Noteworthy News – 1.8

This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.

What we’re reading:

  • USAID Asks for Help Training Pakistani NGOs Set to Receive U.S. Money (ProPublica, January 8) On Monday, the agency posted a notice (.doc) on Grants.gov, the main Web site for government grants, asking for comments and suggestions on how to train Pakistani organizations, including government ministries, contractors and nongovernmental organizations.  “USAID’s past experience with local institutions indicates that many of these local organizations are faced with institutional capacity issues and overall weaknesses in their internal controls, financial management and absorptive capacity,” reads the notice, leading to “a higher degree of risk and ultimately more audit recommendations.”  According to the notice, USAID will use the comments it receives to help draft a request for applications for its “Assessment and Strengthening Program,” a five-year, $25 million project intended to screen Pakistani organizations and improve the way they operate. The organization that wins the award will be responsible for ensuring that those new policies and procedures are being followed, through what the notice calls “annual compliance validations.”
  • Shah pledges to elevate development as he takes the helm of USAID (FP Blog-Josh Rogin, January 7) In his remarks, Shah echoed Clinton’s message.  “We can elevate development to stand with diplomacy and defense as a true pillar of our foreign policy,” Shah said, “And in doing so we can build a broad political constituency, because people want to support this work, they just want to know we can do it effectively.”  “Hillary made a made a clear call to bring development and diplomacy together,” said one government source who works on the issue. “I think she’s making at least a rhetorical case for diplomacy being defined in a different way, not being thought of as just promoting a country’s foreign interest but moving toward a more development focus, which could be then a precursor to a greater merger between the two entities.”
  • Clinton ties U.S. security to better aid delivery (Reuters, January 6) Clinton’s speech at a Washington think-tank marked the Obama administration’s latest effort to persuade the U.S. public that development aid is a foreign policy tool as important as defense and diplomacy.  But Clinton left no doubt on Wednesday that international assistance — and a new, higher profile for USAID under newly appointed administrator Rajiv Shah — would be central to Washington’s new approach.  “Development was once the province of humanitarians, charities, and governments looking to gain allies in global struggles. Today it is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative,” she said.  Clinton said the United States would put new emphasis on partnership, coordination with other aid donors and focus on key areas such as health, agriculture, security, education and governance in hopes of maximizing returns.
  • Afghan military surge mustn’t harm civilian work: U.N. (Reuters, January 6)  “The military surge must not be allowed to undermine equally important civilian objectives and the development of … a politically driven strategy,” Kai Eide, the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, told the Security Council.  Offering a bleak assessment of the Afghan situation, Eide voiced concern about “growing impatience in public opinion in (aid) donor and troop-contributing countries,” Afghanis’ frustrations over the slow rebuilding of their country and the persistent insurgency.  “If these negative trends are not soon reversed, then there is a risk that they will become unmanageable,” said Eide, a Norwegian diplomat who is expected to leave his post in March.

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