Below are articles on development happenings, issues, etc. If you have articles that you believe would be of general interest to the UAA membership, please submit them here:
- New (May 9, 2022)! “The abortion debate is weakening an already strained American democracy“ by J. Brian Atwood, in The Hill.
- New (May 4, 2022)! Democracy in Africa is Like a Flashlight without Batteries by Mark G. Wentling, in American Diplomacy, May 2022.
- New! The Power Of Partnerships Start here (by Skoll World Forum, April 7, 2022) — Dear Partners, We invite you to listen to a discussion featuring USAID Administrator Power with NPR’s Scott Simon at the Skoll Foundation’s 2022 Skoll World Forum. During the conversation she reflects on events happening around the world, along with her vision for working with more local organizations. You can also read the transcript of the interview here.
- New! The US Foreign Affairs budget and what comes next (by Devex, Adva Saldinger, March 14, 2022) —Last week, the U.S. Congress passed a budget bill with an unexpectedly small increase to the foreign affairs budget and without any supplemental funding for the global response to COVID-19. The final bill, which awaits President Joe Biden’s signature, shocked many development advocates who are now wondering what went wrong — and how to make foreign aid a priority for lawmakers at a time of proliferating global crises. The total fiscal year 2022 foreign affairs budget is $56.1 billion, an increase of about 1% from fiscal year 2021.The budget outcome is the result of a number of congressional process issues as well as the politics of foreign aid and spending in Washington, D.C., in a year that was set up to be complicated for the appropriations process without the framework of the expired Budget Control Act. The act had forced both parties to reach agreements on budget deals, a person with knowledge of the Senate appropriations committee who requested anonymity to speak freely, told Devex. Development advocates had expected a much larger increase in foreign affairs funding. Biden’s budget request asked for a roughly 12% increase, and both the funding bill the House passed last year and the legislation the Senate introduced included a larger increase. “We had a real opportunity with this bill,” said Keifer Buckingham, the advocacy director at Open Society Foundations, adding that it did not “reflect the bipartisan, bicameral support” for foreign aid and shows that priorities are elsewhere.Global development issues to watch in the US Congress in 2022 A new year, a new legislative session: Devex speaks with a number of advocates, Congress watchers, and lobbyists to find out what to expect from the U.S. Congress on foreign aid in 2022. Advocates thought the bill could include billions more in base appropriations for the foreign affairs accounts and an additional nearly $5 billion for global COVID-19 response in emergency funding. But budget negotiations and domestic politics resulted in a nearly flatlined budget despite mounting needs. The overall budget bill does include nearly $14 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine, some of which will go to supporting the humanitarian response and refugees. Still, this result, especially the lack of COVID-19 supplemental funding, is a bit of a “come to Jesus moment about where priorities lie,” Buckingham said, adding that the global development community “should probably be taking stock of what’s happened.”How the budget decisions unfolded In order to get a budget bill passed, top lawmakers and the White House had to make a deal, which included agreeing on topline numbers for total government spending. One of the sticking points for Republicans was that defense and nondefense spending stayed relatively evenly matched, advocates told Devex. About half of U.S. discretionary spending is defense-related. The result: nondefense spending had to be cut, and the state and foreign operations budget as it typically does “got the short end of the stick,” the person with knowledge of the appropriations committee said. Another blow came after initial allocations, when a $2 billion rescission of U.S. border wall funding in the homeland security budget was blocked by Republicans, causing Democrats to look for $2 billion in additional budget cuts. They decided it would come from the foreign affairs budget.Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, which is responsible for the foreign affairs budget, “didn’t roll over” and spoke to Senate and House appropriations leaders as well and Democratic Senate leadership but “lost that fight,” the person with knowledge of the appropriations committee said. In a rare move, Coons later criticized the funding levels for foreign affairs in the final budget package passed last week. In a statement last week, he said he was “deeply concerned” by the funding level for foreign affairs, saying it fails to make critical investments needed to address current crises around the world. “The SFOPS account is not a piggy bank that can be raided by appropriation accounts,” he said, adding that the “shortcomings” of this bill shouldn’t be repeated in the future.But this result wasn’t some tactical or messaging error on the part of development advocates, said Liz Schrayer, president and CEO at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. Lawmakers were under a lot of pressure to deliver a budget and faced a lot of “pulls and tugs,” she said, adding that the final bill did not reflect the way the majority of members of Congress think about foreign aid. “Members of Congress are misreading how constituents feel on these issues and didn’t prioritize the global response” particularly when it comes to global COVID-19 funding, Schrayer said. The COVID-19 supplemental or emergency funding bill was pulled from the appropriations legislation at the last minute due to objections from some House Democrats about where some of the funding would come from: unspent state COVID-19 resources, according to several sources and news reports.But that was a domestic issue and not related to any controversy around the global COVID- 19l funding, which has had bipartisan support, Schrayer said. Congress should have perhaps considered splitting global and domestic COVID-19 appropriations, Schrayer said. “I don’t think this is a question about recognizing need,” said David Cronin, a government affairs specialist at Catholic Relief Services. “No one is discounting the global needs that we have. The question becomes how are we translating recognition to political will to take action.”What’s in the budget While the topline is a disappointment, advocates pointed to some positive signs within the budget’s funding allocations, including more funding to support LGBTQ rights and individuals and funding to hire more staff at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department. Subcommittee leadership and staff were committed and made “important steps forward” within the allocation they were given, said Justin Fugle, head of policy at Plan International USA.The budget included an increase for USAID’s development assistance account up to $4.14 billion and about $1.64 billion for USAID’s operating expenses. It also includes language that Congress recognizes that USAID has lacked “sufficient personnel” and supports the agency’s goal to increase staffers. The bill also includes about $9.5 million to improve recruitment and retention of employees from diverse backgrounds. The bill also includes funding for another administration priority — the Centroamérica Local initiative at USAID focused on supporting more locally led development in Central America. While global health funding didn’t see big increases, and that budget will be stretched by COVID-19, the final text included one element some advocates had pushed for: A requirement that USAID develops a new multiyear strategy on global health research and development.Safeguarding sexual and reproductive health in times of crisis Advocates call on governments and donors to prioritize sexual and reproductive health services in conflict and disaster settings by treating them as essential and providing adequate funding. But there were also some disappointments for advocates, they said, including a missed opportunity to increase family planning and reproductive health funding. The bill’s limited increases in climate adaptation and mitigation funding fall short of the need, they added. While funding for Afghanistan and Ukraine are welcome, reductions to the baseline International Disaster Assistance and Migration and Refugee Assistance funding “are tough to swallow,” Cronin said.
Most immediately there will be an effort to get the House and then the Senate to pass a standalone COVID-19 supplemental funding bill, though there are mixed views about whether it will succeed. Senate Republicans have made clear that they will not vote for a COVID-19 funding bill without offsets to pay for it. So unless a new funding stream is identified — or lawmakers are convinced to change their minds — it may be a challenge, development advocates explained.
Beyond that, there may just be a lack of appetite for any more funding bills at this point and little incentive for Republicans to vote for one — even though they agreed to it as part of the budget package, one lobbyist who asked for anonymity to speak freely told Devex. “It’s going to be really hard to pull that back at this point,” the lobbyist said, adding “I don’t see how you recover from it in the near term.” The person with knowledge of the appropriations committee echoed that sentiment, saying it would be “extremely difficult” to pass a COVID-19 supplemental in the Senate and that there is a lack of willingness from Republicans, even those who are helpful and engaged on foreign affairs issues to push leadership to act on such issues. But there remains bipartisan support for more funding for the global response, said Schrayer, and advocates will be pushing hard for that COVID-19 supplemental funding.
Beyond the emergency, COVID-19 funding will be the fiscal year 2023 funding process, which is right around the corner. Advocates will be meeting to do a post mortem on the just- passed budget as they look to push for bigger increases in the year ahead, they said. Biden is expected to release his budget request in the coming weeks, with fiscal year 2023 beginning Oct. 1.
The fiscal year 2023 appropriations process is likely to be even harder in light of the midterm elections, the person with knowledge of the appropriations committee said, adding that they have “lost a lot of faith in the process.” The “erosion of regular order” in the appropriations process has resulted in budget decisions landing in the hands of eight lawmakers, bypassing committee votes and processes, that person said. That budget request will be telling, including on questions of COVID-19 funding and how the U.S. will support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at its next replenishment, especially after Biden proposed maintaining the global health budget at previous levels, except for an increase in global health security funding, Buckingham said.
“To be honest with you I don’t have a lot of hope that it will happen on the global side,” she said, adding that the White House has not put its energy behind the global fight against COVID-19 the way that it needed to, despite at USAID and elsewhere who are pushing the work forward. The lobbyist expects that the fiscal year 2023 budget request from the president will look similar to his first, though it will likely include more funding for the Global Fund. The most interesting issues to watch will be how the administration allocates funding for global health and global health security, and how it divides it between bilateral and multilateral initiatives, the lobbyist said.
The development community needs to “recognize the damage” the Trump administration has done on how Americans and Republicans view foreign assistance issues and “need to pivot and think strategically about how to change minds about this,” the person with knowledge of the appropriations committee said. The advocacy community “needs to get out of its echo chambers and talk to people who don’t agree with them 100%” and they also need to do more grassroots engagement and engage Americans in red states and try to change their minds about the value of investments in foreign aid and how they can benefit the middle class, that person said. “We’re going to make clear we expect much more than the nearly flat line ‘22 budget. We’re advocating loud and clear to the administration,” Schrayer said, adding that advocates will also be making it clear to Capitol Hill lawmakers that this funding is in America’s interest.
- New! Funding requests on the Hill for Ukraine and Covid response (by Devex, March 7, 2022) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Congress will approve the Biden administration’s request for $10 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine this week. The proposal includes $5 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, including $2.75 billion for humanitarian assistance and $1.75 billion for economic assistance. Of the latter total, up to $100 million could go to USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives for “rapid” response activities such as countering disinformation and maintaining the government’s “functionality.” In a letter to colleagues, Pelosi wrote that Congress “intends to enact” this funding as part of their big budget deal this week.Also included in Biden’s emergency funding request was $4.25 billion for global COVID-19 response efforts at the State Department and USAID — nearly $2 billion of which would fund the administration’s global vaccine access initiative. Public health advocates and a group of U.S. lawmakers have called for $17 billion in global COVID-19 funding, so the response to this request was … not great. “This is the kind of request you’d expect from President Trump, not President Biden, who has been involved in nearly every major global health response for the past four decades. Extremely disappointing,” writes Sean Simons, communications director at Red, the Bono-founded charity.
- New! UN allocates $20M from CERF to humanitarian response in Ukraine (by UNOCHA, February 24, 2022) — The United Nations today allocated US$20 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to immediately scale up life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection to civilians in Ukraine following the recent increase in hostilities. The funds will support emergency operations along the contact line in the eastern oblasts of Donetska and Luhanska and in other areas of the country.UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned that the military escalation will have a high impact on civilian lives, and he reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s call for an immediate ceasefire. “The CERF funds are life-saving,” said Mr. Griffiths. “They will help with health care, shelter, food, and water and sanitation to the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict, including women and girls, the elderly and the displaced.” The allocation will also support the prevention of gender-based violence and other protection-related services, as well as education, logistics and telecommunications.Before the recent escalation, some 2.9 million children, women and men were already affected by eight years of conflict in eastern Ukraine, and humanitarian partners needed $190 million to help 1.8 million of the country’s most vulnerable people. We urgently require increased funding for the humanitarian response, as there will be an increase in the number of people who need assistance. Humanitarian operations in Ukraine and elsewhere are guided by the internationally recognized principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.CERF is one of the fastest and most effective ways to ensure that urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches people caught up in crises. Established as a pooled donor fund, CERF enables humanitarian responders to deliver life-saving assistance whenever and wherever crises strike. For further information, please contact:In New York, Jaspreet Kindra, firstname.lastname@example.org, + 1 929 273 8109
In Geneva, Jens Laerke, email@example.com, +41 79 472 9750
- New! World Development Report 2022 (World Bank, February 15, 2022) — The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the largest global economic crisis in more than a century. In 2020, economic activity contracted in 90 percent of countries, the world economy shrank by about 3 percent, and global poverty increased for the first time in a generation. Governments enacted a swift and encompassing policy response that alleviated the worst immediate economic impacts of the crisis. However, the government response also exacerbated a number of economic fragilities. World Development Report 2022: Finance for an Equitable Recovery examines the central role of finance in the economic recovery from the pandemic. It highlights the consequences of the crisis most likely to affect emerging economies, and advocates a set of policies to mitigate the interconnected financial risks stemming from the pandemic and stern economies toward a sustainable and equitable recovery.
- New! “Localisation only pays lip service to fixing aid’s colonial legacy” (The New Humanitarian by Maha Shuayb in Beirut, February 8, 2022) —“Localisation” has become a ubiquitous term among humanitarians in recent years, used to refer to putting more power and funding in the hands of “local responders”. The term is simple, it feels good, and is a convenient response to increasing calls for the aid sector to decolonise. But instead of shaking the whole temple of power, which is what a sincere attempt at decolonisation requires, the international sector attempts a gentler approach, tip-toeing around the heart of the issue: the deep-rooted racism and ongoing legacies of colonialism. Based on my experience of “localisation”, the sector is getting it wrong. Last year, I was invited to talk on a UN panel at a global event focused on localising humanitarian response, one of many that has taken place since the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, where the term became mainstream as a key pillar of the so-called Grand Bargain. The experience prompted me to reconsider this proliferating concept, and the use of the term itself, and to reflect on how undermining it is to those of us working in our home countries. I am a scholar who has lived over half my life in Lebanon and much of the rest of it in the United Kingdom. I was born in Lebanon, but I’ve never considered myself as “a local”, especially if that is supposed to mean representing all local Lebanese people. It always feels strange when I’m described as one, and even stranger when I’m invited to events under this label. It’s as if I’m being assigned a new positionality that I neither asked for nor can relate to. “Localisation often implies this reductionist understanding of who is local.” When I’m asked to play this role – and to speak on behalf of all local colleagues – my instinct is to denounce this positionality. It feels artificial, somewhat theatrical, as if we are playing a part – not expected to challenge the notion of localisation itself, but rather to focus solely on how to promote and implement it.Personally, I believe I have other, more interesting identities and experiences to bring to the conversation than my geographical background. Yet, to the international aid organisations, or those considered “non-local” in the sector, my identity politics is what’s most interesting. My representation of other locals is never questioned, while to many Lebanese, being educated in elite universities in the United Kingdom, and having never spent time in informal tented settlements or camps, I’m hardly a local. Localisation often implies this reductionist understanding of who is local, excluding those most disadvantaged – who arguably need their voices heard most – and empowering others like me. I don’t know what it means to live in those places and experience those people’s lives, so how can I be expected to speak on their behalf?‘I am the anecdotes’Even if I accept the premise, when I read organisations’ policies and objectives for localisation, I can’t help but feel I somehow missed the train when it came to conceiving them. All that’s left for “locals” like me is to get on board with their implementation. The image of Sykes-Picot – a private wartime treaty between Britain and France to determine the partition of Arab Middle East lands – comes to my mind. I feel not much has changed concerning our role when it comes to contributing to the bigger picture.During this particular panel, I was invited to present my organisation’s research findings on Lebanon, but I was only asked to talk about Lebanon as a case study without extrapolating these findings or contributing to the overall theoretical conclusions. That was done by the internationals who were on the panel. I realised then what kind of knowledge production was being asked of me: I am the case study; I am the anecdotes. I am the localised knowledge and experience, but my contribution ends there.In my experience, when international aid organisations want to discuss localisation, locals from the Global South are invited to talk among themselves about how things are going for them. Many of us stick to the script for fear of losing funding, jobs, or status, or simply for fear of seeming impolite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have the space to discuss and reflect, but I often wonder – are there no “locals” in the Global North?“If localisation is to be anything more than just a buzzword and tokenism, it must include people from the Global South.” The discrimination goes even further. As a ‘“local scholar”, those like me from Lebanon will often not meet the eligibility criteria of being the Principal Investigator on many Global North-centric research proposals. In some projects, we are even recruited as co-investigators as a tokenistic gesture to show diversity and inclusiveness. I often wonder if our place is to operate only in the Global South. I recently applied to conduct research on refugees’ experiences in Germany. I wasn’t granted permission from the local government authorities. We were given many excuses, such as data protection regulations, but I can only conclude it was because my institution was from the Global South. After several futile attempts to pursue our project, we had to give up. We have a saying in Arabic that goes, “everyone needs to know their place”. Localisation seems to be the new project from the Global North reminding us to “know our place”.If localisation is to be anything more than just a buzzword and tokenism, it must include people from the Global South, from the conception of an idea right through to execution – whether that’s research, programme response, or policy development. It requires breaking the moulds in the current structures that limit “local” actors like me to the margins: grant eligibility and funding criteria; the application processes; the institutional and academic hierarchies. These structures remain biased and colonial, and they limit the will, vision, voices, and participation of those who are disadvantaged by the system.
- New! Senior director for global health security leaving the NSC ( Devex by Erin Banco, 02/08/2022) — One of U.S. President Joe Biden’s top global health officials is leaving the administration. News broke Tuesday that Beth Cameron, the National Security Council senior director for global health security and biodefense, will step down this month. Cameron is one of the architects of the Global Health Security Agenda and a key adviser on global pandemic preparedness. She will reportedly be replaced by Raj Panjabi, currentlythe global health malaria coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The shake-up comes as the Biden administration is looking to secure funding from Congress for a major scale up of a USAID-led initiative to increase global vaccine uptake — particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The shake-up comes as the Biden administration is looking to secure funding from Congress for a major scale up of a USAID-led initiative to increase global vaccine uptak — particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
- New! MFAN Applauds USAID Local Capacity Development Policy (MFAN, February 7, 2022) — This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs Lester Munson, Larry Nowels, and Tessie San Martin. The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) commends USAID for its draft Local Capacity Development (LCD) Policy, released for public comment on Dec. 8, 2021. The LCD Policy represents an important step towards demand-driven, long-term capacity strengthening for local actors, and moves USAID beyond the compliance-based focus that had characterized past efforts. The policy’s principles of “starting with the local system” and “aligning capacity development with local priorities” signal a significant and appropriate shift in USAID’s capacity strengthening approach.Tessie San Martin, MFAN Co-Chair and CEO of FHI 360, noted, “We appreciate the dedication of the policy drafting team to the principles of locally led development (LLD), building on past efforts of USAID. This policy will be integral for Administrator Power’s localization agenda, such as more funding to and programming with local actors.” Moreover, MFAN acknowledges the importance of this policy for systems-level strengthening of local civil society. “MFAN has long been calling for an Agency-wide Civil Society Strategy for USAID to support vibrant civil society. The LCD Policy will provide a systematic way for USAID to help grow local organizations, especially those that have been historically discriminated against,” said Larry Nowels, MFAN Co-Chair. MFAN encourages USAID to continue to consult civil society actors – both in the US and around the world – as it develops implementation guidance for the policy. MFAN also greatly appreciates USAID’s effort to hold stakeholder consultations and feedback opportunities for local actors, as well as the extended window for public comment. Lester Munson, MFAN Co-Chair and Principal at the BGR Group, reflected that, “Especially for a policy that will have so much impact on local partners, sufficient local engagement is a crucial step to make sure that the new policy will suitably address their needs.” MFAN encourages USAID to continue the intentional and systematic inclusion of diverse local stakeholders in all new policy development. MFAN was pleased to see that the LCD Policy includes an important section on “Institutionalizing Change.” This is critical for ensuring the policy makes meaningful differences in USAID’s approach to capacity strengthening. Tessie San Martin adds, “We hope that USAID will create an even more detailed implementation and change management plan that considers the substantive operational and cultural shifts within USAID needed to ensure this policy’s success.”
- New! USAID Distributes Aid To Prevent Corruption in Indonesia (Tempo, Source United States/Indonesia Society Daily Bulletin, January 27, 2021) — The United States through USAID announced on Monday a $9.9 million program to help Indonesia prevent corruption by boosting civic engagement and promoting integrity in public and private sectors. The USAID Indonesia Integrity Initiative (USAID Integritas) will help the Government of Indonesia address corruption by helping local civil society tackle systemic corruption vulnerabilities and conflicts of interest in planning and procurement procedures.
USAID Indonesia Director Jeffery P. Cohen recently said the U.S. government supports the Indonesian government’s shift in focus from corruption prosecution and enforcement to corruption prevention. The initiative will focus on strengthening government and civil society practices to improve transparency, reduce conflicts of interest, and promote accountability.USAID is partnering with a local organization, Kemitraan (Partnership for Governance Reform), to implement this five-year program. The partnership will further the Government of Indonesia’s Medium-Term Development Plan on quality growth, infrastructure, and stability.
- New! Women who reached USAID’s top ranks allege gender pay discrimination (Devex by Michael Igoe, January 24, 2022) —A group of women who have served at the highest level of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s foreign service has been waging a five-year legal battle with the agency over what they argue is gender-based pay discrimination. The women leading the case say that they were hired by USAID decades ago at salaries lower than those of many of their male peers. While they were promoted quickly through the agency’s foreign service ranks, their pay increases never corrected for starting salaries that consistently placed them at the lower end of their compensation brackets — something they only realized after reaching the pinnacle of their careers.During the Trump administration, USAID’s diversity, equity, and inclusion policy languished. But since Samantha Power took the top post, the agency has taken on a series of reviews and new policies to improve, the interim DEI chief says. The specific goal of their suit is to have their salaries adjusted retroactively with back pay from three years before they made the complaint, which is the legal limit. One of the most significant implications of that change would be to their retirement packages. The women calculated a difference of up to $400,000 in lost pension over the course of their retirement, said Beth Paige, a former USAID career minister who spent three decades at the agency and led multiple country missions and is now spearheading the complaint. While the financial implications of their lawsuit are significant, the women — and other USAID employees who spoke to Devex — say the case is also the latest chapter of a career-long struggle to navigate a system of government service that was originally designed for men and which still retains some of those preferential features. The women allege that while USAID has done away with policies that were overtly discriminatory against women, it has not fully addressed inequities they experienced earlier in their careers. They also argue that while USAID’s recent leaders have made strides in building a more equitable and inclusive agency, women still face disproportionate career tradeoffs and still encounter subtler forms of gender bias.“Looking back, I realized we fought that battle for 30 years,” Paige, who is 61, told Devex, citing her peers’ efforts to improve agency policies, such as those that affected pregnant women and mothers. To find out at the end of their careers that they were making considerably less than just about everybody else in the senior foreign service was the “final insult,” she said. Paige found a willing partner in Monica Stein-Olson, 63, who had also served as mission director in multiple countries and reached the rank of career minister, and who joined her in openly pressing the pay equity issue.Four women ultimately joined the lawsuit. As career ministers, they ranked among the top 16% of all USAID senior foreign service officers, yet their salaries were in the bottom 26%, according to their own analysis, which they provided to Devex. For one of the female career ministers that joined their case, in 2015 there were 10 equally ranked men at USAID with significantly higher salaries, and 48 lower-ranked men with higher salaries, they allege.The women provided Devex with spreadsheets of salaries from their final years at the agency. In 2017, Paige’s annual salary was $173,861 and Stein-Olson’s was $172,362. The highest-paid members of USAID’s senior foreign service earned $187,000. The spreadsheet shows that among career ministers earning more than $180,000 in 2017, 10 were men and three were women. Paige told Devex there are a small number of male foreign service officers in the same situation, but that senior women who joined the agency at a time when their starting salaries were comparatively low are disproportionately affected. In response to questions from Devex, a USAID spokesperson wrote that the agency has not found that gender factors into foreign service pay or promotion decisions. (Full article available here.)
- New! USAID Contractors denounce Agency’s betrayal of thousands of Afghans who carried out its mission (The Intercept.com, January 23, 2022) — The top official at the United States Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, got on a call with the agency’s contractors in Afghanistan. Weeks earlier, the Afghan government that the U.S. had spent 20 years and $145 billion to build had capitulated to the Taliban in spectacular fashion. After the last U.S. troops had left the country following a chaotic and deadly evacuation, USAID encouraged its partners to use remaining program funds to ensure the safety of their staff, including by covering living and evacuation costs. Days later, the agency issued a stop-work order, instructing contractors to cease all nonhumanitarian operations in Afghanistan except for those “concerning safety and security,” according to an internal memo.
Now, Power offered thanks for everyone’s hard work. “We value you,” she told contractors, according to multiple people who were on the call. The contractors, many of whom were still scrambling to help their Afghan colleagues leave the country, had been hoping for more specific guidance. They said they had submitted questions to the agency before the call, asking for instructions on how to pay staff at a time when the country’s banking system had collapsed. USAID had prohibited contractors from using informal money transfer systems, known as “hawalas”; it took two more months for the agency to authorize them on a case-by-case basis. In December, the agency also authorized the use of foreign currency to pay Afghan staff, a reversal from earlier guidelines.
On the call, contractors flooded Power with different versions of the same question. “She had zero answers,” said one, who, like all other contractors interviewed for this article, asked not to be named to discuss internal conversations. “She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. … She had no idea what was happening on the ground.” Another participant told The Intercept, “We were blindsided by how much the senior level of USAID was unaware of what was going on with tens of thousands of its employees.”
For two decades, the agency has been the face of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. To tens of thousands of Afghans employed on USAID projects, it was the agency they had believed in and worked for, often at enormous personal risk, that ultimately betrayed them.
A spokesperson for USAID wrote in an email to The Intercept that the agency remains committed to working in Afghanistan. “We care deeply about the people of Afghanistan and the future of the country,” the spokesperson wrote. “We are indebted to all Afghans who have worked for positive change in their country. USAID will continue to support humanitarian assistance, as well as essential services such as health, education, and livelihoods. We remain committed to finding ways to support women and girls in particular. ”
“Administrator Power has been immersed in the details of the challenges faced by USAID local staff and implementing partners,” the spokesperson added. “[She] has been a vocal and persistent advocate for addressing them.”
Many of the failures that characterized USAID’s handling of the withdrawal were consistent with issues that had defined its work in Afghanistan for years. USAID contractors described the agency as an unwieldy apparatus run by bureaucrats who are divorced from the reality on the ground. USAID’s staff mostly operates from Washington or from inside the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The work is outsourced to contractors, who go into the field and hire their own local staff, and is debilitated by unrealistic timelines and wasteful spending imposed by legislators looking to tout quick successes — hardly a sustainable model for development.
- New! Review Essay of the Enduring Struggle with Historian Mary Jane Maxwell (www.wbynamics.com)-– Does international development work and how? Is it worth it and why? These are the perennial development questions John Norris addresses in his book, The Enduring Struggle: The History of the U.S. Agency for International Development and America’s Uneasy Transformation of the World, a thorough account of the agency from its birth in 1961 to the end of 2020. Readers who wrestle with these questions in their daily work will appreciate Norris’ powerful examples drawn from meticulous primary and secondary research. Its twelve chapters are chronologically organized by presidential administration and further subdivided by geography, sector, key event, or a thorny issue. Norris draws from interviews (some are personal communications with the author and others from USG archives) substantive news articles (especially the New York Times, Time, and the Washington Post), government documents, and USAID publications to tell his story. Norris seeks to locate politicians on a scale between two strategic views of foreign aid — one altruistic and the other realpolitik — did each president and his administration fall and why, and what effect did their personal view have on USAID programming and budget. Norris argues the two strategic views of foreign assistance are: 1) to expand the number of free-market democracies which in turn would make the U.S. more secure and prosperous; to 2) to use foreign aid to gain short-term leverage and influence in countries willing to oppose communism and terrorism regardless of their actual commitments to democracy and free- markets. Each administration’s interpretation of foreign assistance and subsequent USAID policies and actions are detailed as related to these larger themes.
- New! USAID staffers disgruntled over back-to-office plans (Devex by Teresa Welsh, December 10, 2021) — The U.S. Agency for International Development this week presented employees with a “reentry” plan that will govern its return to in-person work. But staffers say it failed to provide them with information they sought on how often they would be required to work from the office. Employees attended a virtual all-hands meeting Wednesday — a “Reentry Readiness session” — that was described to Devex as “contentious.” They expected details about what specific categories of employees would be required to work in person at the agency’s Washington office. Instead, they were presented with much of the same content they had already received via email. “They announced no options,” a staffer who attended the one-hour meeting but was not authorized to speak to the media told Devex. “Merely ‘we’re continuing to think about it and we’ll let you know.’ They wanted the meeting to be about re-entry, not what our jobs would be. But our jobs are [very connected to] re-entry.”An email sent to staffers Monday and seen by Devex said the agency expected to enter its “full reentry posture by March 21, 2022,” and employees this week wanted to know what that would mean for their careers and personal lives. What exactly “full reentry” will entail is unclear. A log seen by Devex of the questions posed by staffers during the meeting shows employees frustrated by the lack of information. One question read, “When will we find out if our positions are eligible for us to request fulltime [telework] or remote work?”Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S.-based employees at USAID have been teleworking, with the exception of some critical staff members — such as those in information technology and security — who were required to be on-site. Some staffers have relocated outside the Washington area during the interim. “For nearly two years, the agency has been saying ‘hey, we get it, we can do this work in a hybrid, remote fashion. Let’s radically transform to meet staff where they are and provide better support to our missions,’” the USAID staffer said, expressing frustration that this attitude of flexibility seems to have evaporated as the agency comes closer to returning to the office. In reference to USAID’s “new workplace posture,” a second question read during the meeting: “I’m disappointed and confused to hear that ‘the future of work’ and ‘re-entry’ are two different things. Seems to be a false distinction. We need to hear how many days/week we … will be required to come in starting in March so we can plan our lives accordingly.”The meeting was run by the USAID Bureau for Management’s Critical Coordination Structure organization and used BlueJeans virtual conferencing software. The chat function on the meeting was disabled, the USAID staffer told Devex, so the only questions addressed during the session were ones screened in advance by organizers. “People would have gone off in the chat,” the staffer said. “[The organizers] didn’t seem to understand or try to understand the atmospherics behind the questions, so the focus was on nuts and bolts rather than the broader strategic vision.” When staffers asked about other details — such as when the appropriate technology for hybrid work would be in place and whether contractors would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to work from the office — the agency was also unable to provide answers. A White House executive order requires federal employees to be vaccinated. USAID did not respond to a request for comment.In Monday’s email to staffers, USAID outlined a “phased and flexible” approach for returning to work at its domestic offices. “We know that this issue is a source of great interest and some concern after months of remote work for many and the need to balance responsibilities between work and home,” said the email from Paloma Adams-Allen, deputy administrator for management and resources. “We are still in the process of designing a new workplace posture, referred to as the Future of Work, that facilitates connection, flexibility, safety, and inclusion, and which we will plan to begin implementing in March 2022.”Until Monday, the agency was in the “readiness” phase, which entailed preparing domestic offices for staffers to return safely in greater numbers. This included upgrading IT systems “for an increasingly hybrid work environment,” cleaning workspaces, and verifying vaccination status. The second phase, known as “transition,” began Monday, with staff and visitor access “no longer restricted” in offices. Staffers can use conference rooms for hybrid and in-person meetings. The third phase, “voluntary reentry,” starts Jan. 18, when employees will be able to work in the office on a voluntary basis with no capacity limits. “In this phase, the Agency will provide training, toolkits, and other resources to staff and supervisors to facilitate the transition to an increasingly hybrid workplace in a manner that fosters teamwork and promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility,” the email said. The fourth phase’s “future of work launch” is set to begin March 21.The agency had conducted surveys to ask employees about their return-to-work preferences, only to seemingly reject the desire from many for a flexible work environment going forward, the USAID staffer said. The person noted that a lot of the agency’s work takes place virtually due to its global nature, including collaboration between mission staffers and those in headquarters — conditions that will remain after the pandemic is over. “So many of us are like ‘ok, we have 3+ months to find a new job, because like hell are we going back to five times a week in the office,” the staffer said. “They want to rigidly control everything. And as a result many of us are going to leave.”
- New! Janet L. Yellen and Samantha Power: To uphold democracy, the U.S. must fight global corruption (Washington Post by Secretary of the Treasury,Janet Yellen, and USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, December 6, 2021) — Just a 30-minute drive from the White House is another estate — a six-bedroom, nine-bathroom mansion outfitted with a movie theater and a seven-car garage. When the home was purchased in 2010, it wasn’t immediately clear who the new owner was. The purchase, according to a civil forfeiture complaint, was made via private trust.It was only years later that the public learned the buyers behind the trust were Yahya Jammeh, the former president of Gambia, and his wife. Jammeh fled Gambia after committing serious human rights violations and embezzling millions of dollars from his people. He allegedly transformed a portion of that stolen money into several thousand square feet of Potomac, Md., real estate.Around the world, in countries as varied as Russia, Venezuela and China, the wealthy and the well-connected launder their assets through complex networks of shell companies or transactions involving art, real estate and, occasionally, cryptocurrencies. Sometimes those gains are ill-gotten and sometimes they are legitimately earned but illicitly hidden to evade taxes. But what links all corrupt acts is that they take resources from citizens, undermine public trust and — ultimately — threaten the progress of those who fight for democracy.This week, representatives of more than 100 nations will gather virtually for President Biden’s Summit for Democracy. The gathering is a recognition that the world’s democracies need a new strategy. For the past 15 years, the number of people living under authoritarian regimes has been rising, while leaders of many democratic countries have been chipping away at fundamental rights and checks and balances.Corruption has made this possible. Autocrats use public wealth to maintain their grip on power, while in democracies, corruption rots free societies from within. Unchecked conflicts of interest and the unequal application of the law erode our trust in common institutions.The same kleptocrat that the U.S. Agency for International Development helps expose abroad often tries to funnel his money into domestic markets overseen by the U.S. treasury. Indeed, corrupt actors hide their money in the United States all the time. We can no longer provide them a shadow under which to operate.Combating corruption abroad, therefore, begins at home, and our first step must be to expose the owners of shell companies and other illicit funds. Moving forward, the U.S. government will require many U.S. and foreign companies to report their true owners to the Treasury and to update us when they change hands. We’re also working toward new reporting requirements for real estate transactions and will be enlisting other nations to address these issues.Second, the United States must be a model for the wider world. The idea of democracy is inseparable from the idea of America, and we cannot support free government abroad if our institutions wither at home. But that is what’s happening.Last year, for example, more than $600 billion was effectively withheld from U.S. taxpayers disproportionately coming from top earners and large corporations, who take advantage of our broken tax system and get away with evasion. Obviously, there’s a difference between a tax evader and an autocrat who drains the public treasury, but the financial implications are the same. The Treasury needs more resources, including more auditors, to go after evasion, and provisions in the Build Back Better Act will help us do that.Of course, combating corruption also requires significant efforts abroad, so the United States will deepen and expand support for those fighting kleptocrats and bad actors through a new anti-corruption response fund. In the Dominican Republic, Moldova and Zambia, we’ve seen politicians win landslide victories by running on anti-corruption platforms. We want to support their reforms.The United States is also increasing its support to media organizations and other watchdogs who risk their lives to expose corruption. These brave activists often play the greatest role in bringing down dictatorships, because while corruption may fuel autocracies, it can also be their Achilles’ heel. In 2019, a record year for global mass protests, roughly half were driven by exposed corruption, six of which led to changes in government.We will also seek to protect international journalists from lawsuits — the latest tactics of oligarchs and autocrats seeking to suppress stories exposing corruption. USAID is launching a global Defamation Defense Fund to offer journalists coverage to survive defamation claims and deter suits in the first place.Finally, because the government doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, USAID will work with civil-society and private-sector partners to crowdsource new tools and technologies to stop corrupt officials from plundering their countries’ resources and transferring them across borders.These steps, part of the new U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, will embolden good-government activists, shine a light on dark corners of the global financial system, bring in more tax dollars for the public benefit and prevent criminals from laundering money through the U.S. and international financial systems.There may always be some level of corruption, public officials on the take or illicit dollars flowing through our economy. But to uphold democracy, we must strive to make those acts difficult and rare — not easy and common.
- New! After six decades of US foreign aid, our future must be guided by the past (The Hill by J. Brian Atwood, November 15, 2021) — U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power was in the forefront last week as the agency she leads celebrated its 60th anniversary. Power used the occasion to set forth an impressive strategy for the modern era, an approach she called “inclusive development.” Power’s eloquent tribute to a mission that hasn’t always been embraced by the American polity caused me to think back to six distinctive epochs of our relationship with the world and its neediest nation-states. Each of these periods is characterized by a unique political environment that impacted the capacity of USAID to achieve development progress. The American aid program faced positive and negative pressures in each of these periods: The reconstruction of post-war Europe; the post-colonial independence period; the Cold War; the “end-of-history” decades; the America First regression; and now, the contemporary era of transnational challenges. The Marshall Plan is viewed by many as the largest, most selfless aid program in history. There were reconstruction and humanitarian relief elements — food, healthcare and housing — involved in resurrecting the European nations devastated by World War II. It was more than just resources, as the U.S. also applied an important policy condition: That the former warring societies integrate their economies. Within a decade, the Europeans had begun to function somewhat normally and the early institutional arrangements spawned the European Union. The success of the Marshall Plan set an unrealistically high standard for foreign aid. The Europeans had been blessed with educated populations and a history of industrialization that was relatively easily replicated once the resources were made available. In his 1949 inaugural address, President Truman set a new course for U.S. assistance in point four of his security-oriented message. He committed the U.S. to use its advantages “for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.”As Power recounted in her anniversary remarks, President John F. Kennedy recognized the vital role the U.S. could play in the post-colonial period. Sixty years ago, he established the institutions that brought Truman’s commitment to life: USAID and the Peace Corps. Kennedy also created the Development Assistance Group (later to become the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) to coordinate efforts with other donors. All of this activity and the goodwill that inspired it did not mean that donor aid was particularly effective. “The Ugly American” by Lederer and Burdick became a metaphor for an era of experimentation, a multitude of projects that often awkwardly sought to do development for and to people rather than with them. Then came the Cold War and the effort to win hearts and minds while containing Soviet influence. It no longer seemed that helping others help themselves was sufficient. A new requirement was imposed: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” USAID was pulled into situations that compromised the bedrock of effective development work: Trust.Despite these challenges, the agency responded to humanitarian crises and deteriorating global conditions related to food shortages, population growth and infectious disease. USAID worked with Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug to create a green revolution, vastly increasing food production and avoiding mass starvation. Unsustainable population growth and infectious disease were impacted positively by USAID programs that eradicated smallpox and offered effective family planning, girls’ education and the entrepreneurial opportunities provided by microenterprise lending. These effective programs weren’t just created in an American laboratory, they were also the creation of the agency’s partners in the field, the people who were the objects of development and who knew best what would work for them. Memories of the “Ugly American” were beginning to recede by the 1980s.During the Cold War USAID’s budgets benefitted from a bipartisan coalition in favor of a “guns and butter” approach to competing with the communist threat. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, that bipartisan support started to fray. Resources were made available to facilitate the transition of communist states to market democracies, but there was a growing consensus among more hardline members of Congress that a “peace dividend” was needed. USAID’s budget and its very existence became an issue. The pressures created by the challenge to survive produced a positive internal dynamic. Either the agency reformed and became more efficient and accountable or it would never celebrate another anniversary. USAID began to focus more on defining strategic objectives, measuring results and fostering partnerships. In the end, the United States was instrumental in encouraging the global development community to define its strategic goals. A political project that had started in the OECD Development Assistance Committee became the UN Millennium Development Goals. With clear, politically salient objectives and the obligation to measure results, donor country budgets surged by 50 percent between 2001 and 2015.Sadly, during this period of program growth, USAID’s operating budget to hire professional staff was significantly reduced, forcing the agency to contract out for staffing. Even the commendable effort by the George W. Bush administration to elevate the development mission as an integral part of a defense, diplomacy and development (3-D) national security strategy didn’t fix this problem. Power wants to reverse that trend. She wants to build back a professional staff at USAID that reflects the diversity of our country. That has always been an advantage for America in its global relationships; it is the gold standard for effective development work, the facility to listen well, relate and create trust. She also wants to recognize and utilize more effectively the host country nationals that are the mainstays of USAID’s overseas missions. Power also has given new meaning and impetus to the principle of local ownership. In the vernacular, this translates into buy-in. It means that U.S. resources will be used to achieve purposes that the people of a developing country both need and want. This will not be easy. There are powerful political, legal and bureaucratic obstacles in the way. However, there are encouraging signs on Capitol Hill and in the development community that Power’s effort to “go local” will gain the needed support.The transnational threats to global stability and the welfare of the American people are serving to recreate a semblance of the bipartisan support USAID has had in previous years. Samantha Power has made a compelling case for the development mission in this sixth epoch.
- New! MFAN Welcomes USAID Administrator Power’s New Vision for Global Development – Placing Locals in the Lead (MFAN by Lester Munson, Larry Nowels and Tessie San Martin, November 12, 2021 )–The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network commends USAID Administrator Samantha Power on the vision for USAID she outlined on the 60th anniversary of the agency during a speech on November 4 at Georgetown University. Power laid out multiple goals for the agency and its partners to transform the way the U.S. provides development assistance, setting a high bar for the future of USAID, its current and new partners, in order to help ensure the long-term sustainability for U.S. investments.
“In announcing the goal that 25% of all USAID funds go to local partners over the next four years along with the ‘local voices’ target calling for 50% of programming to place local communities in the lead by the end of the decade, the Administrator has outlined a bold and ambitious vision for how the agency will propel locally-led development and sustainable impact. While the devil is in the details when it comes to operationalizing this vision, we are happy to see these elements incorporated in her road map,” stated Tessie San Martin, MFAN Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer of FHI 360.
With continued pressure on people in the Northern Triangle countries to migrate from their homes toward opportunity and safety in other countries, we appreciate the Administrator’s vision in launching the “Centroamérica Local Initiative” – $300 million to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – for sustained, locally driven progress over the next five years. We look forward to engaging with the agency on this new initiative.
For many years, MFAN has expressed concern about the state of USAID’s workforce. We understand that the agency cannot achieve its mission without a sufficient, trained staff. “We congratulate Administrator Power for recognizing the role that prioritizing and retaining staff will play in an effective agency. We note that MFAN had called for many of these staffing changes in the set of recommendations it developed for the new Administration, including an expanded role for Foreign Service Nationals and a focus on recruiting a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” said Larry Nowels, MFAN Co-Chair.
MFAN supports effective foreign assistance through its accountability reform pillar. Not only must US aid be transparent, but also its programs must be evidence-based. The impact of USAID’s work is strengthened by employing evidence through the co-creation of programs, monitoring and evaluation, and applying lessons learned to improve current and future programs. “We applaud the Administrator’s establishment of the Office of Behavioral Science and Experimental Economics, reporting to the agency’s Chief Economist, and we look forward to the expansion of this work for improved results,” said Lester Munson, Co-Chair of MFAN and Principal at the BGR Group.
In highlighting the countless challenges facing USAID partners, including COVID-19, climate change, ensuring programs reach women and girls and marginalized populations, and the pressures on democracy across the globe, Administrator Power and her agency clearly face significant challenges. MFAN understands the importance of a vibrant and diverse civil society as partners on this challenging journey and continues to support a Civil Society Engagement Strategy that would bolster USAID’s abilities to achieve success. We look forward to engaging constructively to bring these new goals and strong effectiveness principles forward for the delivery of more effective aid to our partners on behalf of U.S. taxpayers.
- New! The Enduring Struggle: The History of the U.S. Agency for International Development and America’s Uneasy Transformation of the World (Rowan and Littlefield, July 2021, Reviewed by UAA Member Desaix Myers) —John Norris’ book, The Enduring Struggle: The History of the US Agency for International Development and America’s Transformation of the World, comes at a most opportune time. We need a fresh look at the ways we prioritize national interests and the institutions in our national security triad—defense, diplomacy, and development–responsible for protecting them. No agency involved in national security is more overlooked or less understood than the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the country’s lead agency for development and the foreign assistance programs to deliver it.Norris fills the void. His history provides a comprehensive overview of an agency with remarkable accomplishments, but which—despite impressive successes—has often fallen short of expectations and whose history is filled with no little controversy. Norris describes foreign assistance as one of the US government’s potentially important, but least recognized tools, to effect global change: “No other area of presidential decision-making in the modern era has affected more people, more profoundly, and with so little foreign fanfare than the foreign aid program.”The lack of fanfare has had costs. As Norris points out, the general public has “the mistaken belief that such assistance is the single largest item in the federal budget when, at less than one percent, of all discretionary spending it is far from being so.” Congressional representatives have “vied to outdo each other with ever-more lavish denunciations of foreign aid.”As a result, Norris relates, though designated as the lead development institution responsible for foreign assistance, USAID’s primacy has been increasingly challenged by the steady growth of overseas programs run by dozens other departments—State, Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury, among them—and new institutions like the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the US Development Finance Corporation. It is far smaller than the other key institutions in the national security triad. Its workforce is about one-sixth the size of the State Department, and there are more than three times the number of soldiers in military bands than USAID has foreign service officers; its $20 billion budget is three percent that of the Department of Defense.It is time to re-examine national security priorities and the role of development. A world-wide pandemic has killed more than four million (more than 650,000 in the US alone) and reversed decades of progress in health, education, economic growth and cutting global poverty. Sea level rise, baking heat, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods, all aspects of climate change, present existential threats to island nations and critical urban centers; they have already exacerbated competition for scarce resources and led to widespread displacement. (…)
- New! USAID slow to make diversity promises come true, staff fear ambitious goals won’t trickle down to the rank and file (Foreign Policy by Amy McKinnon and Robbie Gramer, October 29, 2021) — After winning office in no small part thanks to Black voters, U.S. President Joe Biden promised to put racial equity at the heart of the administration’s ambitious agenda, incorporating it in everything from the COVID-19 pandemic response to climate change and his goals for the federal workforce, aiming to diversify Washington’s conspicuously un-diverse national security establishment.
On his first day in office, Biden overturned a ban imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump on diversity and inclusion training for government employees, and in June he signed a sweeping executive order to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in the federal workplace. But at lower levels, among rank-and-file federal workers at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, and other federal agencies, those lofty promises have confronted the realities of reforming unwieldy bureaucracies.
In a microcosm of the wider challenges faced by the Biden administration, nine current and three former USAID officials told Foreign Policy that despite initial excitement about the administration’s focus on racial equity, they had become frustrated by the slow pace of change at their agency.
They point to a lack of enforcement of existing policies and complex systems for deciding promotions and assignments that have left staff of color feeling like they are being unjustly held back and have disincentivized people from speaking out. While the State Department has tapped a senior former diplomat to be the department’s first chief diversity officer, USAID has no analogous envoy with the same level of clout, although it is working to create a similar role. Government data shows that employees of color at USAID are promoted at significantly lower rates than their white counterparts, and some offices and bureaus are less diverse than they were more than a decade ago. The aid agency also lacks diversity in who leads its key geographic and functional bureaus, at the heart of the agency’s substantive policy and work abroad. USAID, much like the State Department, has been a laggard on diversity and inclusion, a state of affairs that long predated both the Biden and Trump administrations. (….)
- New! Trump funding cuts hurt 80% of USAID Central America programs (By Teresa Welsh, October 26, 2021) — Over 80% of U.S. Agency for International Development programs in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala experienced adverse effects due to the suspension of aid to the region in March 2019 under former President Donald Trump, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released publicly Monday. USAID reported that 92 of its 114 projects in the region had to reduce the size and scope of programs and saw negative effects on institutional capacity, as well as timeliness and efficiency of activities. Sixty-five of the State Department’s 168 projects, or nearly 40%, experienced the same. USAID said it missed 19% of performance targets in fiscal year 2019, while the State Department missed 30%. Projects reported serving fewer clients than planned; decreasing the frequency, quality, and types of services provided; and reducing geographic coverage and objectives.The funding cuts also negatively impacted staff morale, with implementing partners for 40 USAID projects reporting layoffs, while 20 projects had to reduce hours or pay. Twenty-six projects said implementing partners’ reputations and relationships with local communities were damaged. “One implementing partner told us that its project, which sought to empower communities to design and lead communal development activities, experienced security risks for its staff and its sub-partners’ staff rising out of community frustration with the project having to delay, modify, or cancel activities,” the GAO report found. “In the end, the implementing partner had to stop activities in 20 communities due to threats to staff, such as threatening phone calls and messages warning the partner not to return to the community, and threats of violence passed from community members through local government officials.”The report offers the fullest picture yet of the harm done by ping-ponging funding levels under an administration that routinely politicized foreign assistance. Trump suspended aid to the Northern Triangle out of frustration that governments of the three countries were not stopping people from migrating to the U.S. southern border. He ordered 85%, or $396 million, of fiscal year 2018 funding for the region to be reprogrammed to other activities. Prior fiscal year funding that was previously obligated was allowed to be spent after a review was undertaken by the administration. Under President Joe Biden, meanwhile, the U.S. has pledged to spend $4 billion over four years in Central America, including to address the root causes of migration. But due to delays caused by the U.S. budgeting and disbursement process, the effects of Trump’s suspension persist.GAO reviewed the aid interruption at the request of several members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York who chairs the committee. The watchdog examined documents and interviewed officials from USAID and the State Department, as well as implementing partners. (…)
- New! Opinion: The U.S. government is rushing to resume risky virus research. Not so fast. (Washington Post by Josh Rogin , October 21, 2021) — Although we don’t know how the covid-19 pandemic started, it’s now clear there were serious gaps in oversight of U.S.-government-funded projects around the world that focused on digging up dangerous viruses in the wild. Why, then, is the U.S. government barreling forward with a new, huge project to expand this very research, before those problems have been properly addressed?Two years after the covid-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan, China, troubling revelations continue to emerge about U.S.-government-sponsored research there. New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit released last month showed that the U.S.-contracted nonprofit organization EcoHealth Alliance worked in Wuhan to manipulate bat coronaviruses, making them more dangerous to humans. EcoHealth maintains this was not “gain of function” research. But on Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health reported to Congress in a letter that EcoHealth had failed to properly disclose how this research resulted in viruses that could infect humans more easily, which should have triggered an official review to determine whether it was “gain of function.”The U.S. Agency for International Development gave $65 million to EcoHealth over the years as part of USAID’s $200 million PREDICT program, which aimed to give advance warning of future pandemics. USAID continues to ignore congressional requests for documents and information about its extensive collaborations with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And yet, USAID saw no problem in announcing this monththat it intends to spend an additional $125 million to expand its work hunting viruses and bringing them back to labs all over the world.Called the “DEEP VZN” project, USAID will partner with a consortium of universities and public health organizations, led by Washington State University, to drastically expand the work of discovering new viruses in the wild to study how they might spill over into humans in the future. The goal, according to Washington State, is to collect 800,000 samples in Asia, Africa and Latin America over five years, to identify 8,000 to 12,000 new viruses, including some in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.Not so fast, says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), the ranking Republican on the Senate appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee. In an interview, Graham told me he would stop the funding until USAID provides Congress with transparency about its past work on virus-hunting and more information about this new project. Graham is not against doing the research in principle, he said.
“Logically, it makes sense to inventory threats we have out there and get ahead of it. But in the process of trying to find out how to stop a pandemic, are you creating one?” he told me. “We need to slow down and get a better accounting of where the money’s going to go.” (…)
- New! World Bank says globe seeing ‘tragic reversals in development’ due to COVID-19 (The Hill by Joseph Choi, 10/11/21)– World Bank Group President David Malpass said Monday the Earth is seeing “tragic reversals in development” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Malpass gave his assessment at a media roundtable in Washington, D.C., for the 2021 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group, saying some countries are being set back by several years. He said that the World Bank estimates the global economy will grow by 5.7 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022. He added, however, that the global economy “remains dramatically uneven.”“The outlook is challenging for much of the developing world with lagging vaccination rates, rising inflation, limited policy support, too few jobs and shortages that extend to food, water and electricity,” Malpass said. According to him, the per capita income in advanced economies is expected to grow by 5 percent, while in low-income countries it is only expected to grow by 0.5 percent. “We’re witnessing what I call tragic reversals in development across many dimensions. Progress in reducing extreme poverty has been set back by years — for some, by a decade,” said Malpass. “Median incomes have declined instead of risen. Women were disproportionately harmed during the pandemic. They are recovering less now in the recovery. There’s been a tragic loss in human capital, including children The debt owed by low-income countries also increased by 12 percent to reach $860 billion, according to the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics.Malpass called for policies to be redirected in both advanced and low-income economies so that growth and investments are more spread out. He cited the access and development of COVID-19 vaccines as the “highest priority.” “The World Bank Group’s support for the poorest countries is at an all-time high, including grants and highly concessional loans to countries eligible to borrow from [International Development Association,]” he said.
- New! Ending Covid once and for all has to be a global fight (by J. Brian Atwood and William Fischer, 10/11/21) —The United States has now surpassed 700,000 deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic and the vast majority of the more recent fatalities occurred among unvaccinated people. The challenge in the United States is no longer vaccine supply. Americans are now dying from a preventable illness due to a plague of misinformation and mistrust. At the same time many in under-resourced countries around the world are dying because they cannot access vaccines and COVID-19 therapeutics. This inequality in access represents a shared global public health threat. If we allow SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to replicate globally, not only will countless lives be lost to a preventable illness, but we risk the emergence of a new variant that can circumvent current vaccine and therapeutic tools that offer protection from one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks in modern times.We have both worked in Africa. One of us managed the development programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the other researches and provides medical care for patients infected with severe viral diseases like Ebola, Lassa Fever and COVID-19.The World Health Organization reported that as of Sept. 30 only 4 percent of the people of Africa had been vaccinated. Far less have had access to monoclonal antibody treatments. In our view this isn’t just a humanitarian problem that affects Africa, it is also a threat to the well being of all people globally, even those who have been vaccinated.In the absence of a concerted global effort to ensure equal access to vaccines and therapeutics, we are enabling the virus to replicate, evolve and evade our current strategies of prevention and treatment. Two clear examples of this risk include the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, including the B.1.351 beta variant, which can evade neutralization by one of the currently available monoclonal antibody treatments, and the B.1.621 mu variant that carries mutations that may help it circumvent vaccine and infection-induced immunity. These variants are warnings of what lies ahead if we perpetuate the inequity in access to prevention and treatment strategies that exist today. (continued)
- New! 2021 Climate Readiness Plan (Devex, October 8, 2021) — On Thursday, the U.S. Agency for International Development released its 2021 Climate Readiness Plan — a move required by U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order on tackling the climate crisis. The readiness plan includes: “four priority adaptation actions USAID will implement on various timelines in the coming years, an assessment of the five biggest climate change vulnerabilities USAID faces related to its management functions, and a discussion of how USAID will enhance the climate literacy of its management workforce, ensure climate-ready sites and facilities, and ensure a climate-ready supply of products and services.” Still in the works is the agency’s new climate strategy, planned for release during COP 26 next month.
- New! Exclusive: Two Board members resign over transparency concerns (Devex by Michael Igoe and Shabtai Gold, September 27, 2021) — Two longtime board members of Pathfinder International — and descendants of the organization’s founder — have resigned from their positions, alleging a lack of transparency, high staff turnover, and low morale at the organization. “We have lost faith in the organization’s current leadership and are gravely concerned by the organization’s lack of transparency,” Walter Gamble and Judy Kahrl wrote in a letter Monday to a group of the organization’s biggest supporters, which was shared with Devex. Kahrl and Gamble are siblings and the children of Clarence Gamble, an heir to the Procter & Gamble Company fortune who founded Pathfinder in 1957. The family has given more than $40 million to Pathfinder since then and has served a cumulative 200 years on the organization’s board, according to the letter. In addition to resigning, the two said they are withdrawing all future financial support. Kahrl and Gamble also accused Pathfinder of a lack of transparency in disclosing their late father’s ties to the eugenics movement.
Pathfinder, which is based in Watertown, Massachusetts, implements more than $100 million per year in reproductive health and family planning programs, many of which are supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The nonprofit has been led by CEO Lois Quam since 2017. In their letter, Kahrl and Gamble alleged that board chair Roslyn Watson refused to share Quam’s performance evaluation prior to the CEO’s salary renewal and that Ben Kahrl, the son of Judy Kahrl, was removed from the board via secret ballot for requesting it. They also cited a 100% turnover rate among U.S.-based staffers since Quam took over, including three chief financial officers in five years. “Morale at the organization remains at an all-time low, resulting in the loss of numerous dedicated, professional people who are experts in their field,” they wrote.
- New! John Nkengasong, of the Africa C.D.C., Will Lead PEPFAR (New York Times by Apoorva Mandavilli, September 21, 2021) —The Biden administration plans to nominate John Nkengasong, a virologist and director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to lead the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, according to several sources familiar with the matter. President Biden is expected to make the announcement in the coming days.PEPFAR is a $7 billion operation that funds and sets goals for AIDS care in many nations, most of them in Africa. Dr. Nkengasong, who was born in Cameroon, is the first person of African origin to head the program, which is housed in the Department of State. “This is a huge leap forward for the U.S. government to name someone from the region where much of the PEPFAR work is,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit organization promoting H.I.V. treatment worldwide. “It shows a commitment to truly listening to and learning from the people PEPFAR is meant to serve.” Dr. Nkengasong could not immediately be reached for comment.The AIDS program was last led by Dr. Deborah Birx, who left in February 2020 to join the White House coronavirus task force. The Biden administration has come under severe criticism for leaving the program leaderless, especially at a time when the pandemic is setting back years of progress against H.I.V. In July, more than 50 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Mr. Biden calling the delay “unacceptable.” Compared with 2019, the number of people in 2020 who sought testing for H.I.V. decreased by 22 percent, and the number who opted for H.I.V. prevention services fell by 12 percent, according to a report published this month. (…..)
- New! Rejoining UNESCO is a Critical Step for Regaining Global Influence (The Hill by Brian Atwood, September 18, 2021) —The United States’ relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been a troubled one for decades. The U.S. has left and then rejoined the organization twice since the 1970s. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out in 2018. Much has changed under UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay. She has addressed each of the concerns raised by the United States since she took office in late 2017. Azoulay, a former Minister of Culture in the French government, has managed to limit the influence of those who would use the resolution process to score political points. The French-born daughter of a Moroccan Jewish family, Azoulay worked with moderate Arab states to eliminate political resolutions that had created a strong reaction in American political circles. She led a mediation process that produced a rule requiring unanimous consent for any resolution on matters involving the Middle East. This huge step forward had the effect of neutralizing the anti-Israeli bias that the organization had been accused of. At the time, it received high praise from the Israeli ambassador. However the Trump administration’s subsequent decision to leave made it difficult for Israel to remain. Azoulay recognized that it was important to keep the focus on UNESCO’s primary mission. She has managed to create a highly relevant agenda that serves a world badly in need of consensus building in the fields of education, science and cultural heritage.UNESCO has continued its seminal work in courses related to anti-semitism, publishing guides in several languages including Arabic and Farsi. The Holocaust Museum in Washington strongly supports the work UNESCO is doing; as does the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League. The organization is leading a global dialogue on artificial intelligence (AI) designed to explore the ethical limits of this new technology. AI has great potential to improve lives and create scientific innovation, but it can also be used by governments and individuals to invade privacy and to create weapons of war that extend beyond human control. The United States should be deeply engaged in this dialogue, as are the Russian and Chinese governments. The organization provided strategic leadership for donors in Afghanistan for girls’ education programs. The Taliban government may discontinue these programs, but they cannot erase the empowerment that the knowledge these women gained has created. In an era when press freedom is under attack, UNESCO is the lead U.N. organization promoting a free press. UNESCO is vitally important in holding governments accountable so that crimes against journalists are adjudicated. A recent program to train journalists to cover the scientific intricacies of the coronavirus pandemic was welcomed by global press outlets.………..In the battle between democracy and autocracy, UNESCO is an important part of the field of play. Right now, sadly, the United States isn’t even on the field. It is long past time for Congress to recognize that the national interests of the United States are best served by participation in international organizations like UNESCO.
- New! Gates Foundation Calls for Worldwide Health Investments (Devex, by Stephanie Beasley, September 14, 2021) —The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing for more long-term investments in health infrastructure worldwide — including vaccine research, development, and manufacturing capacity — in a new report, which highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. In the fifth annual Goalkeepers report, released Monday ahead of the United Nations’ General Assembly, the foundation said investments in building and expanding health systems can serve as “the foundation for emergency disease response” in low-income countries, where millions continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 and a lack of access to vaccines.For example, the African continent, which is home to 17% of the world’s population, has less than 1% of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capability, the report said. And it administered roughly the same number of COVID-19 vaccine doses as the U.S. state of California through the first half of 2021, despite having a population that is 30 times larger, according to data collected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a Gates partner. More than 80% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. “The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy,” Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee at the foundation, said in a statement. “We face the very real risk that in the future, wealthy countries and communities will begin treating COVID-19 as yet another disease of poverty. We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines.”
- New! House bill boosts US foreign aid funding, removes abortion restrictions (Devex by Adva Saldinger, August 2021) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed its foreign state and foreign operations budget bill last week, approving a roughly 12% foreign aid spending increase for fiscal year 2022 and making a few policy statements — most notably about family planning and funding abortion. The legislation appropriates about $62 billion for foreign affairs, with big boosts to global health security, climate change, and multilateral assistance.
The Senate will write its own appropriations bill, and the two will have to be reconciled before lawmakers can approve the final fiscal year 2022 budget, which they need to do before Sept. 30. It is also possible that they won’t come to an agreement in time and will once again pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running as they negotiate the budget bills further.One of the most significant policy-related measures in the bill is language that permanently repeals the “global gag rule,” formally known as the Mexico City Policy. It also removes Helms amendment restrictions barring foreign aid funding from being used to pay for abortions that have long been included in budget bills. “This action paves an unprecedented — and long overdue — pathway to permanently end the global gag rule, which has for decades stripped individual rights and destabilized entire health systems, while eliminating the harmful and discriminatory Helms amendment,” Seema Jalan, the executive director of the Universal Access Project, said in a statement. She added that she hoped it would lead to a United States foreign policy “that centers [on] the health, well-being, and self-determination of people everywhere.”
Beyond the policy changes, the legislation also raised funding levels for family planning — a $185 million increase in bilateral funding, and a $37.5 million boost for the U.N. Population Fund from the previous year. The combined $830 million is one of the biggest U.S. allocations for family planning in more than a decade. …. Other allocations of note:
• $8.53 billion humanitarian assistance — a $700 million boost.
• $3 billion to address climate change, including $1.6 billion for the Green Climate Fund.
• $1.6 billion for the Indo-Pacific and to counter the increasing influence of the Chinese government.
• $598 million for the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, up by $29 million, with increases to support administrative expenses and bolster the Office of Inspector General.
• $1.93 billion for contributions to peacekeeping activities.
• $1.66 billion to fully fund assessed contributions for international organizations, and human-rights-related arrears.
• $225 million (at least) for programs in the West Bank and Gaza, a $150 million increase.
• $860.6 million for Central America.
• $200 million for the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, $200 million to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, $150 million to support the Women, Peace and Security Strategy.
- New! Biden administration releases plan to tackle ‘root causes’ of migration (Devex by Teresa Welsh, July 30, 2021) — As the United States increasingly uses development assistance to deter migration, the U.S. Agency for International Development will be “integral” to implementing the Biden administration’s newly released Strategy to Combat Migration from Central America, Michael Camilleri, executive director at the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force, said Thursday. The Biden administration on Thursday released the strategy to deter people who are “fleeing in record numbers,” as President Joe Biden faces increasing political pressure to stop the flow of refugees and migrants arriving at the US southern border. The strategy puts foreign assistance at the center of addressing the movement of people from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which it says is caused by factors including lack of economic opportunity, climate change, violence, and corruption.“We are already embarking on a process to align and optimize both our current and future programming to the specific lines of effort that you’ve seen in the strategy,” Camilleri told reporters during a briefing call Thursday. “So in terms of the funding that the administration has requested from Congress, certainly for Fiscal Year ’22, the majority of that will flow through USAID. So we see our role and the implementation of this as absolutely critical in collaboration with our State Department colleagues and those across the interagency.”The strategy’s five “pillars” are: addressing economic insecurity and inequality; combating corruption, strengthening democratic governance, and advancing the rule of law; promoting respect for human rights, labor rights, and a free press; countering and preventing violence, extortion, and other crimes perpetrated by criminal gangs, trafficking networks, and other organized criminal organizations; and combating sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence. (Read the full article for more information on the contents of the strategy.)
- New! Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships ( The Hill by Rafael Bernal, July 28, 2021) —Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday introduced a bill to fund a Trump-era program designed to diversify the number of groups that partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The bill would authorize $250 million for the next four years to fund the New Partnerships Initiative, which seeks to make it easier for new entities to receive foreign aid funds and implement programs. “The New Partnerships Initiative was founded on the principle that greater diversity and competition among USAID’s local partner base would lead to better and more effective humanitarian work,” said Kaine. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation, which would help the agency build safer, healthier, and stronger communities around the world.”The initiative is one of a handful of USAID programs that have sought to change the way the agency does business, in this case reducing reliance on a select group of contractors.
“Ultimately, USAID needs to diversify its partners to be able to bring new innovation, bring in new ideas to confront development challenges worldwide,” said Eddy Acevedo, who served as national security adviser to former USAID Administrator Mark Green. The bill would make it easier for new organizations to partner with USAID and require the agency’s administrator to provide annual congressional reports on the initiative’s performance.”USAID is a lot of things, one of them is a procurement entity. And a lot of people forget about that. So anything that we can do to kind of make it easier and lower the burden for people to partner with USAID is a good thing,” said Acevedo.
USAID is a key distributor of foreign aid, providing direct monetary assistance for everything from food programs to nongovernmental organizations and foreign civil society organizations. “USAID plays an important role in our nation’s foreign policy initiatives,” said Rubio. “The bill would authorize USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative to allow smaller organizations to better assist local entities and make the agency more effective for America’s allies and partners.”
- New! What is DFC’s mandate? Debate over a bill turns up many answers (Devex by Adva Saldinger, July 27, 2021) –The debate over a recent piece of congressional legislation illustrates the tension that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation faces between its development mandate and the desire of politicians and policymakers to use it as a tool for their foreign policy objectives. The nearly two-year-old agency has been pulled in multiple directions since its founding. But the attention may also mean that a long-sought budget fix that could unlock the agency’s ability to do equity investments at scale is on the agenda, along with a plan to raise its investment cap.The initial version of the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act, or EAGLE Act, included a section that would have allowed the DFC to invest in high-income countries. The bill, introduced in May, is aimed at boosting U.S. global engagement and countering China. It’s not the first and is unlikely to be the last, effort to stretch the DFC’s scope beyond its focus on low- and lower-middle-income countries. Allowing the DFC to invest in upper-middle- or high-income countries “fundamentally misunderstands what the DFC is and what a DFI is,” said Conor Savoy, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “My concern is that the DFC is just becoming a football for each administration. It is still a new, shiny object and everyone is applying a new lens,” he told Devex. And outside experts aren’t the only ones with concerns about the impact of tying the agency to foreign policy objectives — be they climate finance, countering China, or supporting countries in the Western Hemisphere. “The agency is being pulled in all sorts of directions,” said a DFC official who was not authorized to use their name in speaking to Devex. “We’re all things to all people, and no one really gets what we do.”(To read more on Section 116 and where DFC will invest, the equity fix and DFC growth, along with “the odds”, click on the title above of this article summary.)
- New! Biden revives Trump’s Africa business initiative; focus on energy, health. (Reuters by Doyinsola Oladipo and Andrea Shalal, July 27, 2021) — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure on the continent. U.S. industry executives welcomed the interest, but said dollar flows will lag until the administration wraps up its lengthy review of Trump admnistration trade measures and sets a clear policy on investments in liquefied natural gas.
Dana Banks, senior director for Africa at the White House National Security Council, told a conference the administration planned to “re-imagine” and revive Prosper Africa, an initiative launched by former-President Donald Trump in 2018, as the “centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa.” Travis Adkins, deputy assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), added: “We’re looking at the ways in which we (can) foster two-way trade, looking at mutually beneficial partnerships that work together to mobilize investment, create jobs, and … shared opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.” President Joe Biden, who requested nearly $80 million for the initiative in his budget proposal in May, aims to focus it on women and equity, with an expanded role for small- and medium-sized businesses, Banks said. The administration’s goal was to “reinvigorate Prosper Africa as the centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa,” she said. “This is an area that is a priority both at home and abroad,” Banks told Reuters ahead of the conference, adding that African countries were eager to expand their cooperation with the United States. U.S. business executives warn the United States is in danger of being overtaken by China and Europe, which are already investing and signing trade agreements across the continent…[while] another hurdle is uncertainty about the administration’s policy on LNG.
- New! Power Play: USAID’s Administrator Makes the Case for Global Engagement, More Focus on Effectiveness (CGDev by Erin Collinson and Sarah Rose, July 21, 2021) —USAID Administrator Samantha Power appeared before House and Senate authorizing committees late last week to discuss the agency’s FY22 budget. Ongoing US efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large in both hearings, but Administrator Power fielded questions about USAID’s response to a wide range of other global challenges, the effectiveness of US foreign aid writ large, a host of country-specific issues, and key policy priorities. It wasn’t surprising to hear Administrator Power make a case for strong US global engagement—including robust aid investments and continued commitment to humanitarian response. But she also demonstrated—in a number of important ways—a clear-eyed focus on development effectiveness. Below we highlight several issues we were glad to see receive attention. (Note: These highlight issues are: locally led development, diversity/equity, inclusion at USAID, acting on evidence, emphasis on violence prevention, fighting energy poverty and mainstreaming climate. )
- New! Opinion: USAID must protect the integrity of its humanitarian aid programs (Devex by Bill Steiger and Max Primorac, July 19, 2021) — The U.S. Agency for International Development provided over $7 billion in humanitarian aid in 2020, often going to regions where groups designated as terrorists by the U.S. government control large swaths of territory, including in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Nigeria. In these chaotic places, terrorist, criminal, and corrupt actors view foreign aid as an opportunity for patronage, kickbacks, and financing illicit activities. For many years, however, USAID “lacked a framework to manage fraud risks in humanitarian responses,” the Office of the USAID Inspector General concluded this spring. Over time, this policy failure has created a moral hazard that the American people could be financing conflicts responsible for massive humanitarian catastrophes. The situation calls for more sophisticated oversight if the U.S. is going to continue to provide aid in chronic, man-made crises.Given the Biden administration’s announcement of increased assistance in Hamas-controlled Gaza, the scaling up of aid to Yemen, and the current crisis in Haiti, USAID will likely disburse more humanitarian aid in 2021 than ever before. Reforms instituted in 2020 and early 2021 have given the agency the tools to carry out its due diligence more effectively, including a set of policies designed to reduce the chance that U.S. humanitarian assistance could be diverted to terrorist or other criminal enterprises. But this progress is fragile, and constant vigilance is necessary to ensure the integrity of relief programs funded by the American taxpayer. USAID Administrator Samantha Power correctly affirmed in her confirmation hearing that the agency must “make sure assistance reaches its intended beneficiaries.” Here are a few ways she can do just that…….
- New! Biden nominates surgeon, author Atul Gawande to senior job at USAID (Washington Reuters by Andrea Shalal, July 13, 2021) –– U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated writer, surgeon and public health expert Atul Gawande to lead global health development at the U.S. Agency for International Development, including for COVID-19, the White House said. Gawande, author of four New York Times best-selling books and a professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, would serve as the assistant administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His role at USAID will focus on efforts to prevent child and maternal deaths, control the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and combat infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, a White House official said.Gawande appears to be taking his own advice. Last month, he told advanced degree graduates at Stanford University to be “open to trying stuff – to saying yes” to new opportunities. On Tuesday, he said he was honored to be tapped for the job. “With more COVID deaths worldwide in the first half of 2021 than in all of 2020, I’m grateful for the chance to help end this crisis and to re-strengthen public health systems worldwide,” he wrote on Twitter.Gawande, an outspoken critic of his industry’s practices, was hired in 2018 by Berkshire Hathaway Inc, Amazon.com Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co to lead Haven, a joint healthcare company aimed at cutting costs for U.S. employees. But the Boston-based venture was short-lived and shut down in February. Gawande’s 2014 book, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” explores the limitations and failures of the medical profession in grappling with the realities of aging and death. Gawande, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998 and the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, is also founder and chair of Ariadne Labs, a center for health systems innovation, and of Lifebox, a nonprofit organization aimed at making surgery safer globally. During the pandemic, Gawande co-founded CIC Health, which operates COVID-19 testing and vaccination nationally, and served on Biden transition’s advisory board on COVID-19. He served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services during the administration of former President Bill Clinton.
- New! Opinion: The US should place development outcomes at forefront (Devex by Jim Richardson, July 7, 2021) — Every four to eight years, a new U.S. administration comes to power and believes it needs to clean house of all previous ideas and initiatives. That would be a mistake when it comes to American foreign aid policy.Fortunately, the Biden administration has already embraced several key foreign aid policies from the previous administration, such as our approach to China, the plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines internationally, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s organizational reforms. I hope they don’t abandon USAID’s guiding principle, called the Journey to Self-Reliance, or J2SR, which places development outcomes ahead of newspaper headlines.Throughout the world, donor governments struggle with how to focus on sustainable development outcomes, with the constant political pressure to advance specific, special interests or launch a new initiative geared to garner news headlines worldwide. This pulls away time, attention, and resources from ultimately achieving sustainable results.In the United States, we addressed this problem with a bipartisan effort of political leaders, career development and foreign service officers, and external international development experts. They worked together to create a unifying vision — J2SR — that placed good development policy at the forefront of USAID’s foreign aid. (Read further to see how J2SR works.)
- New! USAID’s Sharon L. Cromer to be U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia (Diplopundit by Domani Spero, June 24, 2021) — On June 15, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior FSO Sharon L. Cromer to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Gambia. The WH released the following brief bio:Sharon L. Cromer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, currently serves as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy, Accra, Ghana. Previously she was the USAID Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and she has also been USAID Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. In addition, Cromer also had an earlier assignment in Accra as Mission Director. In Washington, Cromer served as Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator and Acting Assistant Administrator in the Africa Bureau of USAID and also as the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the USAID Management Bureau. Among her other assignments, Cromer was first a Supervisory Contracting Officer, and then the USAID Deputy Mission Director, at the U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia. Early in her career, Cromer served as a Contracting Officer in Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Pakistan. Cromer earned her B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University and her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law School.AFSA’s Ambassador Tracker indicates that the ambassadors appointed to The Gambia have been 15/4 career/non-career appointees since 1960. If confirmed, Ms. Cromer would succeed career diplomat Richard Paschall III who has served as Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Banjul since March 14, 2019.
- New! The New Climate Narrative (Op-Ed by Kemal Dervis at Brookings on June 7, 2021) — As the Nobel laureate economists Robert Shiller, Abhijit Banerjee, and Esther Duflo have argued eloquently in recent books, political debate and economic policy are driven much more by simple “narratives” than by complex and nuanced theories or models. What counts are plausible “stories” that have broad intuitive appeal and can thus sway public opinion. This is certainly true of climate policy. Modeling global warming is an immensely complicated undertaking based on “probabilistic” physical relationships and huge amounts of data about natural and human activities over many decades or centuries. But relatively straightforward messages continue to dominate policy discussions.When the climate policy debate began, the prevailing narrative was that economic growth faced a new constraint in the form of a carbon budget and exceeding it would bring about an undesirable amount of global warming. Policymakers would therefore have to consider a trade-off between more economic output in the near term and the damage caused by global warming in the longer term. What previously appeared to be a political suicide mission could now yield substantial benefits for those who lead it. Unsurprisingly, the academic debate—epitomized by the work of Nicholas Stern, William Nordhaus, and Martin Weitzman—concentrated heavily on how to compare climate-change mitigation costs paid in the present with benefits accrued in the future. The so-called “social discount rate” depends on two components: a rate of “pure time preference” that generally gives future generations’ welfare less weight than that of current ones (although some believe that ethical considerations require it to be zero), and a term reflecting the degree of diminishing returns to welfare with respect to consumption. A higher discount rate makes ambitious near-term mitigation policies appear less desirable.This new framing reflects the tremendous rate of technological change, which the old narrative had largely assumed to be constant or at least exogenous. Green innovation is now not only rapid but also endogenous. The cost of producing renewable energy from solar and wind, and of battery storage to solve the intermittency problem, has already declined substantially. This progress, as well as moves toward greener transport and urban design, is partly a response to policies that incentivize carbon-saving economic activities and discourage carbon-intensive activities. These policies are justified by the fact that emissions controls are a public good, whose social benefits exceed private returns. (Read the full article to understand the three caveats in order to enable these technologies without a binding international climate treaty.)
- New! Biden’s First Budget: What the FY22 Request Could Mean for Development Policy (CGDEV by Erin Collinson and Jocilyn Estes, June 7, 2021) — With the end of the fiscal year only a few months away, the Biden-Harris administration finally submitted its first budget request to Congress. The Trump administration repeatedly proposed deep cuts in international affairs spending, which were roundly rejected by lawmakers year after year. In contrast, President Biden emphasized his desire to pursue robust US global engagement while still on the campaign trail—so it’s little surprise this administration has taken a very different approach. The recently released FY22 budget request includes more than $63.6 billion in international affairs spending, a more than 10 percent increase over the FY21 level absent the emergency spending provided in the end-of-year consolidated appropriations bill and supplemental funding included in the American Rescue Plan, the massive COVID relief package signed into law in March. Here’s a rundown of some of what we’ve learned about the administration’s overarching ambition and plans for future US development policy. (Analysis includes budget requests with useful charts for humanitarian assistance, multilateral assistance, debt relief, environmental and climate finance, and the US International Development Finance Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation budgets, along with links for other US funding agencies.)
- New! Russian hack targeted USAID, human rights groups (MSN News/Aljazeera, May 28, 2021) — Russian hackers behind the SolarWinds cyberattack, a huge campaign that saw the widespread hacking of several United States federal agencies, have launched a new round of attacks targeting “government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations”, according to Microsoft. The state-backed Russian cyber-spies behind the SolarWinds hacking campaign launched a targeted spear-phishing assault on US and foreign government agencies and think tanks, according to Microsoft. This week’s wave of attacks by the Nobelium group targeted about 3,000 email accounts of more than 150 organisations spanning 24 countries, with the largest share of the attack targeting the US, Tom Burt, the tech giant’s corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.Notably, the Russian group was able to gain access to an email marketing account used by the State Department’s international aid agency, USAID, from which it targeted other organisations. The New York Times reported the breach appears to target the type of groups who have revealed Russian attacks on dissidents or have been vocal about the alleged state poisoning of prominent Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny. “At least a quarter of the targeted organisations were involved in international development, humanitarian, and human rights work,” Burt wrote. “This is yet another example of how cyberattacks have become the tool of choice for a growing number of nation-states to accomplish a wide variety of political objectives, with the focus of these attacks by Nobelium on human rights and humanitarian organizations.”The US government has explicitly linked the SolarWinds attack to Russia’s intelligence service, the SVR, and imposed sanctions on 32 Russian entities and expelled diplomats in April. The agency was also allegedly involved in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Convention. After going undetected for months, the SolarWinds breach was identified by the private security company FireEye in December, underscoring the increased sophistication of the operation, which was named after a US-based company that develops system management software for use in businesses and organisations. Breaches at the Treasury Department, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Department of Commerce, among other agencies, sent shock waves through the US intelligence community. Microsoft President Brad Smith previously described the SolarWinds hack as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen”. Russia’s spy chief has denied responsibility for the breach, but said he was “flattered” by the accusations from the US and the UK that Russian foreign intelligence was behind such a sophisticated cyber-operation.
- New! Senate hearing addresses broad USAID funding goals, few details. (Devex by Adva Saldinger ,May 27, 2021)–
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power made her first appearance since taking up her post before the Senate appropriations committee to discuss the administration’s priorities. The hearing was a bit light on specific details since President Joe Biden’s administration is not expected to release a full budget request until later this week. Last month Biden released a “skinny budget” request with topline numbers, including a proposed $6.8 billion boost in international affairs spending for fiscal year 2022, an increase of 12% from 2021 spending. “The Biden-Harris discretionary request for fiscal year 2022 will allow the U.S. to lead on the global stage and to leverage our activities to inspire our allies and private sector partners to contribute more,” Power said at the hearing of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations Wednesday. “We also need to make ourselves a more capable and nimble agency.”USAID is trying to adapt its systems, processes, and procedures to improve efficiency and ensure it can expand its engagement with the private sector. It is also “building institutional capacity commensurate with USAID’s role as a national security agency” and is focused on its workforce, she said. Power is also expected to appear before the House appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Support from Congress will allow USAID to “move aggressively to tackle the world’s toughest problems,” she said, adding that countries around the world appreciate the U.S. approach to development and want to be “self-reliant.” (Click on the title to read more about articles “key areas”, i.e. democracy and governance, vaccines, Central America, Gaza, women’s economic empowerment, and climate change. )
- New! Blinken announces $110M in new Gaza funding. Now comes the hard part (by Ryan Health, May 25, 2021) — The race to help innocent victims of the Israel-Hamas conflict is on. The actual flow of dollars will prove more difficult. The Biden administration’s effort to keep Congress onside and Hamas at arm’s length — while battling donor fatigue among foreign governments — is already at risk of derailing crucial assistance. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $110 million in new economic assistance to Palestinians during a visit to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, including $5.5 million in immediate relief to Gaza. Including commitments made in April, “we are in the process of providing $360 million in urgent support to the Palestinian people,” Blinken said. But overall, the Biden administration’s commitment is $80 million down on the $440 million the Obama administration delivered to Palestinians in 2014, the year of the previous Gaza conflict.U.N. humanitarian workers on the ground in Gaza told POLITICO that it will take weeks to know how much money is needed to repair damage inflicted on thousands of buildings during the May conflict, and that the hidden cost of the conflict is much higher than the physical toll. “The biggest need is mental health,” said Matthias Schmale, the Gaza director of the the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) — the main U.N. agency working in Gaza — in an interview. “You cannot live through four wars and think it doesn’t affect you.” Schmale fears the U.S. legal framework — which designates Hamas as a terrorist organization, and limits what funding can be offered to the Palestinian Authority — will slow down, or even prevent, the swift delivery of the promised aid. The urgency of Gaza’s day-to-day challenges are not in dispute: In addition to the toll from the latest round of bombing, which includes more than 240 deaths and 6,000 people made homeless according to a U.N. tally, up to 1 in 20 Gazans have been infected with Covid-19 in recent weeks.Blinken’s remarks Tuesday signal the administration’s difficulty in balancing humanitarian need against the legal and practical hurdles to working with Palestinian organizations — to say nothing of the political considerations at play. “We will work with our partners to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said, but did not offer further details. New! US to Pull El Salvador Funds, Has ‘Deep Concerns’ Over Recent Dismissals (By Reuters,
May 21, 2021) —The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is pulling aid from El Salvador’s national police and a public information institute and will instead redirect the funding to civil society groups, the agency’s head said in a statement Friday. The statement cited concerns over votes earlier this month by legislative allies of President Nayib Bukele to oust the attorney general and top judges. USAID Administrator Samantha Power expressed “deep concerns” with the dismissals as well as “larger concerns about transparency and accountability” in the Central American country. The earmarked funds will now go to “promoting transparency, combating corruption and monitoring human rights” in concert with local civil society groups, the statement said, without specifying the amount of money in question In an apparent response to Power, Bukele heaped scorn on the civil society groups that were poised to benefit from the shift in U.S. funding in a post on Twitter minutes after the announcement. “It’s good they receive foreign financing, because they will not receive a cent from the Salvadoran people,” Bukele wrote. USAID, the international development arm of the U.S. government, provides funding to a wide variety of programs in mostly poor countries across the globe. “Respect for an independent judiciary, a commitment to the separation of powers and a strong civil society are essential components of any democracy,” it said in its statement.
Growing dispute–It is the latest salvo in an intensifying spat between the two countries. On Tuesday, the U.S. government released a list of allegedly corrupt Central American politicians, including a couple with close ties to Bukele. That prompted the Salvadoran leader to praise China, in an apparent swipe at Washington. Bukele, 39, who is popular at home, has argued that the high-profile dismissals were justified and legal. Bukele’s party accused the five ousted judges of impeding the government’s health strategy amid opposition to Bukele in El Salvador, as well as the U.S. government and international rights groups like Amnesty International. Bukele’s critics also accuse him of misusing the national police and the public information institute for political ends. El Salvador, which has an economy closely tied to the United States by trade and a large migrant population, is negotiating a more than $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where Washington wields significant influence. The IMF earlier this week cited progress in the ongoing talks.
- New! USAID’s Big Contracts Don’t Pay Off (By Walter Kerr and Maya Guzdar of Starling Strategy, May 18,2021) — President Joe Biden has proposed a $6.8 billion increase in U.S. international affairs spending, including a 10 percent funding boost for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government department that manages over half of U.S. foreign assistance. Recently confirmed USAID head Samantha Power has a strong vision for the agency’s future, potentially backed by more money. But if the administration wants a real return on this investment, USAID needs to transform its business model, which consistently pays for poor performance, according to its own inspector general. A 2019 report that surveyed three years of USAID spending found that 43 percent of the agency’s awards achieved, on average, just half of their intended results.
USAID spends so inefficiently because every year the agency needs to move more than $20 billion to projects worldwide. It has become dependent on funneling hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, of dollars to mammoth government contractors. In fiscal year 2017, for instance, 60 percent of agency funding went to just 25 organizations.
To right the ship, USAID needs a procurement renaissance. It must break its dependence on large and inefficient government contractors, increase its use of pay-for-results programs, and scale up initiatives that make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises and organizations based in low- and middle-income countries to do business with the world’s largest development agency. Smaller organizations are far nimbler than juggernaut contractors. And local organizations have intimate familiarity with the issues that need solving and have a more direct stake in producing good outcomes.
But it should come as no surprise that large contractors have blocked reforms and created spinoff small businesses and local organizations to win USAID contract awards that are designed to enable a wider selection of organizations to compete. And while the big guys often entice local firms and smaller organizations to join their proposals as “bid candy” to win over USAID contracting officers, according to a forthcoming survey we conducted of more than 35 innovative small organizations that work in international development, more than two-thirds of them said that large contractors routinely cut them out of promised work after they win the awards. (Read more of this long article by clicking here.)
- New! Lawmakers push US officials for details on global pandemic response (By Adva Saldinger, May 13, 2021) — U.S. government officials laid out the Biden administration’s global COVID-19 response framework at a congressional hearing Wednesday where lawmakers pressed for more clarity around plans for vaccine distribution, broader pandemic relief, and global health security efforts. Gayle Smith, the coordinator of the global COVID-19 response and health security at the State Department, outlined the U.S. framework and its five “planks” at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing.
The first is increasing supply and access to vaccines globally — which was the focus of much of the hearing. The second is reducing mortality and transmission, including by supporting underlying health systems. The U.S. will work to address the acute shocks — economic and otherwise. It will also work to bolster economic systems that have struggled. Lastly, the U.S. will work to “build the international architecture for global health security that we will need in the future,” Smith said. That includes strengthening and modernizing existing institutions to ensure they are “fit for purpose”; pushing for new norms when necessary and ensuring compliance with existing ones; ensuring adequate and sustainable financing; and improving transparency, accountability, and oversight.
With the recent surge of COVID-19 in India, the country has become a key priority in U.S. global response, as has its neighbor Nepal, where cases have also been rising and there is insufficient testing, said Jeremy Konyndyk, the coordinator of COVID-19 response at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since the start of the pandemic, USAID has provided more than $3 billion and continues to program more funding every week, he said. But Konyndyk cautioned that while there is rightly a focus on vaccines, USAID is also focused on what it can do in the short term to support good public health measures and community needs.
- New! A Policymaker’s Guide to the Global Fragility Act (By Erol Yayboke, Daphne McCurdy, Annie Pforzheimer and Janina Staguhn, May 2021)
- For too long, U.S. foreign policy has been reactive to violent conflict, deploying troops and civilians at great cost. It is time to refocus on preventing violent conflict and mitigating the adverse effects of fragility. Failure to do so could result in an even more chaotic world and hamper the Biden administration’s priorities of renewing democracy, managing the relationship with China and other geostrategic competitors, and addressing climate change.
- The Global Fragility Act (GFA) is a real opportunity for the United States to shift how it approaches violent conflict prevention and mitigation in direct service of the Biden-Harris administration’s foreign policy objectives. Such a shift is critical to achieving these objectives.
- Seizing the opportunity presented by the GFA will require swift action, high-level Washington- and field-based leadership and reform, as well as congressional support and oversight.
- New! Intellectual property restrictions hamper the fight against COVID-19 (By J. Brian Atwood, May 4, 2021) — The coronavirus-related disaster in India has reawakened Americans to the moral and practical demands of humanitarianism, the desire to provide relief for people suffering from disease, natural disasters, or violent conflict. President Biden has announced that the U.S. will deliver more than $100 million in essential supplies in the coming weeks. He is responding not only to the well-reported tragedy, but also to the heartfelt demands of the American people.The president’s gesture reflects a longstanding American humanitarian impulse to provide relief and save lives. It is an admirable trait and one that projects national values. That is not to suggest that benefits will not accrue to the United States. Preventing new variants of COVID-19 from reaching our shores is one and the soft power derived from goodwill is another.Humanitarianism, however, occasionally comes up against policy roadblocks of which the American people may be unaware. The COVID pandemic has exposed one very serious deficiency in our global response: the limits created by the set of international laws designed to protect intellectual property (IP).
- New! Making COVID-19 Aid Effective by Doubling Down on USAID Reforms (Brookings by George Ingram and Justin Fugle, May 3, 2021) —The Senate’s bipartisan confirmation of Ambassador Samantha Power as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has reenergized the agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has notionally been valued alongside defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first administration to grant the U.S. development leader a permanent seat on the National Security Council. It is a critical recognition that the perspectives of both USAID and the State Department are essential and distinct enough that both voices must be heard to optimize policymaking. Along with overseeing USAID’s $35 billion annual budget, a new and daunting challenge and exciting opportunity facing Administrator Power and her USAID colleagues is implementing some $5 billion for USAID’s global COVID-19 response. In approving that funding, Congress granted the State Department and USAID an unusual degree of flexibility—both by avoiding narrow funding categories and legislative directives and by providing greater authority to transfer funds between accounts. This should allow development professionals closer to the ground to decide how and where the funds would be used most effectively and wider use of local organizations, procurement innovations such as co-creation, and the implementation reform of adaptive management. (Please read on this excellent article which emphasizes locally-led development, co-creation, adaptive management, and the arc of development effectiveness by clicking on the article title above.)
- New! Time to Rethink Development Assistance in the Sahel (By American Diplomacy, Mark Wentling, May 2021) —The main assistance theme of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. embassies, other donors, and host government agencies in the impoverished Sahel Region of Africa has been focused for a decade on strengthening the resilience of rural households eking out a living on the edge of the Sahara Desert. More than 40 million people reside in this marginal arid geographic area, mostly pursuing subsistence agricultural and pastoral livelihoods. The countries most concerned by this effort to build rural resilience are Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. USAID and other donors have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to fund resiliency activities in the Sahel. These costly endeavors have kept hundreds of thousands of desperately poor people from becoming poorer and enabled them to better withstand natural disasters, but they have not advanced their countries to a higher developmental stage. USAID and other major donors are thus confronted with cruel options.Does USAID continue spending its limited funding on keeping poor people from becoming poorer or does it invest in supporting activities that have the potential to lift the country’s development ranking? With assistance funding unlikely to be increased, USAID will be faced with making a choice: either it continues supporting resiliency and related activities or it switches its focus to supporting activities that enhance a country’s overall development status. (This article focuses on the issues of persistent childhood malnutrition, climate change increasing the challenges, the need for competent governance, and the fact that resiliency is not enough.)
- New! Civil society should anchor Biden’s democracy agenda in Africa (Brookings by Rebecca Rattner and Bjorn Whitmore, April 23, 2021) — Joe Biden has laid out a clear vision for a new foreign policy committed to reestablishing American leadership and reinitiating the push for global democracy. As the first president in decades to enter office with significant foreign policy experience, he has backed up this rhetoric by assembling a reliable leadership team and reaffirming his long-standing commitment to multilateralism, diplomacy, dignity, and human rights—traditional values that, in the current political climate, are refreshingly bold. With growing young societies eager for more open government, but facing widespread democratic backsliding, sub-Saharan Africa represents an important place for Biden to put his foreign policy ambitions into practice. Despite a monumental list of priorities, Biden made time in his first 100 days to deliver a speech at the African Union Summit—a rarity for an American president. This promising overture must now be backed up by policies that reckon with the fundamental flaws in America’s long history of democratic advancement abroad in order to reimagine democracy building from the bottom up.America’s past democracy-building interventions in sub-Saharan Africa have often been marred by consistent and preventable shortcomings: choosing leaders, rather than supporting societies; short-term interventions that build a façade of democracy, rather than its foundations; and surface-level diplomatic efforts, rather than earnest partnership building. In Uganda, for instance, where January’s election saw rampant political oppression and violence, it was the U.S. that backed Museveni’s rise to power nearly four decades ago. More recently, billions spent on democracy building in South Sudan created a state still lacking in key infrastructure for democracy, such as legal institutions and access to education. Although some efforts, such as initiatives to strengthen judiciaries and local governance, have shown promise, to truly reverse this trend Biden must recognize that democracy is a long-term project fundamentally based in the power, organization, and voice of the people. American policy should promote the leadership and empowerment of the robust network of community organizations, nonprofits, and individuals advocating for these causes in their own countries. From mobilizing rural communities to demand government services to taking on strategic human rights litigation and providing judicial trainings, sub-Saharan Africa’s rich civil society speaks to a clear desire for more participatory, open government.
- New! Harris moves forward with new Central America strategy (The Hill by Rafael Bernal, April 23, 2021) — The Biden administration’s policy toward Central America is starting to take shape as Vice President Harris takes the lead on a potentially treacherous portfolio that straddles diplomacy and migration. Harris and other administration officials on Thursday laid out a new approach to the region that will try to tackle both the challenges created by Central American governments and why so many of their citizens are deciding to make the trek to the U.S. “The bottom line is that this initiative, from my perspective, must be effective and relevant to the underlying issue, which is addressing the acute and the root causes of migration away from that region,” Harris told a group of philanthropists working in the region.President Biden last month appointed Harris as the administration’s point person on regional migration. Since then, she has been in close contact with top Mexican and Guatemalan officials and on Wednesday announced plans to visit Guatemala and meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. Migration from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — is driven by a wide range of reasons, ranging from systemic corruption and political oppression to near-famine and the aftermath of tropical hurricanes. The administration’s strategy is an attempt to prioritize which to address in the short and long term by separating them into acute issues, like natural disasters, and chronic problems, like corruption. Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department special envoy for the Northern Triangle, told reporters Thursday that the administration’s ultimate goal is to “create enabling conditions that allow for these societies to thrive.” “When something goes wrong in Central America, we feel it in the United States,” said Zúñiga. “We are very connected as societies. The truth is, we are very closely linked.”Advocates and experts in the region say that while many in Central America consider migration to the United States as an option, there are often specific events that prompt an individual or a family to relocate. Those are the acute causes the Biden administration is zeroing in on as opportunities for short-term success in stemming the level of migration that’s created a crisis at the U.S. southern border.
- New! Biden Administration Seeking $300 Million in Aid to Afghanistan (VOA News, April 21, 2021)–U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the Biden administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in additional aid for Afghanistan in 2021. “The funding will be targeted at sustaining and building on the gains of the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan citizens, promoting economic growth, fighting corruption and the narcotics trade, improving health and education service delivery, supporting women’s empowerment, enhancing conflict resolution mechanisms, and bolstering Afghan civil society and independent media,” Blinken said in a statement.
The move comes as the United States and NATO have announced they are withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden has said U.S. military forces will be out of the country by Sept. 11. Blinken made a surprise visit to Afghanistan last week to reassure officials there that Washington would still be committed to the country, where U.S. troops have been stationed since 2001 following the September 11 attacks when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, outside Washington. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.When Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was in office, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces by May 1. Biden’s pushing back the deadline angered the insurgent group, which said the move was a violation of the agreement.Over the course of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, more than 2,200 U.S. troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded. It is estimated that the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on the war, America’s longest. According to the World Bank, more than half of Afghans live on less than $1.90 a day. It is also considered one of the worst countries for women’s rights, according to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
- New! A global tax on corporations must consider developing nations (The Hill by J.Brian Atwood, March 24, 2021) — As the global economy begins to emerge from the effects of a pandemic the search is on for tax revenues that will support the rebuilding process. One area of focus is the system for taxing multinational corporations, currently a mishmash of fuzzy guidelines, abuse and negative competition. Last week in Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took a second important step toward rationalizing and stabilizing the international taxation system. Having already agreed to drop U.S. objections to taxing digital transactions where profits are made (a European effort to tax Silicon Valley companies for profits made in the EU), she announced support for a “global minimum tax on multinationals,” a plan being negotiated under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Calling the competition to attract multinationals by lowering their tax burden “a destructive global race to the bottom…” Yellen signaled a willingness to reach an agreement that would reach beyond the OECD to more than 140 countries.A key part of the OECD negotiation reportedly would set the minimum tax floor at 12 percent of a company’s profit margin. The US recently lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and the Biden administration is now considering raising that rate slightly. However, given the many loopholes in the global system the real rate is much lower. The issue here is tax avoidance and the opportunities have been growing despite soft law guidelines and national efforts to capture tax resources from global companies. “Transfer pricing” rules designed by OECD to govern transactions within and between enterprises under common ownership have limited opportunities to distort taxable income. However, that hasn’t closed all the loopholes and many corporations have managed to avoid paying anywhere near the official percentage rate. Working out how a minimum rate would affect trade and investment in individual OECD countries will be complex and national parliaments will quite naturally focus on the benefits and debits that will affect their home constituencies.The first step will be reaching agreement among the strongest global economies, the 37 members of the OECD plus China, India and the rest of the G-20. But if a way can be found to smooth out the inequities among this disparate grouping, what then will be the impact on the middle income and poorest economies? Such an endeavor will require a detailed understanding of the reach of multinational corporations, their continuous search for tax havens and supply chains that produce adequate quality at the lowest wage. Developing nations that desperately need employment opportunities find themselves competing by keeping their workers’ wages and benefits low in another, even more debilitating, race to the bottom. (Click here to continue the article.)
- New! What would Samantha Power’s NSC role mean for USAID?(Devex by Michael Igoe, March 19, 2021)–Samantha Power, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, will finally have her confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week — more than two months after her nomination was first announced. Power is considered the highest-profile nominee to lead USAID, and will likely face difficult questions from lawmakers, given the prominent role she has played in Democratic foreign policy for years. In nominating her, Biden acknowledged Power’s unique standing — and signaled his administration’s emphasis on development — by announcing that the USAID administrator would have a seat on the National Security Council. U.S. development experts have largely welcomed this decision. But they also point out that it brings new challenges to an agency that has often operated on the margins of U.S. foreign policy. Participation in the NSC is not new for USAID. Even while repeatedly proposing to slash USAID’s budget, former President Donald Trump established a formal role for the agency’s deputy administrator within the NSC’s deputies committee. Under Trump, the USAID administrator was invited to cabinet-level meetings — known as the “Principles Committee” — for discussions related to development and the Agency’s work. A former senior USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information, told Devex that was part of the agreement that brought former USAID Administrator Mark Green to the agency.“She is already a respected member of this team, and so that means that [US]AID is going to start in this new permanent role with a very respected voice expressing the development point of view.” — George Ingram, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
- New! Biden to restrict US aid to Central American governments, set new conditions for money. (Los Angeles Times by Tracy Wilkinson, March 10, 2021) — Weeks after earmarking $4 billion in U.S. aid for Central America, the Biden administration is fine-tuning its plans and sharply limiting how much money will go directly to the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a senior administration official told the Los Angeles Times. Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s senior official for southwest border affairs and an expert on immigration, said in an interview that the $4 billion will be subject to strict — but untested — conditions on recipients, based on measures of anticorruption efforts and good governance. The adjustments follow a push by some lawmakers to place limits on the U.S. aid and warnings from foreign policy experts concerned that in the rush to stem illegal immigration, President Biden would go down the same path he followed as vice president, when U.S. assistance, with few effective strings attached, ended up empowering corrupt regimes. Biden plans to ensure that as little aid as possible goes to the notoriously corrupt central governments of the three countries until he is satisfied criteria are met, Jacobson said. Goalposts include transparent accounting and proof of good governance, such as fair elections and respect for human rights, she added. The U.S. had long endorsed such goals in Central America, but they are difficult to quantify. But the prospect of stricter accountability is panicking some of the Central American leaders who were hoping to remain on the receiving end of American assistance after four comfortable years under President Trump.Jacobson, a former ambassador to Mexico and assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said that instead of pouring most of the money into national treasuries, greater amounts will go to nongovernmental organizations and programs for single mothers, youth training and similar groups, “so that in the end, you are strengthening the societies and not enriching these governments.” The shifting focus comes as Biden and others in his administration are realizing that Central America is in far worse shape than it was when they were last in charge, despite the 2015 U.S. injection of nearly $1 billion, which Biden oversaw as vice president. “The president will be the first to admit he’s learned things,” said Jacobson, who is now part of the National Security Council. “He is fully prepared to do both the hard work of insisting on those conditions and commitments and is fully prepared to not convey funds if he doesn’t get what he thinks is necessary.” (…)
- New! Missing link: Can USAID unite budget and policy? (Devex by Michael Igoe, March 5, 2021) –The U.S. Agency for International Development has undertaken nearly all of the reforms included in the reorganization plan begun by former Administrator Mark Green, with one big exception: A proposal to create a new bureau meant to bring together USAID’s budget, policy, and program performance is still stuck in limbo. As USAID’s other reorganization plans moved forward during former President Donald Trump’s administration, the proposed Bureau for Policy, Resources, and Performance was hung up on a technical issue. Members of the U.S. Congress, who must sign off on major changes such as the creation of a new bureau, believed the head of PRP ought to be a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator, while USAID had already used up its allotted number of Senate-confirmed positions. That should be a relatively easy fix if President Joe Biden’s team — including Samantha Power, the nominee for USAID administrator — chooses to move forward with the previous administration’s proposed structure. What is less certain is whether the creation of a new bureau at USAID would get to the heart of long-standing challenges related to the agency’s budget authority, strategic planning, and independence from the Department of State.The proposed PRP Bureau is meant to consolidate foreign aid management responsibilities that are currently scattered among at least five different bureaus and offices. Advocates for the change see it as an important step toward building greater coherence among USAID’s strategies and policies, the resources it allocates to countries and programs, and the way it measures what those resources achieve. “It makes eminent sense,” said Susan Reichle, president and CEO at the International Youth Foundation and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. “By having these separate entities, with their own responsibilities and authorities, things just get slowed down,” Reichle said.A PRP Bureau, advocates say, would allow USAID to better align its country strategies and sectoral policies with the funding that lawmakers appropriate for the agency so that discussions about strategy are happening at the same time and place as discussions about resources. Bringing those pieces together could also strengthen USAID’s policy, budget, and performance capabilities, putting the agency on stronger footing with the U.S. Congress and other executive agencies in conversations about programs and funding. “PRP is really an effort to try, within the existing framework, to bring a certain level of budget autonomy back to AID, but also explicitly linking that with policy … and with performance,” said Conor Savoy, executive director at the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. Some warn that while the new bureau might look good on paper — and might be an improvement over the current arrangement — it does not address some big underlying issues that have hindered USAID’s ability to think strategically, align resources with its plans, and then measure the performance of those resources in achieving them. (The article continues with a focus on avoiding State micromanagement of AID’s budget.)
- New! USAID clarifies $42M Myanmar funding shift (Devex by Michael Igoe, February 19, 2021) —The U.S. Agency for International Development announced on Feb. 11 it would redirect $42.4 million in assistance to Myanmar after carrying out a review to determine whether any U.S. funding would likely benefit the military junta. It was not immediately clear how USAID would determine which aspects of its work might benefit the government, especially since the agency does not provide direct budget support to Myanmar. So Devex sought clarification. The $42.4 million that is being redirected “includes funds that were intended to provide technical assistance, training, and capacity building to government ministries, departments, and commissions,” according to Pooja Jhunjhunwala, acting spokesperson at USAID.“USAID will cease activity components that risk benefitting or supporting the government, while redirecting program implementation to support civil society and advocacy organizations working on governance, human rights, and trafficking in persons,” Jhunjhunwala wrote to Devex. The shift away from technical assistance, training and capacity building applies “except in some cases such as health and humanitarian assistance where limited coordination with or work through the government is necessary and unavoidable for life-saving activities,” she added.
How it works: USAID’s assistance to Myanmar is directed through implementing partners, including United Nation’s organizations, private sector contractors and grantees, and local and international nongovernmental organizations. Asked how existing contracts and grants would accommodate the redirection of funding, Jhunjhunwala wrote, “USAID builds adaptive management approaches into its award instruments such that they can be adjusted as circumstances may dictate.
Why it matters: The U.S. government is trying to apply pressure to Myanmar’s military while avoiding actions that could harm people in need. Since USAID typically works in close cooperation with its counterpart governments, that is a difficult balance to achieve.
- New! What new US Congressional leadership means for foreign aid (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 18, 2021) — The roster is finally set as a new cadre of U.S. congressional leaders has taken the helm of the committees with the greatest role in determining policy and providing funding to the United States’ development priorities. In the Senate, some key leaders merely switched from ranking members to chairs of their respective committees. But in the House of Representatives, election losses and retirements have resulted in a new set of leaders. The leadership changes across the board might not have a huge impact on development issues, many of which are traditionally bipartisan, said Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.While some development advocates hope the new leadership could lead to a more robust agenda, many caution that Congress and the Biden administration are contending with a number of domestic challenges — including, of course, COVID-19. So expectations should be kept realistic, they told Devex. Even when former President Barack Obama was elected with even bigger Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, hopes of big action on these issues didn’t come to fruition, they said. Some of the policy priorities of the new leaders aren’t yet clear. So far, it seems Africa may be more of a priority in the House than before, global health security may be taken on in the Senate, and a lack of diversity in U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid may be examined by both. Devex spoke to a number of development experts and advocates about the new leadership. Here’s a look at who’s in charge:
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Chairman: Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey
Senate Committee on Appropriations, Chairman: Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairman: Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman: Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York
House Committee on Appropriations, Chairwoman: Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut
House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairwoman: Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California
- New! Making USAID a premier development agency (Brookings by George Ingram, February 17, 2021) — Two challenges uppermost on the agenda of the Biden administration, COVID-19 and climate change, are issues of both domestic and international import. The international elements—help for countries in mitigating the health and economic impact of COVID-19, ensuring access to vaccines, and preventing future pandemics, and help in mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change—are inherently matters of global development. International progress is imperative for success on these issues domestically. Addressing the international aspects of these transnational crises must be grounded on sophisticated analysis and deployment of resources that strengthen countries long term while reducing the impact of the crises. This requires ensuring that the development mindset is given full consideration as the U.S. develops its strategy and policymaking, but security considerations and diplomatic short-term interests often hold sway, because the short-term political gains are more certain and apparent and the bureaucratic structure works to their advantages. To elevate the U.S. contribution to global development, the authorities and capabilities of the lead development agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), must be strengthened and the agency assigned the prominence that has always been implied by the concept of national security resting on the three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy, and development. Further, USAID must adopt strategies and policies that reflect the priorities of the administration, relevant programs and responsibilities should be assigned to USAID, and the agency personnel system must be rebuilt. (Read George’s excellent analysis of the challenge, the limits of historic and existing policies, policy recommendations, and conclusion.)
- New! Rep. Lee wants to bring greater racial equity to foreign aid— Barbara Lee will be the first Black lawmaker to chair the panel that oversees foreign aid and the State Department (RollCall.com by Rachel Oswald, February 16, 2021) — The new chairwoman of the House Appropriations foreign aid subcommittee is well known for her longtime advocacy for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, women’s access to reproductive health care, and prescient and early opposition to expansive and indefinite military interventions after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Because of this track record, many progressive foreign policy groups have been eagerly anticipating California Democrat Barbara Lee’s ascension to the top of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee ever since the panel’s former chairwoman, New York Democrat Nita M. Lowey, announced in late 2019 that she would retire at the end of the 116th Congress. The subcommittee is charged with allocating annual funding to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other smaller aid and global affairs entities. In the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated a total of $55.5 billion for diplomacy and foreign aid programs.
“I’m really excited as the first African American woman to chair the subcommittee, I hope to really show the country how, once again, we can help make our country stronger in global affairs” by bringing “an added lens of equity, racial equity” to U.S. global engagement, she said. Lee has been a longtime member of the subcommittee and had the most seniority on the panel after Lowey. She is generally regarded as more skeptical than Lowey about the benefits of continuing military assistance to some partners in the Middle East such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Lee has also been willing to sign statements criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and treatment of the Palestinians. That has caused some consternation with more conservative pro-Israel lobbyist groups.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Lee said it was too early in her tenure as subcommittee head for her to have reached any major decisions about things she wants to change in the annual State-Foreign Operations bill, including security assistance programs, which received $9 billion in fiscal 2021. (Read further for information on her views on the Pro-Choice Caucus, opposition to the Helms Amendment, repealing the Mexico City “global gag rule”, and more aid for the Caribbean countries.)
- New! Rebuilding the State Department from the Ground Up (National Interest by Robert D. Kaplan, February 14, 2021) — America’s standing in the world can now be improved in quite a number of ways from the top down. The government can be made to work. The State Department can be renewed. But this transition should begin from the ground up; it should start with the human element.It’s always a challenge for those who lead a great power like the United States to see the big picture. At the same time, they require access to in-depth, granular knowledge of every country in the world. It is a matter of looking up-and-out and at the same time down-and-in. Rebuilding the State Department is not only a matter of repairing the devastation of the Trump era with its politicization of everything at Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t only mean reducing the number of political appointees as ambassadors and replacing them with career diplomats, or even raising the department’s budget. It also means re-emphasizing the reporting function of the foreign service, and thereby underlining the development of area expertise. The Cold War-era Arabists and China hands might have gotten certain things wrong, but they represented the foreign service at its best: merging linguistic and cultural knowledge that made them indispensable to policymakers. Good policy rests on understanding the material at hand in distant places: all the nuances and distinctions that, for example, separate one Baathist head of state in Syria from another in Iraq; that separate one Cold War-era proxy insurgency in Angola from another nearby in Mozambique; that separate the ideological evolution of Turkey’s current ruling Islamists from the generation of Turkish Islamists which preceded them. Henry Kissinger once told me that while he was the one to make the policy decisions, he could not have executed his diplomatic agreements in the Middle East without the advice and granular knowledge of the Arabists.
I concentrate on the Cold War because it was an era when political differences within the State Department were muted compared to today when realists worked well with neoconservatives, and vice versa. It was an era when realism and human rights were not enemies, as humanitarian considerations fit more easily into calculations of national interest because the Cold War was a contest over which system of political values—the United States’ or the Soviets—was best. This ability to synthesize opposing positions constitutes an intellectual virtue that should not be lost. Alas, the bane of Washington today has often been the tendency to see the world in opposing, unreconcilable archetypes: democracies and dictatorships, moderates and radicals, friendly states and enemy states. But it is the job of the foreign service to break down those formulaic categories and to depict a world of subtle shades: in which progress can be made even with adversaries because some dictatorships are enlightened and some democracies illiberal. The foreign service through its field reporting is the networker par excellence for the U.S. government. It creates opportunities where none have thought to have existed. Having studied the foreign service for several years in the course of writing a biography of a State Department humanitarian, I can attest that what makes a good foreign service officer is sometimes not that much different from what makes a good newspaper correspondent: a willingness to escape from the embassy and explore beyond the capital city; to explore alone so as not to be influenced by groupthink; to listen for hours to people in the field without asking leading questions; to employ anxious foresight, that is to know the worst about a place so as to warn policymakers about avoidable bad outcomes; and most of all to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good since policymaking is often a world of tough choices. In other words, it takes a highly unusual individual to become a successful foreign service officer. And that is the way it always should be. If we compromise on innate talent, the quality of the foreign service will suffer, no matter how much money is thrown at it.
- New! Four Ideas for Samantha Power’s USAID (Devex by Charles Kenney, February 1, 2021) — President Biden has nominated Ambassador Samantha Power to lead USAID. If confirmed, Power is likely to bring significant change and newfound focus to an agency in sore need of direction and leadership. A large and bipartisan group of supporters on and off Capitol Hill who back US assistance but believe it could do more will be rooting for her success. The agency is already engaged in vital development efforts covering global health and humanitarian assistance, but it could do more, especially in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
I have four suggestions for new or expanded directions and initiatives:
- A focus on sustainable industrial policy,
- Universal mobile Access,
- Responding to the threat of zoonotic disease, and
- Providing support to civil society to strike down laws that enforce discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief worldwide.
- New! Foreign Aid Is Having a Reckoning–The Black Lives Matter movement has given leaders from the Global South new traction for change. (New York Times by the Editorial Board, February 13, 2021) — Sending aid to Africa became popular in the 1980s, when a famine in Ethiopia prompted some of the most famous singers in the world to raise money for food aid with concerts and songs like “We Are the World.” Images of malnourished children with distended bellies primed an American public to support some of the most ambitious humanitarian relief efforts on record: airlifts of supplies to Sudan, which ran from 1989 to 2005, and a military intervention that aimed to deliver food to war-torn Somalia in the early 1990s. Such efforts have helped shaped outsiders’ perceptions of a diverse continent that is home to 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. Generations of American children were told to eat their vegetables “because there are starving children in Africa.” Today, a rising African middle class on a continent that is home to nearly two-dozen billionaires is challenging previous assumptions about foreign aid, from who donates money, to who should get paid to deliver aid, to whose metrics ought to be used to determine whether it was a success. A growing group of intellectuals, aid workers and civic leaders from Africa say the “white savior” mentality of the world’s foreign aid system can end up doing more harm than good.They point out that planeloads of free American corn can help famine victims in the short term, but they can also put local farmers out of business, making the food supply in the long term more precarious. Relief efforts in Sudan may have saved countless lives, but they also emboldened combatants who controlled access to food, prolonging a brutal war. The international efforts in Somalia to stand in for the government have sometimes harmed attempts by Somalis to create governing structures of their own, fostering long-term dependency. The images of starving children used to raise money for famine relief are now decried as “poverty porn” that portrays Africans as helpless victims so that American and European organizations can collect funds. Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, a Nairobi-based organization that works in Somalia and Kenya, is among the most outspoken African activists demanding an overhaul of the way foreign aid works. The daughter of a Somali military officer who moved the family to Washington when Ms. Ali was a child, she returned to Somalia as an employee of the United Nations but quickly grew disillusioned. She watched her mother, an award-winning environmentalist in Somalia, struggle to raise funding, while big grants went to international organizations led by white Americans and Europeans who made influential decisions far from the places they were trying to assist.…Just when the aid sector seemed impervious to change, an opening came. In the protests that followed last year’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a flurry of private foundations and international humanitarian organizations put out statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. That prompted calls from staff members inside those organizations to demand self-reflection. USAID, Britain’s aid agency and Doctors Without Borders all faced allegations of systemic racism in their ranks. Suddenly, more Americans seemed willing to listen to the critiques of people like Ms. Ali.
- New! USAID’s Policy Voice Should be Heard (Brookings by J.Brian Atwood and Larry Garber, February 10, 2021) — The nomination of Samantha Power to be the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has excited a demoralized agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has been recognized along with defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first time its administrator has been formally given a seat at the National Security Council (NSC) principals’ table. Power, the ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, will now lead an institution frequently mischaracterized as a purely technocratic instrument of foreign policy rather than as a policymaking actor. Yet, we can attest that USAID has always played a policy role not only in devising the U.S. government’s development strategy, but in contributing to deliberations on other critical national security concerns. Power’s appointment to the NSC means that she will not have to be invited on a case-by-case basis. To be sure, some development activists worry that too broad an engagement will distract from USAID’s explicit development and humanitarian mandates. Others express concern that the USAID administrator could intrude on the State Department’s traditional turf. These concerns should not be dismissed out of hand.State and USAID have similar but distinct missions. The perspective of each of the two institutions is complementary and many professional attributes are the same: Intercultural and language skills, for example, are essential. There are differences, however: Development professionals are primarily responsible for managing resources and programs, and their relationships in the field are with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations, sectoral ministries, and nongovernmental organizations. USAID’s policy voice can be vital, especially in a world where the source of many transnational threats is underdevelopment. Ideally, the State Department and USAID interact with each other as civilian partners within the NSC, even as the USAID administrator operates under the foreign policy guidance of the secretary of state. The presumption is that U.S. foreign policy is informed by the development perspective as well as by statecraft considerations. In practice this rarely creates dissonance. President Biden’s national security team is as collegial as any assembled in the modern era. On a personal level, there is great respect and trust, emanating from having worked together on national security matters during the Obama administration. Power, having previously addressed policy from more than one institutional perspective, will no doubt be fully capable of formulating the USAID position on an issue in a constructive and supportive manner. But what is unique about that perspective?First and foremost, there is a long history of evolving development thought. Effectiveness principles have been agreed among donors and their partners. Aid tied primarily to the financial interest of a donor should be avoided. Donors should strive to enhance local ownership and to use local systems whenever possible. Projects should be evaluated to determine that they are not creating dependency. These and other principles are designed to enhance prospects for sustainable development, or self-reliance. Occasionally, the desire for short-term diplomatic or domestic gain conflicts with these principles. Policymakers should understand the trade-offs involved, including the costs to long-term development investments. In the end, the development perspective may well be rejected, but not always. The past offers several relevant examples. (Pls read the full text to gather the important examples given by the authors.)
- New! The Quite Revolution: What Congress should know about foreign assistance today (Brookings by Kristin Lord and Ann Mei Change – February 9, 2021.) America’s next leaders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) have their work cut out for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out decades of gains in international development. For the first time since 1998, there will be a rise in global poverty that will push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021’s end. The World Bank has estimated that reduced availability of health services and nutrition this year will lead to a 45 percent rise in child mortality. School closures have disrupted education in one form or another for more than 90 percent of the global youth population. Developing countries bear the heaviest brunt of these and other consequences of the pandemic. But wealthier countries also have an enormous stake in helping them address those challenges successfully. We must help not just for humanitarian reasons but also because failing to do so will damage public health, economic well-being, and national security interests worldwide. As President Biden selects a new cohort of leaders for America’s international development agencies, the world is watching closely to see what example America will set. The early nomination of foreign policy heavyweight Samantha Power to lead USAID—and the president’s decision to add the position of USAID administrator to the National Security Council—indicate that the U.S. is thinking seriously about its global development strategy. Eventually, though, U.S. leaders and their counterparts in other wealthy countries will have to contend with the growing gap between international development needs and the political will to address them—especially as domestic needs have ballooned during the pandemic. In confirmation hearings for U.S. government agencies, Congress should ask how they plan to address it. The good news is that a quiet revolution has been unfolding in international development, with new approaches yielding fresh solutions and generating additional resources……Already, governments are embracing financing models that leverage public money to draw in additional resources. And there are still huge amounts of money left to tap, employing mechanisms like the following: (The article continues to explore the mechanisms to leverage development capital including Domestic resource mobilization (DRM); de-risking innovation; development finance; and asset recovery.)
- New! Restoring US Leadership Abroad, with 60 years of experience, USAID tackles historic crises (Medium by Gloria Steele, February 4, 2021) — Today, our world faces multiple crises of historic proportions: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, the devastating effects of climate change, and fundamental threats to democracy, equity, and human rights. These challenges, which see no borders, have a direct impact on U.S. national security, as our health and prosperity are closely intertwined with those of other nations around the globe.
Under President Biden’s leadership, great importance has been placed on development, diplomacy, and defense in order to protect and promote the interests of all Americans. Reflecting this, the President has elevated the USAID Administrator to be a member of the National Security Council.As the world’s premier global development agency, USAID is uniquely poised to lead the U.S. response to many of the pressing challenges we face today. USAID will help achieve the President’s vision of restoring U.S. moral leadership, creating a safer and more prosperous world, and demonstrating American values on the world stage.
With 60 years of experience, USAID will do what we do best, which is improving lives in more than 100 countries throughout the world. We will work with key partners to battle COVID-19 and prepare for future outbreaks, promote an inclusive global economy, bolster resilience to climate change, advance global health, restore global leadership and partnerships, and defend democracy and human rights.
COVID-19. — USAID and our partners must be on the front lines bravely and selflessly battling the virus around the world. President Biden has made clear that the U.S. will help to lead this fight, through partnership and cooperation rather than nationalism or competition. Under the Biden Administration, the United States is proud to join COVAX, a global consortium working to ensure that everyone worldwide has equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.We will continue to build and adapt our COVID-19 response. USAID has committed more than $1.3 billion to save lives by protecting health care workers, strengthening laboratory systems, distributing public health information, and boosting rapid response in more than 120 countries. We will continue to develop new efforts to strengthen the global fight against COVID-19 in the months ahead.
Climate — We will take swift actions to tackle the climate crisis. On day one of the Biden Administration, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement to work with nearly 200 countries to combat the existential threat of climate change.USAID partners with the international community to build a climate-resilient future for generations to come. USAID programs have been pivotal in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change and in strengthening community resilience for decades.
Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases. And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.
Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases. And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.
Democracy and Human Rights — USAID’s work to advance democratic governance is foundational to everything we do. Citizen-responsive governance is a critical factor in development, and we believe it is not possible for any country to rise to its full potential without it. Democracy is precious and fragile, as President Biden said in his inaugural remarks. That’s why the United States’ ability to lead by example and partner to promote democracy and human rights — both at home and abroad — is so important. We cannot help build resilient democracies without also combating inequity and racism. An unjust and unequal society will never achieve its full potential.
USAID will engage and partner with the international community to build a more stable and just world. As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we recognize our past accomplishments and significant tasks ahead. We, the dedicated USAID staff, serve the American people to save lives and advocate for those facing hunger and poverty around the world.
- New! Exclusive: 5 potential picks to succeed Deborah Birx at PEPFAR ( Devex By Michael Igoe, February 4, 2021) — President Joe Biden has yet to announce a nominee for U.S. global AIDS coordinator, the role that was previously held by Deborah Birx and includes leadership of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. It is one of the highest-profile positions within U.S. global health and development agencies — particularly given PEPFAR’s role in the global response to COVID-19, as well as Birx’s highly visible departure. Multiple sources with knowledge of internal discussions or external lobbying efforts have told Devex that five names have risen to the surface as potential leaders of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy: Shannon Hader, Charles Holmes, Chris Beyrer, Vanessa Kerry, and Paul Farmer. Among the group, three are well-known experts within the global HIV community, two are veterans of former President Barack Obama’s administration, and two are prominent global health leaders.Hader is currently deputy executive director at UNAIDS. Hader served under Obama as director of the global HIV and tuberculosis division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as former vice president at Futures Group, now known as Palladium. Holmes is director at Georgetown University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health and served as chief medical officer and deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator for PEPFAR during the Obama administration. Before that, Holmes was CEO at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia. Beyrer is currently the Desmond M. Tutu professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was formerly president of the International AIDS Society. When reached for comment, Beyrer told Devex he would be willing to serve if given the opportunity, noting that he has been “in conversations with some people in the administration about serving in a global health role generally.” “The opportunity to be a part of America’s return to international diplomacy and American soft power — which I think PEPFAR is probably the iconic program for — is compelling to me,” he said.In addition to the three HIV experts, sources told Devex that the search for Birx’s successor has also surfaced two well-known — and politically well-connected — names. Multiple sources told Devex that Vanessa Kerry, founder and CEO at Seed Global Health and daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry, has been mentioned for the role. Seed Global Health, under her leadership, has established public-private partnerships with U.S. agencies and initiatives, including PEPFAR. One source told Devex that Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist at Partners In Health and a perennial candidate for high-level health and development positions, has also received attention. Multiple sources also cautioned that these names are not necessarily the only ones under consideration by an administration that is still primarily focused on domestic COVID-19 response. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive nomination process.
- New! USAID nominee Power calls for US to lead on global COVID-19 response (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 4, 2021) — The United States needs to take a leadership role in global COVID-19 response and play an active part in helping address the mounting number of world crises — from the coup in Myanmar to the protracted conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela, according to Samantha Power, the nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development. “The only way a collective action problem gets addressed, resolved, is for a catalytic actor to put skin in the game and to leverage what it is doing to get others to do more,” Power said at an online event Wednesday. While some countries have tried, the U.S. — by virtue of its stature and potential funding ability — can make a critical difference in global COVID-19 response, though it will face trust issues with world leaders, Power said.In the Ebola response, U.S. leadership and commitment to deploy troops and other personnel helped mobilize other countries to act and spurred coordination, including with China, she said. The $11 billion in global funding in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill “desperately” needs to be preserved, Power said. Advocates, including CARE and the ONE Campaign, are calling for $20 billion to fund the mounting needs of the global response. Power, who has been speaking to lawmakers ahead of her nomination hearing — which may come as soon as next week — said she heard agreement on several foreign aid issues from members of both parties. “Everybody just feels these gains that so many countries and communities have … are imperiled in such profound ways,” she said. She credited development advocates — including CARE, which organized the event — with working hard to build bipartisan support for these issues, which Power said “requires kind of fighting gravity.” The challenge both parties face now is how to convey why foreign aid matters to “people who are hurting in our own country in unprecedented ways,” she said. There are two key dimensions in making the argument for robust U.S. engagement in COVID-19 response: the risk of continued mutations and spread if there is unequal vaccine access and response, and the real economic consequences of not having a robust global response — which the International Chamber of Commerce estimated would cost the global economy $9 trillion, she said. (Click on the article title to see the full article.)