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US Development Policy & the Sisyphean Task of Figuring Out Who’s in Charge of What

June 29, 2010

This just in: President Obama announced a New Approach to Advancing Development, outlined at the Muskoka G8 summit.

Sarah Jane Staats at the Center for Global Development reports on the lack of progress on the Presidential Study Directive (PSD)—the leaked version of which we previously examined—and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the two major reviews of US global development policy.

For about a year now, the PSD and QDDR have been agonizing over how to simplify the convoluted network of agencies and actors involved in international development. Ironically, however, both are suffering delays—the PSD, for example, was to be completed this January—due to the bureaucratic congestion they aim to resolve. Staats worries that the Obama administration is running out of time not just to issue strategies but also to implement any meaningful or lasting reforms.

Meanwhile, she notes that the system further convoluted due to the launch two new initiatives, namely the Global Health Initiative—whose governance structure is rumored to be comprised of an overarching strategic council with interagency team leads from USAID, State, HHS, Treasury, MCC, and others plus an operational committee made up of the USAID administrator, head of the CDC, US global AIDS coordinator—and Feed the Future—which boasts two new deputies, one for diplomacy and another for development, involves multiple agencies, but still lacks a head coordinator.

Nancy Birdsall argues that USAID administrator Raj Shah—whose former employers include the US Department of Agriculture and the Gates Foundation, where he served as Director of Agricultural Development—should fill the role of the yet-to-be-appointed coordinator for Feed the Future.

Why exacerbate the “gross fragmentation” of the US global development system? The Budget Insight blog at the Stimson Center recounts a tragic repercussion of bureaucratic bottlenecks and gross fragmentations: the Haiti relief effort. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report reiterated advice given over and over again: USAID and the State Department need to streamline procedures such as multi-step reporting requirements and human resource regulations. In addition to excessive US bureaucracy, the lack of coordination of donors worldwide and the leadership void compound Haiti’s troubles.

Immediately following the earthquake, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry asked: “Who is coordinating this? Who is going to call the shots and say ‘you’ve got to get debris out of here and here’s where that debris is going to go’? How do we get to the kind of coordination that makes sure that we are shifting to a Haitian solution as fast as possible?” More than five months later, we still don’t have the answer, but those are the right questions to be asking.

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