At yesterday’s U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) annual conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and president and CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Daniel Yohannes came together in a rare appearance to discuss President Obama’s new global development policy. The term “whole of government” is thrown around a lot in Washington these days, so it was a welcome reality for the development community to see the United States’ lead agency for development and other agencies that are integral to AID’s success like State, DoD, Treasury and MCC come together to underscore the administration’s commitment to these issues.
In her opening remarks, Secretary Clinton said that they have been implementing the principles in the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD) since the beginning of the administration even though the president just unveiled the PPD officially at the United Nations last week. She said that “we truly are elevating development to the highest levels of the United States Government” and added that we can expect to see the release of the long-delayed Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) in the next 30 to 60 days.
In describing the new policy, Secretary Clinton talked about the importance of mutual accountability and said, “…we are looking for results and we’re looking for results that are nonpartisan, not just bipartisan. We want to establish development firmly so that no matter what the political winds may blow, they will not blow over the fundamental concept that development is a key element now and forever of our foreign policy objectives.”
Secretary Gates focused his remarks on the necessity to invest further in the civilian component of national security saying, “The short-term piece is that without development, we will not be successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And so in the fights that we’re in, the civilian component is absolutely critical to success.” In explaining how development and security are inextricably linked, Gates talked about the importance of preventing conflict—something referred to as “phase zero” inside DoD: “So from our standpoint and my standpoint, the three things that I think are important about this strategy is, first of all, it focuses on sustainability, it focuses on making choices, and acknowledging we can’t do everything everywhere. And then I think the third piece is that it explicitly addresses the importance of partnering with nongovernmental organizations in a way that I don’t think the government has done formally before.” Tying the economic case and the security case for foreign aid together, Secretary Gates later commented, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
Secretary Geithner talked about the importance of growth, access to capital, sustainability and conditionality. He helped paint a picture of effective aid for the audience of hundreds of military, faith-based, nonprofit, and development experts: “A farmer in Bolivia or in Mali or in India can get title to her land and is able to borrow to go out and buy better seeds and fertilizer, she’ll be more likely to be able to educate her children, grow a business, and create a market for the exports of our country. It’s a simple, basic proposition. If you can help create that basic framework for property rights, for the capacity to borrow, if you can make it less likely that she has to pay an exorbitant bribe to get the ability to bring a product to market, if you can make infrastructure better so it takes two hours not two days to take her product to market, you can make transformative differences in poverty reduction around the world.”
USAID Administrator Shah said that “this policy is a license to take that knowledge and use that evidence and make some real shifts in how we actually allocate resources, design programs. And we’re starting to see it. We haven’t been standing around for a year waiting for this. We’ve been implementing many of these principles in the two signature initiatives in Global Health and Feed the Future.” In response to a question by moderator Frank Sesno about the role of USAID under this new policy, Shah said, “Well, USAID will continue to be the primary development agency for the federal government. We will do a far better job of coordinating efforts across and resources across the federal government and applying them in specific areas of excellence and application.”
Mr. Yohannes highlighted the fact that many of the principles that MCC has applied in their work—most notably country ownership—are positively reflected as core principles in the administration’s new global development policy.
In talking about accountability here at home, Secretary Clinton said, “…we have a stovepipe budget system starting in our own government and then becoming exacerbated in the Congress because of jurisdiction and the like. So we often feel like we’re running around, trying to integrate something that is constantly being pulled apart…we have to be ultimately accountable to the American taxpayer at any time, but particularly now, given our own economic challenges, and we stand in our own way all the time.”
Secretary Clinton also noted how difficult it is to do development without sufficient security. “In Pakistan after the flood, AID did a terrific job in being the first to respond… But we have to fight to get the U.S. Government’s label on our material because a lot of our aid workers and our NGO partners are afraid to have association with the U.S. Government, whereas China, Japan, everybody else, emblazoned across all that they do.”
Responding, Secretary Geithner said, “I think we all recognize that development is a graveyard of pieces of paper, lofty rhetoric not matched by action. But it starts with what you have before you today, and it requires the commitment of people running these agencies, understanding what’s necessary and being willing to spend some time on fixing it. And you have to start with that. If you don’t have that, nothing’s possible.”
Click here for a full transcript of remarks and a video of the panel.