Ideas to Action:

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CGD in the News

October 6, 2017

President Trump Has No Idea What’s Happening in Puerto Rico (Washington Post)

From the op-ed:

Extraordinary crises are the acid test of presidential leadership.

As I learned while managing the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, a president’s personal engagement is the indispensable variable in ensuring a fully engaged federal crisis response. In the face of unusually complex and devastating emergencies, the federal government must transcend business-as-usual, mounting the sort of massive whole-of-government effort that only the president can fully mobilize. What the nation has witnessed in Puerto Rico over the past two weeks sadly demonstrates the inverse: the shortfalls that emerge when a president leaves a major federal disaster response on autopilot.

President Trump’s tactless comments during his visit to San Juan this week provide a good microcosm of the larger issue. Trump repeatedly downplayed the severity of the crisis; described his administration’s response as “incredible” and “unbelievable”; praised the then-official death toll of 16 as something Puerto Ricans “can be very proud of”; told disaster survivors at a distribution site “you don’t need” the flashlights he was handing to them; and claimed Puerto Rico had not experienced a “real catastrophe, like Hurricane Katrina.” Those remarks followed other comments from Trump and his senior advisers who have characterized the federal response as “amazing,” and “a good news story.”

As tone-deaf as Trump’s self-congratulations were, they reflect a much deeper problem than just a flawed communications strategy. The president’s remarks in Puerto Rico were factually wrong in ways that raise serious questions about whether he grasps the depth of the crisis — and whether he truly has a handle on the federal response.

Read full op-ed here.

September 29, 2017

Responding to Puerto Rico’s Disaster is Uniquely Complex. But Trump is Still Falling Short (The Washington Post)

From the op-ed:

A week on from Hurricane Maria’s landfall, Puerto Rico remains objectively devastated. Amid growing criticism, President Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke have forcefully defended the administration’s response, arguing the crisis conditions reflect unique challenges in Puerto Rico. Duke on Thursday proclaimed herself “very satisfied” with the response so far, calling it “a good news story.”

And yet nearly all of the island remains without power, almost half the population lacks safe drinking water, hospitals are struggling to keep the lights on and fuel shortages are making it hard to deliver aid to those who need it.

Is this the Trump administration’s “Brownie” moment? Or is the White House just getting a bad rap?

As the head of foreign disaster assistance during the Obama administration, I managed the responses to numerous large-scale disasters. It is true that the White House is facing legitimate hurdles, but its response could have been far better managed. Here are three factors important in assessing the quality of the response so far...

Read full op-ed here.

September 27, 2017

Puerto Rico Aid & the Jones Act Post-Hurricane Maria (CNN with Wolf Blitzer)

Center for Global Development senior fellow Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, talks disaster relief and recovery efforts, and weighs in on the Jones Act debate following Hurricane Maria on CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

September 26, 2017

Puerto Rico Aid & Recovery Efforts Post-Hurricane Maria (CNN)

Center for Global Development senior fellow Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, talks disaster relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.

August 13, 2017

With Budget Cuts Looming, US Aid Chief Vows To Do More With Less (Reuters)

From the article:

Facing potentially deep budget cuts to U.S. foreign aid, new USAID administrator Mark Green says he needs to do more with less and prove to President Donald Trump that development assistance can further his "America First" agenda...

But U.S. foreign assistance has traditionally garnered bipartisan support in Congress, which controls the aid purse strings. Green has stronger relations with lawmakers than his predecessors, who battled Congress on funding and objectives.

"What's very different for Mark Green is that his strongest allies are on the Hill," said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington. "Where he faces headwinds are with both the White House and the State Department."

"There is a real potential for conflicts in basic philosophy about what USAID does," added Morris.

Green is nevertheless sanguine about prospects for a downsized, budget-constrained USAID.

"We can't do everything," he said. "The resources are limited, so we have to prioritize."

Read full article here.

August 11, 2017

The Portfolio Model of Foreign Assistance (Foreign Affairs)

From the op-ed:

By Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Vice President for Global Development at InterAction, and Senior Associate with the Project on Prosperity and Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She was formerly Chief Strategy Officer for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

In the first half of this year, U.S. President Donald Trump [1]’s administration began to call for reform of the various agencies, offices, and programs that provide U.S. foreign assistance. In response, the foreign policy community produced several structural bureaucratic proposals. Organizations such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies [2], the Center for Global Development [3], and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network [4], as well as coalitions like InterAction [5] and the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid [6]all made various recommendations, ranging from the immediate incremental step of a multilateral foreign assistance review to a fundamental redesign that would integrate all smaller agencies into a single US global development structure.

If the United States wants to maximize the value of its foreign aid [7], it needs a fresh paradigm that supports the purpose of foreign assistance, acknowledges the aspects of international aid that it can alter through structural change, and acknowledges that there are global or market forces that remain beyond Washington’s control.

Read full op-ed here.

August 11, 2017

Concerned About US Safety? Focus On More Than the Military for National Security (International Policy Digest)

From the article:

While supplying aid to nations that rank high on subjective corruption scales may pose a risk to how money is allocated, there are measures in place that work to combat these abuses. As cited in a recent NPR piece, Charles Kenny, an economist and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, believes that donors like USAID and the World Bank are actually so focused on stopping corruption that worthwhile aid is negatively affected. This issue is outlined in his book, Results Not Receipts: Counting the Right Things in Corruption, where he further discusses data which illustrates that these groups spend more money hunting down instances of fraud rather than measuring how the aid has helped. NPR conducted an interview with Kenny on the issue, in which he claims the evidence at hand regarding corruption doesn’t suggest that it is a big problem. “It isn’t somehow a more fundamental problem than a number of other issues that poor countries face: poor health, limited access to finance, weak infrastructure.”

Kenny cites as an example the years between 2004 and 2010 in Afghanistan. USAID funded vaccinations and neonatal care which increased life expectancy in the area dramatically — from 42 to 62. However, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health’s accounts showed a gap in spending; $63 million from a total $236 million went unaccounted for. As a result, the special instructor of USAID in Afghanistan recommended that no further funding be supplied — ignoring the clear evidence of the positive impact of the program.

While foreign aid’s main goal is to help other countries, it is important to note that these donations are in the United States’ and the world’s best interests. Aid funds, programs and initiatives translate into improved U.S. and global safety relating to terrorism.

Read full article here.

August 9, 2017

5 Quotes From The Head Of USAID On His First Day On The Job (NPR Goats & Soda)

From the article:

Mark Andrew Green, the new head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, kicked off his first day on the job with a speech to hundreds of employees. In his speech on Monday, he focused on what they can expect from him and his vision for USAID...

The Trump administration has proposed cutting international aid by nearly a third — a move that "would be really debilitating to the agency," Jeremy Konyndyk told NPR's Jason Beaubien in May. Konyndyk, former head of USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, is now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

The challenge for Green: trimming programs without gutting them, Konyndyk says.

"That's going to be a critical early test," Konyndyk says.

But Konyndyk isn't worried about how Green will handle this challenge.

"I wouldn't foresee him being someone jumping into this job with an eye toward deconstructing USAID or making debilitating cuts to U.S. development investment," Konyndyk told NPR.

Read full article here.

August 8, 2017

A Bevy of Good Ideas on Foreign Aid Reform….If Anyone’s Listening (LobeLog)

From the article:

Recent reports by the co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) and a task force of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) take the long view by proposing far-reaching structural reforms. Although the current administration is unlikely to embrace their recommendations, they offer a compelling vision and set a constructive tone for debate.

new paper by Jeremy Konyndyk and Cindy Huang of the Center for Global Development (CGD) opts for a different approach, adding to the mix a list of 14 smart, “immediately actionable reforms.” Although it also lays out options for major reorganization, most of the emphasis is on what could be done now to pave the way for future progress.

Half the proposed reforms involve changes that the administration could make without legislative approval. To the uninitiated they may sound abstruse, but they can be grouped under three general headings.

Read full article here.

August 3, 2017

Senate Confirms New USAID Administrator Mark Green (Reuters)

From the article:

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed former congressman Mark Green as President Donald Trump's choice to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development at a time the administration is proposing cuts in foreign aid and a reorganization of the agency...

Green's appointment has been widely applauded by development experts and aid groups.

"Green's confirmation is a sign of hope that if we are entering a period of triage when it comes to many USAID programs, we will at least have a responsible actor overseeing this difficult and fraught process, and hopefully one who will stand firm on behalf of his agency's critical mission," said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a former U.S. Treasury official.

Read full article here.