Center for Global Development Considers New USAID Administrator Nominees

Last week, Sheila Herrling at the Center for Global Development vented frustration over the failure to name a USAID administrator by comparing the circus-like process to a popular nursery rhyme.  As she notes, what was once funny about the unfilled position is now disconcerting given the Adminstration’s supposed commitment to development.  See the blog post below, followed with over a dozen comments suggesting nominees for USAID Administrator.  


Global Development: Views from the Center

The Farmer Out of the Dell: Who’s Next in the USAID Courtship Ritual?
By Sheila Herrling
August 7, 2009

As others before me have reported, Paul Farmer, the longest-rumored contender for the USAID Administrator nomination, is out of the running. And so begins again a courtship ritual that, funny enough, is captured in the old children’s rhyme that bears his name. Not so funny is the fact that seven months into an administration that ran on a smart power platform promising to elevate development to equal footing with diplomacy and defense, there is still no appointee at the helm of the agency charged with executing U.S. development policy and foreign assistance. (Yeah, yeah, I know the Secretary of State is technically in charge since USAID is a sub-cabinet agency. But as I have said before, she has a full-time job on the diplomacy front and needs a powerful wingman 24/7 on the development front.)

I can’t help but chuckle at myself for thinking that, back in January, the president would signal his bold new approach to foreign policy and global engagement by nominating his USAID Administrator alongside his National Security Advisor, Secretaries of State and Defense, and Ambassador to the United Nations as part of his 21st Century National Security Team. When the USAID Administrator still hadn’t been named within the first hundred days, I stopped chuckling. Another hundred days later, front-page Washington Post news items and op-eds in the New York Times reflect the growing frustration within the growing constituency for global development. Seriously, why is it that administrators have been named for GSA, EPA, SBA and NASA but we can’t find and keep a candidate for administrator of USAID?

Some blame it on the vetting process, an arduous task for any nominee but perhaps more arduous for USAID Administrator. A good candidate should have experience in developing countries and with foreign nationals, a quality that adds more time to form filling (i.e. listing every “foreign national” the candidate has had contact with) and the vetting process. Working overseas or in international organizations also complicates tax filings which come under microscopic scrutiny during the confirmation process–something that can catch legitimate problems but also scare off candidates.

While it is still unclear whether it was the vetting process that caught or exasperated Farmer, I have to think that earlier rumored candidates, and most high-level potentials, simply aren’t interested in a position that no longer reports on a daily basis to the Secretary of State (as she herself clarified in her recent Town Hall meeting at USAID) and instead reports to her deputy. An arduous vetting process coupled with diminished authority is a virtual perfect storm for leaving the post vacant and the elevation of development and reform of foreign aid stalled.
And so, as it appears we are back to square one in terms of a search for USAID Administrator, let’s start here a list of candidates you would like to see considered. I’ll start:

  • Sylvia Mathews Burwell
  • Stu Eizenstat


17 Responses to “The Farmer Out of the Dell: Who’s Next in the USAID Courtship Ritual?”

1. Alanna Says:
August 7, 2009 at 7:37 pm
We’ve got a letter to the president at that you can sign, asking him to appoint a USAID administrator immediately.

2. Robert Marten Says:
August 10, 2009 at 10:55 am
The beauty of Paul Farmer was that he would have been a “game changer”.
On that note, while both might be a bit busy and happy in their current jobs, how about Robert Zoellick or Nancy Birdsall? Or what about giving Colin Powell a chance to redeem himself?

3. Jiesheng Says:
August 11, 2009 at 3:01 am
Development hasneve been a US piriority unless is for strategic reasons. There are definitely no Clare Shorts, no Hilary Benns or no Douglas Alexanders for the USAID post. And what is the USAID for with the MCC around? Who runs the shop?

4. Charles Uphaus Says:
August 11, 2009 at 10:12 am
Until they figure out the job description and the nature of the relationship of the USAID administrator to Hillary and Jack Lew and the NSC, it’s pointless to speculate.

5. Mike Gorman Says:
August 11, 2009 at 10:14 am
What about Carol Lancaster?

6. Bob George Says:
August 11, 2009 at 10:31 am
Bring back Andrew Natsios. He has a vision for the agency and did a great job while administrator under W.

7. Charlie Flickner Says:
August 11, 2009 at 10:47 am
Uphaus is correct about first settling the relationship between State & USAID. If that outcome leaves a functional USAID, why not Speaker Tom Foley or Senator Bill Bradley?
If Republicans are wanted, Gen. Powell or Richard Armitage would be great. An ‘inside’ deputy such as Gail Smith or Amb. Bill Taylor would help.

8. Seema Says:
August 11, 2009 at 10:52 am
Paul Farmer’s politics are rooted in social justice principles that imply equity and empowerment on a whole different scale. USAID is not based on social justice, rather it is a business model to development aid. It is curious Farmer would even consider such a position when his fundamentals are at such polar opposites to USAID. The vetting process was hardly his challenge….the man realized his contributions will remain stronger on the other side of the fence. Good thinking, Farmer!

9. Leslie Fox Says:
August 11, 2009 at 12:03 pm
Would it be unusual if there was actually a candidate who not only had principles and values beyond the normal USAID bureaucrat, but was also a practitioner who understood how change takes place from local to global levels.

10. charles teller Says:
August 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm
Down with the 3rd D? The autonomy of development assistance appears to be submerged under the other Ds (diplomacy and defence). What has hurt us true believers in the importance of achieveing the MDGs is the paucity of reliable evidence of the impact of USAID development programs (on a country by country basis), including the demise of independent policy, evaluations and learning within USAID.

11. Steve Murphy Says:
August 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm
How about John Hammock at Tufts? (
If Hammock’s not up for it, then I’d nominate him to select the next USAID administrator himself.

12. Chris Choas Says:
August 12, 2009 at 10:22 am
How about Dr. Tim Holtz at CDC? He travels a lot and he is well published on International Health []

13. Nancy Birdsall Says:
August 12, 2009 at 6:20 pm
It would make sense to appoint someone who commands respect on the Hill, and could work well with the various committee and subcommittee chairs on reform of foreign assistance — including the de-fragmenting of authority and funding of USAID. Examples: Chuck Hagel, Lee Hamilton. Of course those names will only make sense if and when the issue of \diminished authority\ Sheila elegantly invoked is clarified.

14. susan levine Says:
August 12, 2009 at 9:19 pm
Good blog Sheila. It is hard to understand why the White House has not considered it a priority to name both a head of AID, and of MCC. Sure, the vetting process is annoying, and people have either not made it through for some past tax problem, or have removed themselves from consideration to avoid the agony, but as you point out, virtually all heads of agencies have been named, and in a time where the Secretary of State is visiting Africa and addressing issues that require a development focus, it is remarkable that there is noone in the seat.
I like Nancy’s idea of Chuck Hagel. He would certainly not have a vetting problem, and he cares deeply about development, and it would add to the bi-partisan composition of our government.

15. Mose Van Dusen Says:
August 12, 2009 at 9:35 pm
Uphaus and Flickner raise an important point: what will be the new Administrator’s relationship to Clinton and Jack Lew? Problem is that Clinton already has defined that relationship. She has announced that the new Administrator will report to Jack Lew. Why would someone like Senator Bill Bradley want to take a job where he reports to a third or fourth banana; and one that is responsible for management on top of that? And, if that isn’t unappealing enough, who ever becomes administrator is not going to control any resources because State Department is currently very busy taking over all of USAID’s back office functions.

16. Ted Weihe Says:
August 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm
The two Charlies have it right. The most important quality of a USAID Administrator is an ability to work with the Hill. Probably, a former Republican like Chuck Hagel would be a good choice. If the candidate has their own status, then I think the reporting to Jack Lew can be worked out. USAID remains a captive of the Hill, so dealing with it is more important than other traits such as international development experience (which would be an added benefit).

17. Barmak Says:
August 14, 2009 at 10:16 am
I agree 100% with Seema. Smart move for professor Farmer! He is a just-thinking public scholar/public health worker; why on earth would he want USAID Admin job?! So few seem to have thought this through.

You Might Also Like