THE PLANK NOVEMBER 11, 2009
I've been diverted with a print story so this is a little belated, but it's great news that the Obama administration has finally chosen someone to lead USAID. The vacancy of that post more than 10 months into an administration that has pledged to prioritize foreign aid was a minor scandal, even if the vetting process is a "nightmare."
But important decisions remain about the fate of the agency. As part of its sweeping "Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review" (QDDR) Hillary Clinton's State Department has rethinking USAID's role. As one former government official familiar with the issue explained to me yesterday, there has been "a longstanding tension and ambiguity" about USAID's role in U.S. foreign policy-making, because the agency enjoys a quasi-independent status. Foreign aid and NGO types generally like this arrangement, because they think development aid should be depoliticized and disconnected from foreign policy write large. In other words, that aid should always follow need, pure and simple. Foreign policy makers generally prefer to weave development aid into larger US goals, meaning that politics and security might well affect aid decisions.
It sounds like the State Department review will land in the latter camp, more fully integrating USAID into the Foggy Bottom machine, and making the USAID administrator less of an independent operator. That's not necessarily a bad thing in policy terms. But it could help explain the weirdly long delay in filling the post."If you bring [USAID] into State then that control necessarily comes at the expense of a USAID administrator," says my source. Presumably Rajiv Shah is prepared to play along with whatever hand he's dealt.