The Tillerson Hearings

January 05, 2017

No one expects to hear much on development-related matters during next week’s hearing for Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. While Russia will almost certainly dominate, I expect members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to raise questions on climate change and perhaps a few on ongoing humanitarian crises. But even if they aren’t asked outright, I’ll be listening closely to Mr. Tillerson’s testimony for answers to some fundamental questions about what we can expect from the next four years for US development policy.

Will the isolationist rhetoric that featured so prominently in the campaign be translated into administration policy?

Alliances and foreign policy positions considered non-partisan sacraments were thrown into question during the campaign and continue to be turned topsy-turvy. Will Mr. Tillerson be able to convince his boss—and will he want to—that “America first” requires constructive engagement with the rest of the world, including on climate change and through our multilateral institutions?

Is development still a pillar of US foreign policy?

There has been a bipartisan consensus that development is a critical pillar in American foreign policy alongside defense and diplomacy. In part, it’s been a value proposition—development assistance is a cheap investment in American economic and security interests. But it’s also been a values proposition—it’s the right thing to do. Will that consensus hold with the Trump administration? And if not, will it continue in Congress?

Will reform become a not-so-coded word for cuts?

I can envision a set of smart, evidence-driven reforms for our development agencies. And then I can envision a money grab, pursued under the guise of “reform,” which undermines US development agencies and impact. Here’s hoping we end up with the first scenario.

Are big structural changes at State or our development agencies afoot?

There’s talk of moving USAID into the State Department, and certainly the potential for other moves to limit the aid agency’s budget and policy capabilities. I’m all for ensuring our development agencies are fit for purpose, but to do so will require far more than just a corporate org chart shuffle.

Evidence-driven policy or deal-making?

Our development agencies are making strides in doing and funding what works. Will an emphasis on sustainable results win the day, or are we moving toward a transactional view of development assistance?

Hints of development-related presidential initiatives or priorities?

We’ve seen a string of presidential legacies on development—from AGOA to PEPFAR and MCC to Feed the Future and Power Africa. Can we expect a development initiative from the Trump administration?

*CGD receives funding from ExxonMobil Foundation for research on women’s economic empowerment.


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.