After raising expectations both on the Obama campaign trail and during the transition period that development would really not just rhetorically be a priority and an equal partner with diplomacy and defense in our national security apparatus, two notable actions occurred this week, just under the 100 day mark.
First, the President announced one of the three major development heads Eric Goosby as Global AIDS Coordinator. My colleague Nandini Oomman presents some good advice for Dr. Goosby as he takes up the reins of the ever-popular PEPFAR program in her recent blog. His nomination, ahead of USAID Administrator, took many by surprise. Nandini speculates that the administration prioritized PEPFAR over USAID because it is considered to be a strong program not in need of the kind of overhaul required of USAID. I suspect it's more about the fact that of the three major development agencies PEPFAR, the MCC, and USAID, PEPFAR's reporting and authority lines to State Department are the most clear and the least questioned. Whereas questions around the degree of authority and autonomy of the USAID Administrator from the State Department, particularly with the addition of second Deputy Secretary of State Lew in charge of resources and management, are probably making it harder to secure strong candidates. In the case of the MCC CEO, sadly, I suspect it is simply less on the radar screen, an unfortunate lack of prioritization for a program that is both innovative and filling a hugely necessary gap in U.S. foreign aid for economic growth.
The second action revving up the development engines is the introduction by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) Tuesday night of a new bill calling on the President to lead an interagency effort to design a national strategy for global development (NSGD). (Many of you will recall that creating a national strategy for global development was one of four priority actions from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and was the first step Steve Radelet and I recommended in our CGD White House and the World chapter and policy brief. The Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 is also being touted by Berman as a down-payment on a future comprehensive rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, as the Act contains, in addition to the NSGD, calls for massively stepped up and coordinated evaluation functions and transparency in all aid agencies.
So, two big and positive actions on the development agenda this week. Things seem to be stirring. But until the administration puts the "big dog," the USAID Administrator in place, major elevation and execution of a serious development policy and foreign assistance program simply can't take off. And the longer it sits, the harder it will be to teach the "old dogs" new tricks.