The Foreign Service Journal, March 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2021 71 A Clash of Bureaucracies: Looking Back to Look Ahead Getting ready for a new administration and USAID leadership inevitably leads to thoughts about the future. But I want to highlight a 2010 paper that bears (re-) consideration for anyone interested in USAID as a development institution: Former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios’“The Clash of the Counter-bureaucracy and Development” (see http://bit. ly/cgd-essay). The paper reminds us of what we quickly learn as FSOs in the field: that “a central principle of development theory—that those develop- ment programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable” is the real- ity of our work. This idea flies in the face of the oft-repeated cliche “What gets measured, gets done,” and it challenges the notion that compliance and account- ability are the gold standards in development. Yes, as Natsios puts it, “a point can be reached when compliance becomes counterproductive. I believe we are well past that point.” And remember, he wrote this in 2010! I urge you to read the entire piece as it gives some great history, perspective and insights far beyond the few I highlight here. Natsios makes his case as follows: 1. The size of the career USAID staff is shrinking even as spending has rapidly increased. I have written about this sad phenomenon in previous FSJ columns. The agency needs a revolution in strategic workforce planning and an Office of Human Capi- tal and Talent Management renaissance—along with far more career employees, both Civil Service and Foreign Service. The ongoing massive “Reorganization” is not going to fix what ails USAID in terms of its workforce. 2. A counter-bureaucracy is emerging, consisting of agencies charged with command and control of the federal bureaucracy through a set of budgeting, oversight, accountability and measure- ment systems that have built new layers of procedural and compliance requirements into existing ones. At the working level, we have greatly improved our coordination and collabo- ration among contracting officers, controllers, resident legal officers, technical staff and program officers. But we operate in a broader bureaucratic context, where we often spend far too much time reporting on things that have little relevance to our programs while processing paperwork and queries that distract from field work. We must continue to try to find the right bal- ance between impact and accountability. 3. The counter-bureau- cracy has what Natsios calls “a very bad case of obses- sive measurement disorder, an intellectual dysfunction rooted in the notion that counting everything in government programs (or private industry and increas- ingly some foundations) will produce better policy choices and improved man- agement.” Can we be honest and find ways to acknowledge that a project’s goal may sometimes be nonquantifi- able? That context matters and that project objectives and goals may change mid- stream? USAID is improving on this front. Collaboration, Learning and Adapting, a part of the USAID toolkit, is a great start, but we must do much more. 4. Congressional over- sight committees and their requests for ever more information, more control systems and more reports have diverted professional USAID staff from program work to data collection and reporting. I have mixed feelings on this point. USAID is something of a creature of Congress. We not only seek annual programmatic budget resources, but our operating expenses as well come from Congress. Committee and individual member interests in cer- tain sectors and countries complicate budgeting, while reporting requirements on a range of internal and pro- grammatic processes take up far too much staff time. However… There are real institutional challenges at USAID that date back decades across parties and administrators. Workforce planning. Trans- parent budgeting. Promotion processes and diversity. Use and misuse of employment mechanisms. These are findings from decades of reports from out- side stakeholders, including the Government Accountabil- ity Office and the Congres- sional Research Service. It is natural for a big bureaucracy to face challenges, and Con- gress should play an over- sight role. If Congress saw results and had faith and trust in USAID to address these issues, it wouldn’t require such a high number and scope of reports. The new leadership must prioritize real internal reform. Since Administrator Natsios wrote his paper, USAID has made prog- ress. We are still the most respected and independent development agency. With a new administration, we have the chance to take our agency to a new level, but this will require that the broader bureaucracy work together more effectively on behalf of the American people and not opt for the band-aid fixes of the past. n USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267