bureaucratically strengthened USAID—something his Bush Administration predecessor, Henrietta Fore, made possible by securing new technical positions at the agency. Three unsexy-sounding reforms under Shah’s USAID Forward make it conceivable, if built upon in the next administration, that USAID could recover the standing it lost back in the 1980s as a "global leader on development policy” and be much more than a “projects” shop:

  • Procurement reform, including a (still too modest) shift away from the quasi-monopoly of big US private contractors in delivering projects;
  • A policy shop—because change in low-income countries is as much about policy fixes as about money; and
  • A budget and planning office to back up initiatives like Feed the Future.

But two legacies are at stake here. For President Obama to secure his administration’s development legacy, the President must appoint a new administrator. An acting administrator will not have the political power to institutionalize President Obama’s signature development initiative, Power Africa (see Shah and Nancy’s conversation on the initiative) or push USAID’s voice in interagency conversations. And hey, at least a new USAID Administrator would be easier to confirm than an ambassador to Cuba!




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.