In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Jack Lew and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah provided an update on the status of the Administration’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative (GHFSI).
Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) opened the hearing by calling food insecurity “a challenge to our broader development efforts” as well as a challenge to our national security. He also referenced the proposed $4 billion cut in international affairs spending in the budget resolution passed out of the Senate Budget Committee, saying, “Even in a tough budget environment, short-changing programs like these, in our judgment, will deliver little budget relief at enormous negative consequence to our global efforts… And it seems to me that it is wrong, and we will fight against any efforts to reduce the president’s request for a small increase, which is essential to the transformation of our foreign policy efforts and frankly to the recalibration of the allocation of resources between defense and diplomacy and humanitarian efforts.”
In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) promoted legislation he introduced with Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the Global Food Security Act (S.384), and noted how the bill and the GHFSI both “focus on increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, promoting research and technology, being attentive to the special role of women farmers and emphasizing the nutritional needs of children.” They would also develop partnerships with host-country governments, indigenous organizations, institutions of higher learning and the private sector. Sen. Lugar plans to unveil a new bill in the coming weeks that represents a consensus among the administration, House and Senate sponsors and nongovernmental partners.
In his testimony, Lew reiterated the six points that define Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vision for development, of which the food security initiative is a manifestation: 1) concentrating our work in specific sectors where the U.S. has a comparative advantage; 2) aligning diplomatic and development efforts; 3) adopting a whole-of-government approach; 4) leveraging partnerships, including those with multilateral institutions, foundations, NGOs, the private sector, and other donors; 5) placing women and girls at the heart of the initiative; and 6) focusing on results and on progress that can be sustained over time. “We seek to balance, align, and leverage these three Ds as we pursue our national objectives in accordance with our fundamental values,” said Lew. “This is a core characteristic of smart power and a guiding principle of our work around the world.”
Shah followed with remarks about USAID’s role in implementing the initiative:
“First, we are advancing a strategic and robust research agenda that promotes innovation in science and technology. Second, we are supporting entrepreneurial, market-based approaches to agricultural growth; and third, we are making targeted investments to meet the unique needs of women who make up the majority of the farming labor in our countries of focus.”
He highlighted the importance of gender equality given that 70 percent of African farmers are female. He also talked about operational and strategic challenges, and said that “the programs of USAID will only be effective if aligned with other donors and, importantly, with the broader work of the U.S. Government in each of our countries.” He went on to call for cooperation and coordination across agencies, including a streamlined process for reporting on collective progress. Shah made a plea to Congress, asking for their “commitment to having an outcomes- and learning-driven foreign aid agenda” that includes the allocation of future funding based on progress. “Such an outcomes-oriented approach requires us to be nimble in our funding – advancing funds where progress is great and being bold in reprogramming funding where countries’ commitment to change is not there,” he said.
During the questioning, Sen. Casey asked about interagency coordination, to which Lew responded that since developing countries are often limited in capacity at the governmental levels, “we owe it to them to be able to do the coordination and to have the capacity ourselves to go to them with a coherent program where the different pieces fit together.” Lew went on to say, “…you have our firmest commitment from the executive branch that we don’t consider whole of government to be just a rhetorical phrase; it’s a philosophy of how to get the job done.”
Sen. Lugar followed with a question about who would be leading the coordination process for the GHFSI within a whole-of-government framework. Lew replied that on a day-to-day basis, the initiative will be led by the two recently installed deputy coordinators—Ambassador Patricia Haslach, deputy coordinator for diplomacy, and Ambassador William Garvelink, deputy coordinator for development.
In response to a question from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) regarding building capacity at USAID, Shah listed four major operational reforms he is prioritizing this year: 1) rebuilding the agency’s policy and budget capabilities “so that we can exercise thought leadership and organize our own thinking and speak with one voice and do that in a coordinated way;” 2) procurement reform; 3) expanding certain technical expertise; and 4) increasing monitoring, evaluation and transparency.
Sen. Menendez also inquired about the status of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and Lew answered that the QDDR is part of an overall effort that includes the White House Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy and the National Security Strategy. He also said they expect to brief Congress in detail on the review’s findings within weeks. “What we’ve done up ‘til now is identifying target areas of opportunity, the kinds of issues we should drill more deeply into, different kinds of considerations that we should make in terms of choosing — we can’t take on every challenge that’s ahead of us,” added Lew. “But the core issue that we’re dealing with is how do we have the capabilities at the State Department and USAID to address the challenges that we face over the next number of years. I think we’ve made a lot of progress defining what the tradeoffs are. We’ll have to make more progress between now and when we have final review, and having your input during that process will be very helpful.”
On the second panel of experts were the co-chairs of the Agriculture Task Force at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and former Executive Director of the World Food Programme Catherine Bertini. Both forcefully called for USAID to lead the GHFSI and be given an independent relationship with the White House Office of Management and Budget, with with Bertini stating, “…we are unanimous and very strong in the view that USAID should be strengthened and supported as the lead institution in order to advance U.S. global food security initiative, and therefore, it needs to be not only given the resources but the flexibility in an effort to be able to achieve that.” Glickman added, “…in this case, in my judgment, to be successful there’s got to be somebody, someplace clearly in charge.”
Bertini closed with a strong testimonial for USAID and Administrator Shah:
“…when I was with the World Food Programme and spent much of 10 years traveling in the developing world, I was able to see USAID up close in many, many countries. And I could see the depth of their knowledge and their leadership in the aid community beyond representing the U.S. but also leadership among the other bilateral aid agencies. And they were very, very important as advisers to us in the international organizations. But today, when we sit here, we constantly hear both publicly and privately, even from the strongest defenders and supporters of AID, hear about their weaknesses. And we can see what’s happened over time. They’ve been micromanaged by Congress and by various administrations. They have lots of earmarks about what they have to do that cuts back on their flexibility. They no longer have a relationship with — a direct budget relationship — with OMB. And they have outsourced so much of their work that it’s hard to manage all these other entities that are even part of the U.S. government. So there are a lot of things at USAID that needs to be fixed or else we’re going to sit here two years from now still talking about how AID needs to be strengthened. It has, as you have pointed out now, a terrific new administrator. Dr. Shah and I worked together closely at the Gates Foundation. In fact, he brought me in there. And I know how brilliant he is and what a good strategist he is and how goal-oriented he is. And that alone can be tremendously useful for the U.S. government in his role at AID, but he needs support. He needs senior political people nominated and confirmed. He needs some budget authority. He needs to have — as my colleague, Dan, was saying, he needs to be in charge and to be respected as being in charge in terms of how the rest of the operation — Congress should let up from a lot of the telling you what to do things that they do with AID. So he needs space and flexibility. He has the talent, but he needs all of us to be supporting AID in ways that haven’t been done before or, at least, not in the recent past.”