Kerry: Shah given opportunity to enact “bold and far-reaching reform agenda.”

091110_rjs_portraitAt yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for USAID Administrator nominee Dr. Rajiv Shah, the nominee spoke eloquently about the role he intends to play in rebuilding America’s premier development agency into a leading global institution.  He also pledged to prevent further fragmentation of U.S. development programs and said he would be deeply involved in parallel reviews of U.S. development policy being done at the White House and State Department – the cross-government Presidential Study Directive (PSD) on Global Development Policy and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), respectively.

In their opening statements, the Committee’s two highest ranking members underscored the importance of reforming U.S. foreign assistance and the unique opportunity created by reform efforts already underway including SFRC’s bipartisan Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act (S.1524).  Ranking Member Lugar said S.1524 is an “essential input into this [reform] process” and that it “has attracted the strong support of most development groups, led by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.”  Chairman Kerry said, “This is a moment of significant challenge and change, fluidity, at USAID. But it’s also a moment when people across government recognize that empowering our development agencies and giving them the resources they need is absolutely essential to achieving our larger foreign-policy goals.”  Lugar (R-IN) followed by saying, “USAID must be a full participant in policy making and budgeting. It also must be able to independently evaluate the effectiveness of foreign assistance programs and provide coordination between agencies.”

Before Mr. Shah began his testimony, he was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who described him as a “strong, creative, and results-driven leader” whose “nomination sends a clear signal that development and humanitarian aid are core components of U.S. foreign policy.”  Mr. Shah’s testimony covered his experience at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and his brief stint at the Department of Agriculture, as well as his vision for restoring capacity at USAID and making it responsive to 21st-century challenges.

Mr. Shah said, “It is an honor to appear before this Committee as the nominee for USAID Administrator at a time when there is such broad, bipartisan recognition of both the importance of development to our foreign policy and the critical need to improve the way we work to help achieve it. I would suggest that not since the founding of USAID in 1961 and the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act have we had such an opportunity to fundamentally re-imagine our nation’s development strategy and strengthen the organization that leads it.”

John KerryRichard LugarBob Menendez

Many of the questions directed at Mr. Shah communicated a sense of frustration with the Administration over the lack of consultation with Congress regarding the QDDR and the PSD.  Mr. Shah was asked to describe not only his vision for restoring USAID, but list specific steps he could take immediately toward reforming U.S. foreign assistance.  In response to Chairman Kerry’s question about his vision for USAID, Mr. Shah said, “we need to give our mission directors and our staff in countries the flexibility and the tools to think long term. We need to reinvest in the planning and evaluation capacities at AID…And we need to look at our contracting system and how we work with our external implementing partners to benefit from the areas where we do that well with great efficiency but improve on areas where we can save money and achieve outcomes more efficiently.”

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, asked Mr. Shah directly about the line of reporting given the creation of the “F” Bureau at the State Department under the Bush Administration, which migrated many of USAID’s functions over to State and created the Director of Foreign Assistance title.  Mr. Shah responded that he would be “responsible for the development budget and the AID budget, and…engaged deeply with other key partners that are making those determinations, at OMB and elsewhere.”  More importantly, he will “absolutely” have a direct line of communication with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Other questions focused on specific sectors of development, asking Mr. Shah how he plans to engage with respect to global food security, global health, education, and good governance.  At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) noted his confidence that Mr. Shah would be confirmed and that he would do everything he could to “expedite” the process.

Click here for Shah’s Responses to Kerry’s Questions for the Record.

Click here for a Full Transcript of the Shah Nomination Hearing .

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