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Recommendations from Four Generations of Leaders

New administration transition

periods provide an oppor-

tunity to reflect on what the

new administration should

understand as it moves

forward on implementing the

U.S. government’s foreign

assistance program. Thomas

Adams’ January



“Foreign Assistance, Time to Sharpen a Vital Diplomatic Tool,” was an excellent piece

on this topic.

The USAID Alumni Asso-

ciation is also a great source

of knowledge. UAA’s 2016

Annual General Meeting,

held in October at the Center

for Global Development,

featured a panel of previ-

ous USAID Administrators

offering guidance to the new


John Norris, of the Center

for American Progress,

moderated the panel of

four: Peter McPherson (who

served from 1981 to 1987

under President Ronald Rea-

gan), Brian Atwood (1993-

1999; Bill Clinton), Henrietta

Holsman Fore (2007-2009;

G.W. Bush) and Gayle Smith

(2015-2017; Barack Obama).

A detailed account of the dis-

cussion is available from the

UAA website,


A blog post from the

Center for Global Develpment

highlights four recommenda-

tions for the new adminis-

tration and the next USAID

Administrator from these

experienced leaders.

1. Review congressional

directives and presidential



MARCH 2017



Gayle Smith

discussed the need for the

next administration to review

existing directives and initia-

tives for consolidation or

elimination before adding

new ones.

A 2016 CGD policy brief,

“The White House and the World: Practical Proposals on Global Development for the Next U.S. President” cal


for a full review of the agency

that accounts for presidential

initiatives and a commis-

sioned report on existing

congressional directives. Old

directives and initiatives can

be constraints to fundamen-

tal reform and adaptation at


2. Get USAID a seat at

the policy table.


administrators asserted that

USAID needs to have a seat

at the policy table, perhaps

by including the Administra-

tor in the Cabinet, so the

agency can communicate the

development perspective to


Atwood stated: “If you

don’t have a voice at those

tables, you’re going to see

your own development initia-

tives undercut.”

Smith agreed, adding

that other agencies are often

eager for USAID’s input

because of its expertise in


The CGD proposes: (1) the

next president should provide

USAID with budgetary and

policy primacy over areas in

which the agency demon-

strates efficacy and focus;

(2) the State Department’s

Office of U.S. Foreign Assis-

tance Resources should be

moved back under the USAID


3. Lead the interagency

process without dominat-


Smith said: “It’s leader-

ship of all the various parts of

government that have a role

to play. That means work-

ing with other agencies and

learning how to do that.”

Fore highlighted USAID’s

expertise in bringing together

partners for initiatives such

as public-private partner-


USAID is also working to

expand partnerships through

its Local Solutions initia-

tive and has increased the

proportion of funds that flow

through local partners.

CGD argues that work-

ing with other agencies is

especially critical during the

presidential transition.

4. Spend as much

time on the inside as the


The next USAID

Administrator needs to

spend time and resources

improving USAID’s internal

capacity, human resources,

procurement, hiring and data


McPherson said getting

the agency working well

“should be a stated, up-front”

priority. Smith, who initi-

ated a strategy to transform

human resources, added

that the next Administrator

needs to pick up the baton to

ensure continuity on these


CGD recommends that

internal weaknesses at

USAID must be addressed,

especially hiring procedures.

USAID should focus on hiring

for specific skill sets and

providing more funds for staff

preparation and training.

Further suggestions by the

panel included:

• Take time to understand

how USAID projects work and

the history of USAID’s suc-

cesses and failures.

• Listen to staff to benefit

from their field experience

and insights and to assess

staffing needs.

• Focus on the balance

between field missions and

headquarters, decentralizing

as much as possible.

• Develop a strong policy

staff that links development

objectives to broad U.S. for-

eign policy objectives.

• Improve information

management to build on

the knowledge base and to

improve communications

with field staff, partners

and congressional staff and


USAID currently has bipar-

tisan support in Congress,

as reflected in the passage

of legislation such as Power

Africa and Feed the Future.

USAID FSOs drive American

foreign policy toward its

objectives of global peace,

stability and prosperity.

A responsibility as noble

and monumental as this

requires and deserves thor-

ough discussion and support

throughout the transition.


Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP.


or (202) 712-1631