Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development presented a proposed restructuring plan to Congress in the form of nine Congressional Notifications (CNs). The impetus was Administrator Mark Green’s vision of an Agency focused on the Journey to Self-Reliance and a March 2017 executive order issued by the President with the intent to reorganize and streamline federal agencies.
USAID’s plan will restructure the agency’s main functions in order to optimize its work and better achieve its mission, representing the largest such change since the end of the Cold War. MFAN endorsed many aspects of the reorganization plan, which meets a variety of recommendations for an effective redesign of the U.S. foreign assistance architecture as agreed to by 170 leading organizations in the international affairs community.
Congress has proactively engaged with the proposal, improving several aspects through oversight questions, and has now approved six of the nine elements of the plan as laid out in a package of Congressional Notifications. These elements allow for a major restructuring of USAID’s Front Office, the Humanitarian Bureaus, and most of the Development functions of the agency. Congress displayed diligence and meticulousness in assessing the impact of the proposed changes, including their impact on aid effectiveness.
In September of this year, the Government Accountability Office released a report covering a breadth of USAID reforms, including the structural changes, that commends the agency for addressing most key practices for organizational transformation. The report highlighted USAID’s practice of involving employees and stakeholders through briefings and town halls. MFAN praised the agency for having incorporated the views of career staff and consulting in-depth with our coalition.
The GAO also highlighted USAID’s use of data and evidence to make its reform plans; the agency’s attention to streamlining operations and achieving efficiencies; and designating a reform coordinator and a dedicated team responsible for managing and planning USAID’s reform efforts.
Now that USAID is in the process of implementing the reforms – what will MFAN be watching?
- How the administration implements the changes remains an area for critical engagement. The coalition will be closely monitoring outstanding questions regarding local ownership; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; transparency; inclusive development; a field-driven approach to procurement reform, including co-creation, localization, and adaptive management; as well as adequate resourcing and staffing.
- Three elements of structural reform still await congressional approval, including a proposal to unite USAID’s policy, budget, and accountability functions, a component that MFAN endorses. MFAN will continue to monitor how the agency can better align policy and budget, and advocate for the release of the Congressional Notification for the relevant bureau on Policy, Resources and Planning (PRP).
- The Government Accountability Office identified two ways in which USAID could improve its reform effort, including establishing outcome-oriented performance metrics for its projects. Outcome-oriented performance metrics are key to defining success, and should prioritize outcomes that further accountability, transparency and country ownership.
- The second GAO recommendation is developing a strategic workforce plan. MFAN will continue to advocate for recognition of staffing demands and for sufficient resources to implement the reforms. The agency will likely require some additional resources to effectively continue to implement the agency’s Transformation effort over and above existing funds, and accordingly, these added expenses should be incorporated into USAID Operating Expenses. In addition, there will be some increased OE funding demands for FY20 as a result of USAID’s Effective Partnership and Procurement Reform initiative, including among other items, the retraining of agency procurement officers. A strategic workforce plan would be helpful in order to determine the appropriate USAID OE funding total.