The Challenges of Replacing U.S. Development Professionals with Direct Assistance

A Guest Post by Tonya  Giannoni, COO, DevTech Systems, Inc.

Published in the Professional Services Council September issue of Service Contractor, Tonya  Giannoni, the COO of DevTech Systems, Inc., talks about the challenges of replacing U.S. development professionals with direct assistance.  Giannoni argues that:

  • Direct assistance has not proven to be more effective than other strategies; and
  • The expertise of U.S. development firms and NGOs cannot be replaced effectively by cash transfers

The stated policy objective of direct assistance is to give money directly to local organizations to be more cost-effective and to build local capacity; however, Giannoni argues that there is “no empirical evidence that direct assistance is the only, or even best, way to directly serve those in need.”  A 2004 USAID report cited by Giannoni says that in most instances a recipient government lacks skilled staff, “has ineffective institutions and inappropriate economic policies, lacks an adequate financial management system, or suffers from high levels of corruption.” Transparency and accountability in direct assistance become major concerns when no established infrastructure exists to receive and distribute the aid.

Picture1Giannoni argues that, “professional services expertise of the kind provided by U.S. development firms and voluntary organizations cannot be replaced effectively and expeditiously with cash transfers to foreign governments or local NGOs that are not prepared to handle them properly, efficiently, or transparently.” Giannoni argues to limit the amount of direct assistance provided to foreign countries unless they meet strict criteria to ensure transparency and accountability.  Additionally she argues that USAID needs to be empowered to take on these tasks.

She closes with an emphasis that cash assistance cannot be a replacement for development expertise, especially in areas that do not have the infrastructures to put the money to effective use.  “The core parameters of the Paris Declaration—alignment and country ownership—must be central to U.S. development assistance and is central to the mission of all of the U.S. entities that deliver professional services to partner governments and non-governmental organizations…cash transfers cannot replace U.S. diplomats, U.S. soldiers, or U.S. development professionals.”

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