MFAN Principal Noam Unger’s recent paper for the Brookings Institution, “The Shape of U.S. Global Development Reforms,” offers a number of recommendations to the Obama administration on the eve of the first anniversary of the President’s global development policy, also known as the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD).
The PPD was released to help U.S. government correct course after years of failing to strategically employ its full array of policy instruments to address the challenges posed by global poverty and conflict. The PPD was a momentous document that dramatically raised expectations within the development community, which largely felt that U.S. development efforts had been greatly undermined by outdated legislation, a fragmented aid infrastructure, and a neglected and weakened USAID.
Unger, who directs Brookings’ Foreign Assistance Reform Project, assesses the pace and scope of reform in the context of new global challenges posed by fragile states, as well as dramatically increased budget pressures. He finds that USAID is much more likely to emerge as a strategic and influential institution in the coming year, thanks to the implementation of the USAID Forward reforms, renewed focus on evaluation, greater dedication to developing Country Development Cooperation Strategies, and the creation of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning and reestablishment of the Office of Budget and resource Management. Unger also emphasizes the less visible impact of the PPD and USAID Forward reforms, namely overdue institutional and cultural changes within USAID’s bureaucracy.
Unger faults the administration for failing to achieve greater development policy coherence, notably by dragging its heels in the creation of a U.S. Global Development Council and formulation of a U.S. Global Development Strategy. President Obama’s stated policy to reestablish USAID as the government’s preeminent development agency is challenged by major sectoral programs that remain independent of USAID, especially PEPFAR and the Global Health Initiative. He criticizes the PPD for failing to provide clear guidelines on how best to overcome organizational fragmentation and modernize the U.S. government’s development infrastructure, noting that, “Major structural reforms were overlooked, dismissed or intentionally left out.”
He also gives the administration a failing grade on their lack of attention to differentiating clear organizational responsibilities in conflict prevention and crisis response, explaining that the QDDR assumes, “a distinction—between political and security crises on one hand and humanitarian crises on the other—that is often blurred in reality.” Unger expresses concern that the progress already made in transitioning from U.S. military to civilian leadership in frontline states may be reversing as scarce resources remain within the purview of the Pentagon and budgets shrink at State and USAID.
Unger is disappointed by what he perceives as a considerable gulf between the executive and legislative branches on development, far from the grand bargain imagined by the PPD that would exchange greater transparency for increased flexibility (through a reduction in legislated directives, earmarks, and procedural obstruction). He calls for increased consultation with Congress to preserve the development budget, educate skeptical lawmakers on the pace of current reforms, and advance efforts to craft modern legislation that would replace the outdated Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Unger concludes his assessment by encouraging the administration to seize the opportunity presented by the first anniversary of the PPD to rededicate itself to fundamental reforms. His recommendations include completing the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to enhance transparency, establishing the U.S. Development Council, consolidating some of the twenty agencies responsible for development assistance, tracking U.S. policies such as subsidies or military sales that have a development impact, granting USAID oversight of PEPFAR and the MCC, revitalizing Congressional engagement, and seizing the opportunities presented by the G20 and the Busan High Level Forum to assert U.S. leadership in the global movement for aid effectiveness.