Foreign Assistance Reform — of PSDs, QDDRs, and legislative action: The time is right to speak up and move forward

By Mark Green, Managing Director of the Malaria Policy Center

Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)

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In coming weeks, I’ll be writing about why I am part of the growing movement to modernize our foreign assistance framework and to elevate development in our foreign policy strategy. I’m a Republican, and a conservative one at that, and I believe that conservatives should embrace this opportunity for reform.  I’ll try to explain why with these postings.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, for one thing, as I hope to explain, these days of challenge – fiscal, political, security-related and diplomatic – are precisely the right time to address the role development can play in reinforcing American leadership.  For another, the broad outline of the Obama Administration’s approach is beginning to come into focus.  A couple of weeks back, a copy of the Obama Administration’s “Presidential Study Directive on Global Development” (PSD) quietly made its way into public view.  It’s time for those of us who want to make our assistance policies even more effective to speak up.

As to the PSD itself . . . there is no one approach to elevating development that will satisfy all observers –  the blogosphere’s discussion around the PSD makes that clear.  However, it’s also clear that the PSD is an important step forward.

Among other things, it calls for crafting a coherent, government-wide National Strategy for Global Development. In other words, it directs policymakers to consider our development and assistance programs “in toto,” and creates a process for strategic planning and review. Imagine that . . . .planning!

It calls for bringing the USAID Administrator – the head of our nation’s (if not the world’s) premiere development agency — into relevant NSC sessions.  While, of course, that doesn’t guarantee the ascendancy of development principles in crucial foreign policy discussions, it does publicly recognize the importance of development as a matter of foreign policy and national security . . . and reinforces the role and authority of the Administrator.

It calls for emphasizing accountability and results in the evaluation of development initiatives.  Now, every public official talks about accountability when referring to public programs . . . they wouldn’t last long if they didn’t. Still, the emphasis the PSD puts on monitoring and evaluation is striking.

This emphasis includes increased country accountability.  President Obama has made the principle of “country ownership” a central theme in his administration’s message to Africa.  You see it in the documents laying out his Global Health Initiative.  You hear it in his speeches. (“We must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in Accra).  The PSD makes it clear that country ownership also means greater responsibility. (“The U.S. will make hard choices . . . [and] prioritize those countries, regions and sectors that allow us to achieve sufficient scale. . . and reallocate resources to those efforts and programs that yield the greatest impact.”)

The word is that the PSD draft we’ve seen has already gone through a few revisions . . . hopefully that doesn’t mean watering down some of its strongest reform principles.  We also know that the State Department will soon be releasing its own development policy review, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). While it’s natural for there to be differences in emphasis, let’s hope that the core remains strong – the elevation of development to a place where it’s “equal to diplomacy and defense” (in the words of the PSD), establishment of a National Strategy for Global Development, and increased accountability of programs and recipients.

Another reason why it’s time to speak out on the importance of foreign assistance reform is that Congress is seeking counseMNM Logol and input from the development community.  A bipartisan coalition of Senators (led by Kerry and Lugar) and House Members (led by Berman and Kirk) has introduced reform proposals that will enable Congress to put its own stamp on the subject.  It will also enable the community and the broader public to weigh in on what policymakers should emphasize and push for.

Again, no one approach to development reform is perfect. However, the fact that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are reaching out means that we have an opportunity (and I would argue, an obligation) to respond.

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