The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2017
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Steps to Improve

Foreign Assistance

Here are eight recom-

mendations for the next

administration on how to

improve foreign assistance:

1. Select the leader-

ship of USAID carefully.

The USAID Administrator

and his or her top subor-

dinates have extremely difficult jobs. The next administration

should insist on hiring only top-flight political appointees

to staff senior positions at USAID, men and women with the

same résumés they consider for the top positions at State

and the Defense Department. In particular, there is a special

need at USAID to appoint individuals to senior positions who

understand how to work with Congress. Equally important, the

political leadership must have both an understanding and a

willingness to represent the

development-foreign policy

linkages. Things do not go

well in the agency when its

leaders view themselves only

as technicians.

2. Keep rebuild-

ing USAID’s capacities.

Although the staffing

increases sought at the end

of the Bush administration

and throughout the Obama administration have increased

USAID’s capacities, the agency still needs more employees

in the field and in Washington designing effective programs,

contracting, and handling grants, inspections, evaluations

and other inherently governmental functions. Due to person-

nel shortages, too many of these duties have been ceded to

contractors, resulting in some embarrassing failures. In addi-

tion to hiring more staff, training needs to be increased, and

the limits on using program monies for operating expenses

should be abolished by Congress. Foreign Service officers at

both State and USAID still only receive a fraction of the profes-

sional training that their military counterparts receive. And

a necessary functional skill that all USAID officers must have

is technical oversight, which requires training, experience

and mentoring. Increased

training needs to be geared

to produce 21st-century

foreign aid officers who, for

example, better understand

how to meld governmental

and private-sector resources

for optimal impact.

3. Begin consolidating


With few excep-

tions, the next administra-

tion should migrate all assistance programs back to USAID

for implementation. This will take some time to accomplish,

but the benefits of having all health, democracy, rule of law,

economic growth, environmental and other programs in one

place will result in economies of scale for back-office functions

such as procurement and contracting—which are often lack-

Our best global friends

and partners are countries

that have received U.S.

assistance since 1945.

USAID provided

materials for

temporary shelters for

many of the more than

one million Haitians

left homeless following

the 2010 earthquake.