Below are articles on development happenings, issues, etc. If you have articles that you believe would be of general intereNewst to the UAA membership, please submit them here.
- New! Opinion: The U.S. government is rushing to resume risky virus research. Not so fast. (Washington Post by Josh Rogin , October 21, 2021) — Although we don’t know how the covid-19 pandemic started, it’s now clear there were serious gaps in oversight of U.S.-government-funded projects around the world that focused on digging up dangerous viruses in the wild. Why, then, is the U.S. government barreling forward with a new, huge project to expand this very research, before those problems have been properly addressed?Two years after the covid-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan, China, troubling revelations continue to emerge about U.S.-government-sponsored research there. New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit released last month showed that the U.S.-contracted nonprofit organization EcoHealth Alliance worked in Wuhan to manipulate bat coronaviruses, making them more dangerous to humans. EcoHealth maintains this was not “gain of function” research. But on Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health reported to Congress in a letter that EcoHealth had failed to properly disclose how this research resulted in viruses that could infect humans more easily, which should have triggered an official review to determine whether it was “gain of function.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development gave $65 million to EcoHealth over the years as part of USAID’s $200 million PREDICT program, which aimed to give advance warning of future pandemics. USAID continues to ignore congressional requests for documents and information about its extensive collaborations with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And yet, USAID saw no problem in announcing this monththat it intends to spend an additional $125 million to expand its work hunting viruses and bringing them back to labs all over the world.
Called the “DEEP VZN” project, USAID will partner with a consortium of universities and public health organizations, led by Washington State University, to drastically expand the work of discovering new viruses in the wild to study how they might spill over into humans in the future. The goal, according to Washington State, is to collect 800,000 samples in Asia, Africa and Latin America over five years, to identify 8,000 to 12,000 new viruses, including some in the same family as SARS-CoV-2.
Not so fast, says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), the ranking Republican on the Senate appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee. In an interview, Graham told me he would stop the funding until USAID provides Congress with transparency about its past work on virus-hunting and more information about this new project. Graham is not against doing the research in principle, he said.
“Logically, it makes sense to inventory threats we have out there and get ahead of it. But in the process of trying to find out how to stop a pandemic, are you creating one?” he told me. “We need to slow down and get a better accounting of where the money’s going to go.” (…)
- New! World Bank says globe seeing ‘tragic reversals in development’ due to COVID-19 (The Hill by Joseph Choi, 10/11/21)– World Bank Group President David Malpass said Monday the Earth is seeing “tragic reversals in development” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Malpass gave his assessment at a media roundtable in Washington, D.C., for the 2021 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group, saying some countries are being set back by several years. He said that the World Bank estimates the global economy will grow by 5.7 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022. He added, however, that the global economy “remains dramatically uneven.”“The outlook is challenging for much of the developing world with lagging vaccination rates, rising inflation, limited policy support, too few jobs and shortages that extend to food, water and electricity,” Malpass said. According to him, the per capita income in advanced economies is expected to grow by 5 percent, while in low-income countries it is only expected to grow by 0.5 percent. “We’re witnessing what I call tragic reversals in development across many dimensions. Progress in reducing extreme poverty has been set back by years — for some, by a decade,” said Malpass. “Median incomes have declined instead of risen. Women were disproportionately harmed during the pandemic. They are recovering less now in the recovery. There’s been a tragic loss in human capital, including children The debt owed by low-income countries also increased by 12 percent to reach $860 billion, according to the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics.Malpass called for policies to be redirected in both advanced and low-income economies so that growth and investments are more spread out. He cited the access and development of COVID-19 vaccines as the “highest priority.” “The World Bank Group’s support for the poorest countries is at an all-time high, including grants and highly concessional loans to countries eligible to borrow from [International Development Association,]” he said.
- New! Ending Covid once and for all has to be a global fight (by J. Brian Atwood and William Fischer, 10/11/21) —The United States has now surpassed 700,000 deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic and the vast majority of the more recent fatalities occurred among unvaccinated people. The challenge in the United States is no longer vaccine supply. Americans are now dying from a preventable illness due to a plague of misinformation and mistrust. At the same time many in under-resourced countries around the world are dying because they cannot access vaccines and COVID-19 therapeutics. This inequality in access represents a shared global public health threat. If we allow SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to replicate globally, not only will countless lives be lost to a preventable illness, but we risk the emergence of a new variant that can circumvent current vaccine and therapeutic tools that offer protection from one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks in modern times.We have both worked in Africa. One of us managed the development programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the other researches and provides medical care for patients infected with severe viral diseases like Ebola, Lassa Fever and COVID-19.The World Health Organization reported that as of Sept. 30 only 4 percent of the people of Africa had been vaccinated. Far less have had access to monoclonal antibody treatments. In our view this isn’t just a humanitarian problem that affects Africa, it is also a threat to the well being of all people globally, even those who have been vaccinated.In the absence of a concerted global effort to ensure equal access to vaccines and therapeutics, we are enabling the virus to replicate, evolve and evade our current strategies of prevention and treatment. Two clear examples of this risk include the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, including the B.1.351 beta variant, which can evade neutralization by one of the currently available monoclonal antibody treatments, and the B.1.621 mu variant that carries mutations that may help it circumvent vaccine and infection-induced immunity. These variants are warnings of what lies ahead if we perpetuate the inequity in access to prevention and treatment strategies that exist today. (continued)
- New! 2021 Climate Readiness Plan (Devex, October 8, 2021) — On Thursday, the U.S. Agency for International Development released its 2021 Climate Readiness Plan — a move required by U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order on tackling the climate crisis. The readiness plan includes: “four priority adaptation actions USAID will implement on various timelines in the coming years, an assessment of the five biggest climate change vulnerabilities USAID faces related to its management functions, and a discussion of how USAID will enhance the climate literacy of its management workforce, ensure climate-ready sites and facilities, and ensure a climate-ready supply of products and services.” Still in the works is the agency’s new climate strategy, planned for release during COP 26 next month.
- New! Exclusive: Two Board members resign over transparency concerns (Devex by Michael Igoe and Shabtai Gold, September 27, 2021) — Two longtime board members of Pathfinder International — and descendants of the organization’s founder — have resigned from their positions, alleging a lack of transparency, high staff turnover, and low morale at the organization. “We have lost faith in the organization’s current leadership and are gravely concerned by the organization’s lack of transparency,” Walter Gamble and Judy Kahrl wrote in a letter Monday to a group of the organization’s biggest supporters, which was shared with Devex. Kahrl and Gamble are siblings and the children of Clarence Gamble, an heir to the Procter & Gamble Company fortune who founded Pathfinder in 1957. The family has given more than $40 million to Pathfinder since then and has served a cumulative 200 years on the organization’s board, according to the letter. In addition to resigning, the two said they are withdrawing all future financial support. Kahrl and Gamble also accused Pathfinder of a lack of transparency in disclosing their late father’s ties to the eugenics movement.
Pathfinder, which is based in Watertown, Massachusetts, implements more than $100 million per year in reproductive health and family planning programs, many of which are supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The nonprofit has been led by CEO Lois Quam since 2017. In their letter, Kahrl and Gamble alleged that board chair Roslyn Watson refused to share Quam’s performance evaluation prior to the CEO’s salary renewal and that Ben Kahrl, the son of Judy Kahrl, was removed from the board via secret ballot for requesting it. They also cited a 100% turnover rate among U.S.-based staffers since Quam took over, including three chief financial officers in five years. “Morale at the organization remains at an all-time low, resulting in the loss of numerous dedicated, professional people who are experts in their field,” they wrote.
- New! John Nkengasong, of the Africa C.D.C., Will Lead PEPFAR (New York Times by Apoorva Mandavilli, September 21, 2021) —The Biden administration plans to nominate John Nkengasong, a virologist and director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to lead the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, according to several sources familiar with the matter. President Biden is expected to make the announcement in the coming days.PEPFAR is a $7 billion operation that funds and sets goals for AIDS care in many nations, most of them in Africa. Dr. Nkengasong, who was born in Cameroon, is the first person of African origin to head the program, which is housed in the Department of State. “This is a huge leap forward for the U.S. government to name someone from the region where much of the PEPFAR work is,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit organization promoting H.I.V. treatment worldwide. “It shows a commitment to truly listening to and learning from the people PEPFAR is meant to serve.” Dr. Nkengasong could not immediately be reached for comment.The AIDS program was last led by Dr. Deborah Birx, who left in February 2020 to join the White House coronavirus task force. The Biden administration has come under severe criticism for leaving the program leaderless, especially at a time when the pandemic is setting back years of progress against H.I.V. In July, more than 50 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Mr. Biden calling the delay “unacceptable.” Compared with 2019, the number of people in 2020 who sought testing for H.I.V. decreased by 22 percent, and the number who opted for H.I.V. prevention services fell by 12 percent, according to a report published this month. (…..)
- New! Rejoining UNESCO is a Critical Step for Regaining Global Influence (The Hill by Brian Atwood, September 18, 2021) —The United States’ relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been a troubled one for decades. The U.S. has left and then rejoined the organization twice since the 1970s. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out in 2018. Much has changed under UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay. She has addressed each of the concerns raised by the United States since she took office in late 2017. Azoulay, a former Minister of Culture in the French government, has managed to limit the influence of those who would use the resolution process to score political points. The French-born daughter of a Moroccan Jewish family, Azoulay worked with moderate Arab states to eliminate political resolutions that had created a strong reaction in American political circles. She led a mediation process that produced a rule requiring unanimous consent for any resolution on matters involving the Middle East. This huge step forward had the effect of neutralizing the anti-Israeli bias that the organization had been accused of. At the time, it received high praise from the Israeli ambassador. However the Trump administration’s subsequent decision to leave made it difficult for Israel to remain. Azoulay recognized that it was important to keep the focus on UNESCO’s primary mission. She has managed to create a highly relevant agenda that serves a world badly in need of consensus building in the fields of education, science and cultural heritage.UNESCO has continued its seminal work in courses related to anti-semitism, publishing guides in several languages including Arabic and Farsi. The Holocaust Museum in Washington strongly supports the work UNESCO is doing; as does the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League. The organization is leading a global dialogue on artificial intelligence (AI) designed to explore the ethical limits of this new technology. AI has great potential to improve lives and create scientific innovation, but it can also be used by governments and individuals to invade privacy and to create weapons of war that extend beyond human control. The United States should be deeply engaged in this dialogue, as are the Russian and Chinese governments. The organization provided strategic leadership for donors in Afghanistan for girls’ education programs. The Taliban government may discontinue these programs, but they cannot erase the empowerment that the knowledge these women gained has created. In an era when press freedom is under attack, UNESCO is the lead U.N. organization promoting a free press. UNESCO is vitally important in holding governments accountable so that crimes against journalists are adjudicated. A recent program to train journalists to cover the scientific intricacies of the coronavirus pandemic was welcomed by global press outlets.………..In the battle between democracy and autocracy, UNESCO is an important part of the field of play. Right now, sadly, the United States isn’t even on the field. It is long past time for Congress to recognize that the national interests of the United States are best served by participation in international organizations like UNESCO.
- New! Gates Foundation Calls for Worldwide Health Investments (Devex, by Stephanie Beasley, September 14, 2021) —The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing for more long-term investments in health infrastructure worldwide — including vaccine research, development, and manufacturing capacity — in a new report, which highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. In the fifth annual Goalkeepers report, released Monday ahead of the United Nations’ General Assembly, the foundation said investments in building and expanding health systems can serve as “the foundation for emergency disease response” in low-income countries, where millions continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 and a lack of access to vaccines.For example, the African continent, which is home to 17% of the world’s population, has less than 1% of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capability, the report said. And it administered roughly the same number of COVID-19 vaccine doses as the U.S. state of California through the first half of 2021, despite having a population that is 30 times larger, according to data collected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a Gates partner. More than 80% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. “The lack of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a public health tragedy,” Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee at the foundation, said in a statement. “We face the very real risk that in the future, wealthy countries and communities will begin treating COVID-19 as yet another disease of poverty. We can’t put the pandemic behind us until everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to vaccines.”
- New! House bill boosts US foreign aid funding, removes abortion restrictions (Devex by Adva Saldinger, August 2021) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed its foreign state and foreign operations budget bill last week, approving a roughly 12% foreign aid spending increase for fiscal year 2022 and making a few policy statements — most notably about family planning and funding abortion. The legislation appropriates about $62 billion for foreign affairs, with big boosts to global health security, climate change, and multilateral assistance.
The Senate will write its own appropriations bill, and the two will have to be reconciled before lawmakers can approve the final fiscal year 2022 budget, which they need to do before Sept. 30. It is also possible that they won’t come to an agreement in time and will once again pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running as they negotiate the budget bills further.One of the most significant policy-related measures in the bill is language that permanently repeals the “global gag rule,” formally known as the Mexico City Policy. It also removes Helms amendment restrictions barring foreign aid funding from being used to pay for abortions that have long been included in budget bills. “This action paves an unprecedented — and long overdue — pathway to permanently end the global gag rule, which has for decades stripped individual rights and destabilized entire health systems, while eliminating the harmful and discriminatory Helms amendment,” Seema Jalan, the executive director of the Universal Access Project, said in a statement. She added that she hoped it would lead to a United States foreign policy “that centers [on] the health, well-being, and self-determination of people everywhere.”
Beyond the policy changes, the legislation also raised funding levels for family planning — a $185 million increase in bilateral funding, and a $37.5 million boost for the U.N. Population Fund from the previous year. The combined $830 million is one of the biggest U.S. allocations for family planning in more than a decade. …. Other allocations of note:
• $8.53 billion humanitarian assistance — a $700 million boost.
• $3 billion to address climate change, including $1.6 billion for the Green Climate Fund.
• $1.6 billion for the Indo-Pacific and to counter the increasing influence of the Chinese government.
• $598 million for the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, up by $29 million, with increases to support administrative expenses and bolster the Office of Inspector General.
• $1.93 billion for contributions to peacekeeping activities.
• $1.66 billion to fully fund assessed contributions for international organizations, and human-rights-related arrears.
• $225 million (at least) for programs in the West Bank and Gaza, a $150 million increase.
• $860.6 million for Central America.
• $200 million for the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, $200 million to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, $150 million to support the Women, Peace and Security Strategy.
- New! Biden administration releases plan to tackle ‘root causes’ of migration (Devex by Teresa Welsh, July 30, 2021) — As the United States increasingly uses development assistance to deter migration, the U.S. Agency for International Development will be “integral” to implementing the Biden administration’s newly released Strategy to Combat Migration from Central America, Michael Camilleri, executive director at the USAID Northern Triangle Task Force, said Thursday. The Biden administration on Thursday released the strategy to deter people who are “fleeing in record numbers,” as President Joe Biden faces increasing political pressure to stop the flow of refugees and migrants arriving at the US southern border. The strategy puts foreign assistance at the center of addressing the movement of people from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which it says is caused by factors including lack of economic opportunity, climate change, violence, and corruption.“We are already embarking on a process to align and optimize both our current and future programming to the specific lines of effort that you’ve seen in the strategy,” Camilleri told reporters during a briefing call Thursday. “So in terms of the funding that the administration has requested from Congress, certainly for Fiscal Year ’22, the majority of that will flow through USAID. So we see our role and the implementation of this as absolutely critical in collaboration with our State Department colleagues and those across the interagency.”The strategy’s five “pillars” are: addressing economic insecurity and inequality; combating corruption, strengthening democratic governance, and advancing the rule of law; promoting respect for human rights, labor rights, and a free press; countering and preventing violence, extortion, and other crimes perpetrated by criminal gangs, trafficking networks, and other organized criminal organizations; and combating sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence. (Read the full article for more information on the contents of the strategy.)
- New! Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships ( The Hill by Rafael Bernal, July 28, 2021) —Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday introduced a bill to fund a Trump-era program designed to diversify the number of groups that partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The bill would authorize $250 million for the next four years to fund the New Partnerships Initiative, which seeks to make it easier for new entities to receive foreign aid funds and implement programs. “The New Partnerships Initiative was founded on the principle that greater diversity and competition among USAID’s local partner base would lead to better and more effective humanitarian work,” said Kaine. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation, which would help the agency build safer, healthier, and stronger communities around the world.”The initiative is one of a handful of USAID programs that have sought to change the way the agency does business, in this case reducing reliance on a select group of contractors.
“Ultimately, USAID needs to diversify its partners to be able to bring new innovation, bring in new ideas to confront development challenges worldwide,” said Eddy Acevedo, who served as national security adviser to former USAID Administrator Mark Green. The bill would make it easier for new organizations to partner with USAID and require the agency’s administrator to provide annual congressional reports on the initiative’s performance.”USAID is a lot of things, one of them is a procurement entity. And a lot of people forget about that. So anything that we can do to kind of make it easier and lower the burden for people to partner with USAID is a good thing,” said Acevedo.
USAID is a key distributor of foreign aid, providing direct monetary assistance for everything from food programs to nongovernmental organizations and foreign civil society organizations. “USAID plays an important role in our nation’s foreign policy initiatives,” said Rubio. “The bill would authorize USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative to allow smaller organizations to better assist local entities and make the agency more effective for America’s allies and partners.”
- New! What is DFC’s mandate? Debate over a bill turns up many answers (Devex by Adva Saldinger, July 27, 2021) –The debate over a recent piece of congressional legislation illustrates the tension that the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation faces between its development mandate and the desire of politicians and policymakers to use it as a tool for their foreign policy objectives. The nearly two-year-old agency has been pulled in multiple directions since its founding. But the attention may also mean that a long-sought budget fix that could unlock the agency’s ability to do equity investments at scale is on the agenda, along with a plan to raise its investment cap.The initial version of the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act, or EAGLE Act, included a section that would have allowed the DFC to invest in high-income countries. The bill, introduced in May, is aimed at boosting U.S. global engagement and countering China. It’s not the first and is unlikely to be the last, effort to stretch the DFC’s scope beyond its focus on low- and lower-middle-income countries. Allowing the DFC to invest in upper-middle- or high-income countries “fundamentally misunderstands what the DFC is and what a DFI is,” said Conor Savoy, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “My concern is that the DFC is just becoming a football for each administration. It is still a new, shiny object and everyone is applying a new lens,” he told Devex. And outside experts aren’t the only ones with concerns about the impact of tying the agency to foreign policy objectives — be they climate finance, countering China, or supporting countries in the Western Hemisphere. “The agency is being pulled in all sorts of directions,” said a DFC official who was not authorized to use their name in speaking to Devex. “We’re all things to all people, and no one really gets what we do.”(To read more on Section 116 and where DFC will invest, the equity fix and DFC growth, along with “the odds”, click on the title above of this article summary.)
- New! Biden revives Trump’s Africa business initiative; focus on energy, health. (Reuters by Doyinsola Oladipo and Andrea Shalal, July 27, 2021) — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure on the continent. U.S. industry executives welcomed the interest, but said dollar flows will lag until the administration wraps up its lengthy review of Trump admnistration trade measures and sets a clear policy on investments in liquefied natural gas.
Dana Banks, senior director for Africa at the White House National Security Council, told a conference the administration planned to “re-imagine” and revive Prosper Africa, an initiative launched by former-President Donald Trump in 2018, as the “centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa.” Travis Adkins, deputy assistant administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), added: “We’re looking at the ways in which we (can) foster two-way trade, looking at mutually beneficial partnerships that work together to mobilize investment, create jobs, and … shared opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.” President Joe Biden, who requested nearly $80 million for the initiative in his budget proposal in May, aims to focus it on women and equity, with an expanded role for small- and medium-sized businesses, Banks said. The administration’s goal was to “reinvigorate Prosper Africa as the centerpiece of U.S. economic and commercial engagement with Africa,” she said. “This is an area that is a priority both at home and abroad,” Banks told Reuters ahead of the conference, adding that African countries were eager to expand their cooperation with the United States. U.S. business executives warn the United States is in danger of being overtaken by China and Europe, which are already investing and signing trade agreements across the continent…[while] another hurdle is uncertainty about the administration’s policy on LNG.
- New! Power Play: USAID’s Administrator Makes the Case for Global Engagement, More Focus on Effectiveness (CGDev by Erin Collinson and Sarah Rose, July 21, 2021) —USAID Administrator Samantha Power appeared before House and Senate authorizing committees late last week to discuss the agency’s FY22 budget. Ongoing US efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large in both hearings, but Administrator Power fielded questions about USAID’s response to a wide range of other global challenges, the effectiveness of US foreign aid writ large, a host of country-specific issues, and key policy priorities. It wasn’t surprising to hear Administrator Power make a case for strong US global engagement—including robust aid investments and continued commitment to humanitarian response. But she also demonstrated—in a number of important ways—a clear-eyed focus on development effectiveness. Below we highlight several issues we were glad to see receive attention. (Note: These highlight issues are: locally led development, diversity/equity, inclusion at USAID, acting on evidence, emphasis on violence prevention, fighting energy poverty and mainstreaming climate. )
- New! Opinion: USAID must protect the integrity of its humanitarian aid programs (Devex by Bill Steiger and Max Primorac, July 19, 2021) — The U.S. Agency for International Development provided over $7 billion in humanitarian aid in 2020, often going to regions where groups designated as terrorists by the U.S. government control large swaths of territory, including in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Nigeria. In these chaotic places, terrorist, criminal, and corrupt actors view foreign aid as an opportunity for patronage, kickbacks, and financing illicit activities. For many years, however, USAID “lacked a framework to manage fraud risks in humanitarian responses,” the Office of the USAID Inspector General concluded this spring. Over time, this policy failure has created a moral hazard that the American people could be financing conflicts responsible for massive humanitarian catastrophes. The situation calls for more sophisticated oversight if the U.S. is going to continue to provide aid in chronic, man-made crises.Given the Biden administration’s announcement of increased assistance in Hamas-controlled Gaza, the scaling up of aid to Yemen, and the current crisis in Haiti, USAID will likely disburse more humanitarian aid in 2021 than ever before. Reforms instituted in 2020 and early 2021 have given the agency the tools to carry out its due diligence more effectively, including a set of policies designed to reduce the chance that U.S. humanitarian assistance could be diverted to terrorist or other criminal enterprises. But this progress is fragile, and constant vigilance is necessary to ensure the integrity of relief programs funded by the American taxpayer. USAID Administrator Samantha Power correctly affirmed in her confirmation hearing that the agency must “make sure assistance reaches its intended beneficiaries.” Here are a few ways she can do just that…….
- New! Biden nominates surgeon, author Atul Gawande to senior job at USAID (Washington Reuters by Andrea Shalal, July 13, 2021) –– U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated writer, surgeon and public health expert Atul Gawande to lead global health development at the U.S. Agency for International Development, including for COVID-19, the White House said. Gawande, author of four New York Times best-selling books and a professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, would serve as the assistant administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His role at USAID will focus on efforts to prevent child and maternal deaths, control the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and combat infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, a White House official said.Gawande appears to be taking his own advice. Last month, he told advanced degree graduates at Stanford University to be “open to trying stuff – to saying yes” to new opportunities. On Tuesday, he said he was honored to be tapped for the job. “With more COVID deaths worldwide in the first half of 2021 than in all of 2020, I’m grateful for the chance to help end this crisis and to re-strengthen public health systems worldwide,” he wrote on Twitter.Gawande, an outspoken critic of his industry’s practices, was hired in 2018 by Berkshire Hathaway Inc, Amazon.com Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co to lead Haven, a joint healthcare company aimed at cutting costs for U.S. employees. But the Boston-based venture was short-lived and shut down in February. Gawande’s 2014 book, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” explores the limitations and failures of the medical profession in grappling with the realities of aging and death. Gawande, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998 and the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, is also founder and chair of Ariadne Labs, a center for health systems innovation, and of Lifebox, a nonprofit organization aimed at making surgery safer globally. During the pandemic, Gawande co-founded CIC Health, which operates COVID-19 testing and vaccination nationally, and served on Biden transition’s advisory board on COVID-19. He served as a senior adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services during the administration of former President Bill Clinton.
- New! Opinion: The US should place development outcomes at forefront (Devex by Jim Richardson, July 7, 2021) — Every four to eight years, a new U.S. administration comes to power and believes it needs to clean house of all previous ideas and initiatives. That would be a mistake when it comes to American foreign aid policy.Fortunately, the Biden administration has already embraced several key foreign aid policies from the previous administration, such as our approach to China, the plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines internationally, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s organizational reforms. I hope they don’t abandon USAID’s guiding principle, called the Journey to Self-Reliance, or J2SR, which places development outcomes ahead of newspaper headlines.Throughout the world, donor governments struggle with how to focus on sustainable development outcomes, with the constant political pressure to advance specific, special interests or launch a new initiative geared to garner news headlines worldwide. This pulls away time, attention, and resources from ultimately achieving sustainable results.In the United States, we addressed this problem with a bipartisan effort of political leaders, career development and foreign service officers, and external international development experts. They worked together to create a unifying vision — J2SR — that placed good development policy at the forefront of USAID’s foreign aid. (Read further to see how J2SR works.)
- New! USAID’s Sharon L. Cromer to be U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia (Diplopundit by Domani Spero, June 24, 2021) — On June 15, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior FSO Sharon L. Cromer to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Gambia. The WH released the following brief bio:Sharon L. Cromer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Career Minister, currently serves as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy, Accra, Ghana. Previously she was the USAID Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and she has also been USAID Mission Director at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. In addition, Cromer also had an earlier assignment in Accra as Mission Director. In Washington, Cromer served as Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator and Acting Assistant Administrator in the Africa Bureau of USAID and also as the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the USAID Management Bureau. Among her other assignments, Cromer was first a Supervisory Contracting Officer, and then the USAID Deputy Mission Director, at the U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia. Early in her career, Cromer served as a Contracting Officer in Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Pakistan. Cromer earned her B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University and her J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law School.AFSA’s Ambassador Tracker indicates that the ambassadors appointed to The Gambia have been 15/4 career/non-career appointees since 1960. If confirmed, Ms. Cromer would succeed career diplomat Richard Paschall III who has served as Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Banjul since March 14, 2019.
- New! The New Climate Narrative (Op-Ed by Kemal Dervis at Brookings on June 7, 2021) — As the Nobel laureate economists Robert Shiller, Abhijit Banerjee, and Esther Duflo have argued eloquently in recent books, political debate and economic policy are driven much more by simple “narratives” than by complex and nuanced theories or models. What counts are plausible “stories” that have broad intuitive appeal and can thus sway public opinion. This is certainly true of climate policy. Modeling global warming is an immensely complicated undertaking based on “probabilistic” physical relationships and huge amounts of data about natural and human activities over many decades or centuries. But relatively straightforward messages continue to dominate policy discussions.When the climate policy debate began, the prevailing narrative was that economic growth faced a new constraint in the form of a carbon budget and exceeding it would bring about an undesirable amount of global warming. Policymakers would therefore have to consider a trade-off between more economic output in the near term and the damage caused by global warming in the longer term. What previously appeared to be a political suicide mission could now yield substantial benefits for those who lead it. Unsurprisingly, the academic debate—epitomized by the work of Nicholas Stern, William Nordhaus, and Martin Weitzman—concentrated heavily on how to compare climate-change mitigation costs paid in the present with benefits accrued in the future. The so-called “social discount rate” depends on two components: a rate of “pure time preference” that generally gives future generations’ welfare less weight than that of current ones (although some believe that ethical considerations require it to be zero), and a term reflecting the degree of diminishing returns to welfare with respect to consumption. A higher discount rate makes ambitious near-term mitigation policies appear less desirable.This new framing reflects the tremendous rate of technological change, which the old narrative had largely assumed to be constant or at least exogenous. Green innovation is now not only rapid but also endogenous. The cost of producing renewable energy from solar and wind, and of battery storage to solve the intermittency problem, has already declined substantially. This progress, as well as moves toward greener transport and urban design, is partly a response to policies that incentivize carbon-saving economic activities and discourage carbon-intensive activities. These policies are justified by the fact that emissions controls are a public good, whose social benefits exceed private returns. (Read the full article to understand the three caveats in order to enable these technologies without a binding international climate treaty.)
- New! Biden’s First Budget: What the FY22 Request Could Mean for Development Policy (CGDEV by Erin Collinson and Jocilyn Estes, June 7, 2021) — With the end of the fiscal year only a few months away, the Biden-Harris administration finally submitted its first budget request to Congress. The Trump administration repeatedly proposed deep cuts in international affairs spending, which were roundly rejected by lawmakers year after year. In contrast, President Biden emphasized his desire to pursue robust US global engagement while still on the campaign trail—so it’s little surprise this administration has taken a very different approach. The recently released FY22 budget request includes more than $63.6 billion in international affairs spending, a more than 10 percent increase over the FY21 level absent the emergency spending provided in the end-of-year consolidated appropriations bill and supplemental funding included in the American Rescue Plan, the massive COVID relief package signed into law in March. Here’s a rundown of some of what we’ve learned about the administration’s overarching ambition and plans for future US development policy. (Analysis includes budget requests with useful charts for humanitarian assistance, multilateral assistance, debt relief, environmental and climate finance, and the US International Development Finance Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation budgets, along with links for other US funding agencies.)
- New! Russian hack targeted USAID, human rights groups (MSN News/Aljazeera, May 28, 2021) — Russian hackers behind the SolarWinds cyberattack, a huge campaign that saw the widespread hacking of several United States federal agencies, have launched a new round of attacks targeting “government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations”, according to Microsoft. The state-backed Russian cyber-spies behind the SolarWinds hacking campaign launched a targeted spear-phishing assault on US and foreign government agencies and think tanks, according to Microsoft. This week’s wave of attacks by the Nobelium group targeted about 3,000 email accounts of more than 150 organisations spanning 24 countries, with the largest share of the attack targeting the US, Tom Burt, the tech giant’s corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.Notably, the Russian group was able to gain access to an email marketing account used by the State Department’s international aid agency, USAID, from which it targeted other organisations. The New York Times reported the breach appears to target the type of groups who have revealed Russian attacks on dissidents or have been vocal about the alleged state poisoning of prominent Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny. “At least a quarter of the targeted organisations were involved in international development, humanitarian, and human rights work,” Burt wrote. “This is yet another example of how cyberattacks have become the tool of choice for a growing number of nation-states to accomplish a wide variety of political objectives, with the focus of these attacks by Nobelium on human rights and humanitarian organizations.”The US government has explicitly linked the SolarWinds attack to Russia’s intelligence service, the SVR, and imposed sanctions on 32 Russian entities and expelled diplomats in April. The agency was also allegedly involved in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Convention. After going undetected for months, the SolarWinds breach was identified by the private security company FireEye in December, underscoring the increased sophistication of the operation, which was named after a US-based company that develops system management software for use in businesses and organisations. Breaches at the Treasury Department, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Department of Commerce, among other agencies, sent shock waves through the US intelligence community. Microsoft President Brad Smith previously described the SolarWinds hack as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen”. Russia’s spy chief has denied responsibility for the breach, but said he was “flattered” by the accusations from the US and the UK that Russian foreign intelligence was behind such a sophisticated cyber-operation.
- New! Senate hearing addresses broad USAID funding goals, few details. (Devex by Adva Saldinger ,May 27, 2021)–
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power made her first appearance since taking up her post before the Senate appropriations committee to discuss the administration’s priorities. The hearing was a bit light on specific details since President Joe Biden’s administration is not expected to release a full budget request until later this week. Last month Biden released a “skinny budget” request with topline numbers, including a proposed $6.8 billion boost in international affairs spending for fiscal year 2022, an increase of 12% from 2021 spending. “The Biden-Harris discretionary request for fiscal year 2022 will allow the U.S. to lead on the global stage and to leverage our activities to inspire our allies and private sector partners to contribute more,” Power said at the hearing of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations Wednesday. “We also need to make ourselves a more capable and nimble agency.”USAID is trying to adapt its systems, processes, and procedures to improve efficiency and ensure it can expand its engagement with the private sector. It is also “building institutional capacity commensurate with USAID’s role as a national security agency” and is focused on its workforce, she said. Power is also expected to appear before the House appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Support from Congress will allow USAID to “move aggressively to tackle the world’s toughest problems,” she said, adding that countries around the world appreciate the U.S. approach to development and want to be “self-reliant.” (Click on the title to read more about articles “key areas”, i.e. democracy and governance, vaccines, Central America, Gaza, women’s economic empowerment, and climate change. )
- New! Blinken announces $110M in new Gaza funding. Now comes the hard part (by Ryan Health, May 25, 2021) — The race to help innocent victims of the Israel-Hamas conflict is on. The actual flow of dollars will prove more difficult. The Biden administration’s effort to keep Congress onside and Hamas at arm’s length — while battling donor fatigue among foreign governments — is already at risk of derailing crucial assistance. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $110 million in new economic assistance to Palestinians during a visit to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, including $5.5 million in immediate relief to Gaza. Including commitments made in April, “we are in the process of providing $360 million in urgent support to the Palestinian people,” Blinken said. But overall, the Biden administration’s commitment is $80 million down on the $440 million the Obama administration delivered to Palestinians in 2014, the year of the previous Gaza conflict.U.N. humanitarian workers on the ground in Gaza told POLITICO that it will take weeks to know how much money is needed to repair damage inflicted on thousands of buildings during the May conflict, and that the hidden cost of the conflict is much higher than the physical toll. “The biggest need is mental health,” said Matthias Schmale, the Gaza director of the the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) — the main U.N. agency working in Gaza — in an interview. “You cannot live through four wars and think it doesn’t affect you.” Schmale fears the U.S. legal framework — which designates Hamas as a terrorist organization, and limits what funding can be offered to the Palestinian Authority — will slow down, or even prevent, the swift delivery of the promised aid. The urgency of Gaza’s day-to-day challenges are not in dispute: In addition to the toll from the latest round of bombing, which includes more than 240 deaths and 6,000 people made homeless according to a U.N. tally, up to 1 in 20 Gazans have been infected with Covid-19 in recent weeks.Blinken’s remarks Tuesday signal the administration’s difficulty in balancing humanitarian need against the legal and practical hurdles to working with Palestinian organizations — to say nothing of the political considerations at play. “We will work with our partners to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said, but did not offer further details. New! US to Pull El Salvador Funds, Has ‘Deep Concerns’ Over Recent Dismissals (By Reuters,
May 21, 2021) —The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is pulling aid from El Salvador’s national police and a public information institute and will instead redirect the funding to civil society groups, the agency’s head said in a statement Friday. The statement cited concerns over votes earlier this month by legislative allies of President Nayib Bukele to oust the attorney general and top judges. USAID Administrator Samantha Power expressed “deep concerns” with the dismissals as well as “larger concerns about transparency and accountability” in the Central American country. The earmarked funds will now go to “promoting transparency, combating corruption and monitoring human rights” in concert with local civil society groups, the statement said, without specifying the amount of money in question In an apparent response to Power, Bukele heaped scorn on the civil society groups that were poised to benefit from the shift in U.S. funding in a post on Twitter minutes after the announcement. “It’s good they receive foreign financing, because they will not receive a cent from the Salvadoran people,” Bukele wrote. USAID, the international development arm of the U.S. government, provides funding to a wide variety of programs in mostly poor countries across the globe. “Respect for an independent judiciary, a commitment to the separation of powers and a strong civil society are essential components of any democracy,” it said in its statement.
Growing dispute–It is the latest salvo in an intensifying spat between the two countries. On Tuesday, the U.S. government released a list of allegedly corrupt Central American politicians, including a couple with close ties to Bukele. That prompted the Salvadoran leader to praise China, in an apparent swipe at Washington. Bukele, 39, who is popular at home, has argued that the high-profile dismissals were justified and legal. Bukele’s party accused the five ousted judges of impeding the government’s health strategy amid opposition to Bukele in El Salvador, as well as the U.S. government and international rights groups like Amnesty International. Bukele’s critics also accuse him of misusing the national police and the public information institute for political ends. El Salvador, which has an economy closely tied to the United States by trade and a large migrant population, is negotiating a more than $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where Washington wields significant influence. The IMF earlier this week cited progress in the ongoing talks.
- New! USAID’s Big Contracts Don’t Pay Off (By Walter Kerr and Maya Guzdar of Starling Strategy, May 18,2021) — President Joe Biden has proposed a $6.8 billion increase in U.S. international affairs spending, including a 10 percent funding boost for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government department that manages over half of U.S. foreign assistance. Recently confirmed USAID head Samantha Power has a strong vision for the agency’s future, potentially backed by more money. But if the administration wants a real return on this investment, USAID needs to transform its business model, which consistently pays for poor performance, according to its own inspector general. A 2019 report that surveyed three years of USAID spending found that 43 percent of the agency’s awards achieved, on average, just half of their intended results.
USAID spends so inefficiently because every year the agency needs to move more than $20 billion to projects worldwide. It has become dependent on funneling hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, of dollars to mammoth government contractors. In fiscal year 2017, for instance, 60 percent of agency funding went to just 25 organizations.
To right the ship, USAID needs a procurement renaissance. It must break its dependence on large and inefficient government contractors, increase its use of pay-for-results programs, and scale up initiatives that make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises and organizations based in low- and middle-income countries to do business with the world’s largest development agency. Smaller organizations are far nimbler than juggernaut contractors. And local organizations have intimate familiarity with the issues that need solving and have a more direct stake in producing good outcomes.
But it should come as no surprise that large contractors have blocked reforms and created spinoff small businesses and local organizations to win USAID contract awards that are designed to enable a wider selection of organizations to compete. And while the big guys often entice local firms and smaller organizations to join their proposals as “bid candy” to win over USAID contracting officers, according to a forthcoming survey we conducted of more than 35 innovative small organizations that work in international development, more than two-thirds of them said that large contractors routinely cut them out of promised work after they win the awards. (Read more of this long article by clicking here.)
- New! Lawmakers push US officials for details on global pandemic response (By Adva Saldinger, May 13, 2021) — U.S. government officials laid out the Biden administration’s global COVID-19 response framework at a congressional hearing Wednesday where lawmakers pressed for more clarity around plans for vaccine distribution, broader pandemic relief, and global health security efforts. Gayle Smith, the coordinator of the global COVID-19 response and health security at the State Department, outlined the U.S. framework and its five “planks” at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing.
The first is increasing supply and access to vaccines globally — which was the focus of much of the hearing. The second is reducing mortality and transmission, including by supporting underlying health systems. The U.S. will work to address the acute shocks — economic and otherwise. It will also work to bolster economic systems that have struggled. Lastly, the U.S. will work to “build the international architecture for global health security that we will need in the future,” Smith said. That includes strengthening and modernizing existing institutions to ensure they are “fit for purpose”; pushing for new norms when necessary and ensuring compliance with existing ones; ensuring adequate and sustainable financing; and improving transparency, accountability, and oversight.
With the recent surge of COVID-19 in India, the country has become a key priority in U.S. global response, as has its neighbor Nepal, where cases have also been rising and there is insufficient testing, said Jeremy Konyndyk, the coordinator of COVID-19 response at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since the start of the pandemic, USAID has provided more than $3 billion and continues to program more funding every week, he said. But Konyndyk cautioned that while there is rightly a focus on vaccines, USAID is also focused on what it can do in the short term to support good public health measures and community needs.
- New! A Policymaker’s Guide to the Global Fragility Act (By Erol Yayboke, Daphne McCurdy, Annie Pforzheimer and Janina Staguhn, May 2021)
- For too long, U.S. foreign policy has been reactive to violent conflict, deploying troops and civilians at great cost. It is time to refocus on preventing violent conflict and mitigating the adverse effects of fragility. Failure to do so could result in an even more chaotic world and hamper the Biden administration’s priorities of renewing democracy, managing the relationship with China and other geostrategic competitors, and addressing climate change.
- The Global Fragility Act (GFA) is a real opportunity for the United States to shift how it approaches violent conflict prevention and mitigation in direct service of the Biden-Harris administration’s foreign policy objectives. Such a shift is critical to achieving these objectives.
- Seizing the opportunity presented by the GFA will require swift action, high-level Washington- and field-based leadership and reform, as well as congressional support and oversight.
- New! Intellectual property restrictions hamper the fight against COVID-19 (By J. Brian Atwood, May 4, 2021) — The coronavirus-related disaster in India has reawakened Americans to the moral and practical demands of humanitarianism, the desire to provide relief for people suffering from disease, natural disasters, or violent conflict. President Biden has announced that the U.S. will deliver more than $100 million in essential supplies in the coming weeks. He is responding not only to the well-reported tragedy, but also to the heartfelt demands of the American people.The president’s gesture reflects a longstanding American humanitarian impulse to provide relief and save lives. It is an admirable trait and one that projects national values. That is not to suggest that benefits will not accrue to the United States. Preventing new variants of COVID-19 from reaching our shores is one and the soft power derived from goodwill is another.Humanitarianism, however, occasionally comes up against policy roadblocks of which the American people may be unaware. The COVID pandemic has exposed one very serious deficiency in our global response: the limits created by the set of international laws designed to protect intellectual property (IP).
- New! Making COVID-19 Aid Effective by Doubling Down on USAID Reforms (Brookings by George Ingram and Justin Fugle, May 3, 2021) —The Senate’s bipartisan confirmation of Ambassador Samantha Power as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has reenergized the agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has notionally been valued alongside defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first administration to grant the U.S. development leader a permanent seat on the National Security Council. It is a critical recognition that the perspectives of both USAID and the State Department are essential and distinct enough that both voices must be heard to optimize policymaking. Along with overseeing USAID’s $35 billion annual budget, a new and daunting challenge and exciting opportunity facing Administrator Power and her USAID colleagues is implementing some $5 billion for USAID’s global COVID-19 response. In approving that funding, Congress granted the State Department and USAID an unusual degree of flexibility—both by avoiding narrow funding categories and legislative directives and by providing greater authority to transfer funds between accounts. This should allow development professionals closer to the ground to decide how and where the funds would be used most effectively and wider use of local organizations, procurement innovations such as co-creation, and the implementation reform of adaptive management. (Please read on this excellent article which emphasizes locally-led development, co-creation, adaptive management, and the arc of development effectiveness by clicking on the article title above.)
- New! Time to Rethink Development Assistance in the Sahel (By American Diplomacy, Mark Wentling, May 2021) —The main assistance theme of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. embassies, other donors, and host government agencies in the impoverished Sahel Region of Africa has been focused for a decade on strengthening the resilience of rural households eking out a living on the edge of the Sahara Desert. More than 40 million people reside in this marginal arid geographic area, mostly pursuing subsistence agricultural and pastoral livelihoods. The countries most concerned by this effort to build rural resilience are Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. USAID and other donors have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to fund resiliency activities in the Sahel. These costly endeavors have kept hundreds of thousands of desperately poor people from becoming poorer and enabled them to better withstand natural disasters, but they have not advanced their countries to a higher developmental stage. USAID and other major donors are thus confronted with cruel options.Does USAID continue spending its limited funding on keeping poor people from becoming poorer or does it invest in supporting activities that have the potential to lift the country’s development ranking? With assistance funding unlikely to be increased, USAID will be faced with making a choice: either it continues supporting resiliency and related activities or it switches its focus to supporting activities that enhance a country’s overall development status. (This article focuses on the issues of persistent childhood malnutrition, climate change increasing the challenges, the need for competent governance, and the fact that resiliency is not enough.)
- New! Civil society should anchor Biden’s democracy agenda in Africa (Brookings by Rebecca Rattner and Bjorn Whitmore, April 23, 2021) — Joe Biden has laid out a clear vision for a new foreign policy committed to reestablishing American leadership and reinitiating the push for global democracy. As the first president in decades to enter office with significant foreign policy experience, he has backed up this rhetoric by assembling a reliable leadership team and reaffirming his long-standing commitment to multilateralism, diplomacy, dignity, and human rights—traditional values that, in the current political climate, are refreshingly bold. With growing young societies eager for more open government, but facing widespread democratic backsliding, sub-Saharan Africa represents an important place for Biden to put his foreign policy ambitions into practice. Despite a monumental list of priorities, Biden made time in his first 100 days to deliver a speech at the African Union Summit—a rarity for an American president. This promising overture must now be backed up by policies that reckon with the fundamental flaws in America’s long history of democratic advancement abroad in order to reimagine democracy building from the bottom up.America’s past democracy-building interventions in sub-Saharan Africa have often been marred by consistent and preventable shortcomings: choosing leaders, rather than supporting societies; short-term interventions that build a façade of democracy, rather than its foundations; and surface-level diplomatic efforts, rather than earnest partnership building. In Uganda, for instance, where January’s election saw rampant political oppression and violence, it was the U.S. that backed Museveni’s rise to power nearly four decades ago. More recently, billions spent on democracy building in South Sudan created a state still lacking in key infrastructure for democracy, such as legal institutions and access to education. Although some efforts, such as initiatives to strengthen judiciaries and local governance, have shown promise, to truly reverse this trend Biden must recognize that democracy is a long-term project fundamentally based in the power, organization, and voice of the people. American policy should promote the leadership and empowerment of the robust network of community organizations, nonprofits, and individuals advocating for these causes in their own countries. From mobilizing rural communities to demand government services to taking on strategic human rights litigation and providing judicial trainings, sub-Saharan Africa’s rich civil society speaks to a clear desire for more participatory, open government.
- New! Harris moves forward with new Central America strategy (The Hill by Rafael Bernal, April 23, 2021) — The Biden administration’s policy toward Central America is starting to take shape as Vice President Harris takes the lead on a potentially treacherous portfolio that straddles diplomacy and migration. Harris and other administration officials on Thursday laid out a new approach to the region that will try to tackle both the challenges created by Central American governments and why so many of their citizens are deciding to make the trek to the U.S. “The bottom line is that this initiative, from my perspective, must be effective and relevant to the underlying issue, which is addressing the acute and the root causes of migration away from that region,” Harris told a group of philanthropists working in the region.President Biden last month appointed Harris as the administration’s point person on regional migration. Since then, she has been in close contact with top Mexican and Guatemalan officials and on Wednesday announced plans to visit Guatemala and meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. Migration from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — is driven by a wide range of reasons, ranging from systemic corruption and political oppression to near-famine and the aftermath of tropical hurricanes. The administration’s strategy is an attempt to prioritize which to address in the short and long term by separating them into acute issues, like natural disasters, and chronic problems, like corruption. Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department special envoy for the Northern Triangle, told reporters Thursday that the administration’s ultimate goal is to “create enabling conditions that allow for these societies to thrive.” “When something goes wrong in Central America, we feel it in the United States,” said Zúñiga. “We are very connected as societies. The truth is, we are very closely linked.”Advocates and experts in the region say that while many in Central America consider migration to the United States as an option, there are often specific events that prompt an individual or a family to relocate. Those are the acute causes the Biden administration is zeroing in on as opportunities for short-term success in stemming the level of migration that’s created a crisis at the U.S. southern border.
- New! Biden Administration Seeking $300 Million in Aid to Afghanistan (VOA News, April 21, 2021)–U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the Biden administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $300 million in additional aid for Afghanistan in 2021. “The funding will be targeted at sustaining and building on the gains of the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan citizens, promoting economic growth, fighting corruption and the narcotics trade, improving health and education service delivery, supporting women’s empowerment, enhancing conflict resolution mechanisms, and bolstering Afghan civil society and independent media,” Blinken said in a statement.
The move comes as the United States and NATO have announced they are withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan. President Joe Biden has said U.S. military forces will be out of the country by Sept. 11. Blinken made a surprise visit to Afghanistan last week to reassure officials there that Washington would still be committed to the country, where U.S. troops have been stationed since 2001 following the September 11 attacks when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, outside Washington. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.When Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was in office, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces by May 1. Biden’s pushing back the deadline angered the insurgent group, which said the move was a violation of the agreement.Over the course of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, more than 2,200 U.S. troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded. It is estimated that the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on the war, America’s longest. According to the World Bank, more than half of Afghans live on less than $1.90 a day. It is also considered one of the worst countries for women’s rights, according to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.
- New! A global tax on corporations must consider developing nations (The Hill by J.Brian Atwood, March 24, 2021) — As the global economy begins to emerge from the effects of a pandemic the search is on for tax revenues that will support the rebuilding process. One area of focus is the system for taxing multinational corporations, currently a mishmash of fuzzy guidelines, abuse and negative competition. Last week in Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took a second important step toward rationalizing and stabilizing the international taxation system. Having already agreed to drop U.S. objections to taxing digital transactions where profits are made (a European effort to tax Silicon Valley companies for profits made in the EU), she announced support for a “global minimum tax on multinationals,” a plan being negotiated under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Calling the competition to attract multinationals by lowering their tax burden “a destructive global race to the bottom…” Yellen signaled a willingness to reach an agreement that would reach beyond the OECD to more than 140 countries.A key part of the OECD negotiation reportedly would set the minimum tax floor at 12 percent of a company’s profit margin. The US recently lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and the Biden administration is now considering raising that rate slightly. However, given the many loopholes in the global system the real rate is much lower. The issue here is tax avoidance and the opportunities have been growing despite soft law guidelines and national efforts to capture tax resources from global companies. “Transfer pricing” rules designed by OECD to govern transactions within and between enterprises under common ownership have limited opportunities to distort taxable income. However, that hasn’t closed all the loopholes and many corporations have managed to avoid paying anywhere near the official percentage rate. Working out how a minimum rate would affect trade and investment in individual OECD countries will be complex and national parliaments will quite naturally focus on the benefits and debits that will affect their home constituencies.The first step will be reaching agreement among the strongest global economies, the 37 members of the OECD plus China, India and the rest of the G-20. But if a way can be found to smooth out the inequities among this disparate grouping, what then will be the impact on the middle income and poorest economies? Such an endeavor will require a detailed understanding of the reach of multinational corporations, their continuous search for tax havens and supply chains that produce adequate quality at the lowest wage. Developing nations that desperately need employment opportunities find themselves competing by keeping their workers’ wages and benefits low in another, even more debilitating, race to the bottom. (Click here to continue the article.)
- New! What would Samantha Power’s NSC role mean for USAID?(Devex by Michael Igoe, March 19, 2021)–Samantha Power, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, will finally have her confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week — more than two months after her nomination was first announced. Power is considered the highest-profile nominee to lead USAID, and will likely face difficult questions from lawmakers, given the prominent role she has played in Democratic foreign policy for years. In nominating her, Biden acknowledged Power’s unique standing — and signaled his administration’s emphasis on development — by announcing that the USAID administrator would have a seat on the National Security Council. U.S. development experts have largely welcomed this decision. But they also point out that it brings new challenges to an agency that has often operated on the margins of U.S. foreign policy. Participation in the NSC is not new for USAID. Even while repeatedly proposing to slash USAID’s budget, former President Donald Trump established a formal role for the agency’s deputy administrator within the NSC’s deputies committee. Under Trump, the USAID administrator was invited to cabinet-level meetings — known as the “Principles Committee” — for discussions related to development and the Agency’s work. A former senior USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information, told Devex that was part of the agreement that brought former USAID Administrator Mark Green to the agency.“She is already a respected member of this team, and so that means that [US]AID is going to start in this new permanent role with a very respected voice expressing the development point of view.” — George Ingram, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
- New! Biden to restrict US aid to Central American governments, set new conditions for money. (Los Angeles Times by Tracy Wilkinson, March 10, 2021) — Weeks after earmarking $4 billion in U.S. aid for Central America, the Biden administration is fine-tuning its plans and sharply limiting how much money will go directly to the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, a senior administration official told the Los Angeles Times. Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s senior official for southwest border affairs and an expert on immigration, said in an interview that the $4 billion will be subject to strict — but untested — conditions on recipients, based on measures of anticorruption efforts and good governance. The adjustments follow a push by some lawmakers to place limits on the U.S. aid and warnings from foreign policy experts concerned that in the rush to stem illegal immigration, President Biden would go down the same path he followed as vice president, when U.S. assistance, with few effective strings attached, ended up empowering corrupt regimes. Biden plans to ensure that as little aid as possible goes to the notoriously corrupt central governments of the three countries until he is satisfied criteria are met, Jacobson said. Goalposts include transparent accounting and proof of good governance, such as fair elections and respect for human rights, she added. The U.S. had long endorsed such goals in Central America, but they are difficult to quantify. But the prospect of stricter accountability is panicking some of the Central American leaders who were hoping to remain on the receiving end of American assistance after four comfortable years under President Trump.Jacobson, a former ambassador to Mexico and assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said that instead of pouring most of the money into national treasuries, greater amounts will go to nongovernmental organizations and programs for single mothers, youth training and similar groups, “so that in the end, you are strengthening the societies and not enriching these governments.” The shifting focus comes as Biden and others in his administration are realizing that Central America is in far worse shape than it was when they were last in charge, despite the 2015 U.S. injection of nearly $1 billion, which Biden oversaw as vice president. “The president will be the first to admit he’s learned things,” said Jacobson, who is now part of the National Security Council. “He is fully prepared to do both the hard work of insisting on those conditions and commitments and is fully prepared to not convey funds if he doesn’t get what he thinks is necessary.” (…)
- New! Missing link: Can USAID unite budget and policy? (Devex by Michael Igoe, March 5, 2021) –The U.S. Agency for International Development has undertaken nearly all of the reforms included in the reorganization plan begun by former Administrator Mark Green, with one big exception: A proposal to create a new bureau meant to bring together USAID’s budget, policy, and program performance is still stuck in limbo. As USAID’s other reorganization plans moved forward during former President Donald Trump’s administration, the proposed Bureau for Policy, Resources, and Performance was hung up on a technical issue. Members of the U.S. Congress, who must sign off on major changes such as the creation of a new bureau, believed the head of PRP ought to be a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator, while USAID had already used up its allotted number of Senate-confirmed positions. That should be a relatively easy fix if President Joe Biden’s team — including Samantha Power, the nominee for USAID administrator — chooses to move forward with the previous administration’s proposed structure. What is less certain is whether the creation of a new bureau at USAID would get to the heart of long-standing challenges related to the agency’s budget authority, strategic planning, and independence from the Department of State.The proposed PRP Bureau is meant to consolidate foreign aid management responsibilities that are currently scattered among at least five different bureaus and offices. Advocates for the change see it as an important step toward building greater coherence among USAID’s strategies and policies, the resources it allocates to countries and programs, and the way it measures what those resources achieve. “It makes eminent sense,” said Susan Reichle, president and CEO at the International Youth Foundation and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. “By having these separate entities, with their own responsibilities and authorities, things just get slowed down,” Reichle said.A PRP Bureau, advocates say, would allow USAID to better align its country strategies and sectoral policies with the funding that lawmakers appropriate for the agency so that discussions about strategy are happening at the same time and place as discussions about resources. Bringing those pieces together could also strengthen USAID’s policy, budget, and performance capabilities, putting the agency on stronger footing with the U.S. Congress and other executive agencies in conversations about programs and funding. “PRP is really an effort to try, within the existing framework, to bring a certain level of budget autonomy back to AID, but also explicitly linking that with policy … and with performance,” said Conor Savoy, executive director at the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. Some warn that while the new bureau might look good on paper — and might be an improvement over the current arrangement — it does not address some big underlying issues that have hindered USAID’s ability to think strategically, align resources with its plans, and then measure the performance of those resources in achieving them. (The article continues with a focus on avoiding State micromanagement of AID’s budget.)
- New! USAID clarifies $42M Myanmar funding shift (Devex by Michael Igoe, February 19, 2021) —The U.S. Agency for International Development announced on Feb. 11 it would redirect $42.4 million in assistance to Myanmar after carrying out a review to determine whether any U.S. funding would likely benefit the military junta. It was not immediately clear how USAID would determine which aspects of its work might benefit the government, especially since the agency does not provide direct budget support to Myanmar. So Devex sought clarification. The $42.4 million that is being redirected “includes funds that were intended to provide technical assistance, training, and capacity building to government ministries, departments, and commissions,” according to Pooja Jhunjhunwala, acting spokesperson at USAID.“USAID will cease activity components that risk benefitting or supporting the government, while redirecting program implementation to support civil society and advocacy organizations working on governance, human rights, and trafficking in persons,” Jhunjhunwala wrote to Devex. The shift away from technical assistance, training and capacity building applies “except in some cases such as health and humanitarian assistance where limited coordination with or work through the government is necessary and unavoidable for life-saving activities,” she added.
How it works: USAID’s assistance to Myanmar is directed through implementing partners, including United Nation’s organizations, private sector contractors and grantees, and local and international nongovernmental organizations. Asked how existing contracts and grants would accommodate the redirection of funding, Jhunjhunwala wrote, “USAID builds adaptive management approaches into its award instruments such that they can be adjusted as circumstances may dictate.
Why it matters: The U.S. government is trying to apply pressure to Myanmar’s military while avoiding actions that could harm people in need. Since USAID typically works in close cooperation with its counterpart governments, that is a difficult balance to achieve.
- New! What new US Congressional leadership means for foreign aid (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 18, 2021) — The roster is finally set as a new cadre of U.S. congressional leaders has taken the helm of the committees with the greatest role in determining policy and providing funding to the United States’ development priorities. In the Senate, some key leaders merely switched from ranking members to chairs of their respective committees. But in the House of Representatives, election losses and retirements have resulted in a new set of leaders. The leadership changes across the board might not have a huge impact on development issues, many of which are traditionally bipartisan, said Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.While some development advocates hope the new leadership could lead to a more robust agenda, many caution that Congress and the Biden administration are contending with a number of domestic challenges — including, of course, COVID-19. So expectations should be kept realistic, they told Devex. Even when former President Barack Obama was elected with even bigger Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, hopes of big action on these issues didn’t come to fruition, they said. Some of the policy priorities of the new leaders aren’t yet clear. So far, it seems Africa may be more of a priority in the House than before, global health security may be taken on in the Senate, and a lack of diversity in U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid may be examined by both. Devex spoke to a number of development experts and advocates about the new leadership. Here’s a look at who’s in charge:
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Chairman: Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey
Senate Committee on Appropriations, Chairman: Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairman: Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman: Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York
House Committee on Appropriations, Chairwoman: Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut
House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Chairwoman: Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California
- New! Making USAID a premier development agency (Brookings by George Ingram, February 17, 2021) — Two challenges uppermost on the agenda of the Biden administration, COVID-19 and climate change, are issues of both domestic and international import. The international elements—help for countries in mitigating the health and economic impact of COVID-19, ensuring access to vaccines, and preventing future pandemics, and help in mitigating and adapting to the impact of climate change—are inherently matters of global development. International progress is imperative for success on these issues domestically. Addressing the international aspects of these transnational crises must be grounded on sophisticated analysis and deployment of resources that strengthen countries long term while reducing the impact of the crises. This requires ensuring that the development mindset is given full consideration as the U.S. develops its strategy and policymaking, but security considerations and diplomatic short-term interests often hold sway, because the short-term political gains are more certain and apparent and the bureaucratic structure works to their advantages. To elevate the U.S. contribution to global development, the authorities and capabilities of the lead development agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), must be strengthened and the agency assigned the prominence that has always been implied by the concept of national security resting on the three-legged stool of defense, diplomacy, and development. Further, USAID must adopt strategies and policies that reflect the priorities of the administration, relevant programs and responsibilities should be assigned to USAID, and the agency personnel system must be rebuilt. (Read George’s excellent analysis of the challenge, the limits of historic and existing policies, policy recommendations, and conclusion.)
- New! Rep. Lee wants to bring greater racial equity to foreign aid— Barbara Lee will be the first Black lawmaker to chair the panel that oversees foreign aid and the State Department (RollCall.com by Rachel Oswald, February 16, 2021) — The new chairwoman of the House Appropriations foreign aid subcommittee is well known for her longtime advocacy for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, women’s access to reproductive health care, and prescient and early opposition to expansive and indefinite military interventions after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Because of this track record, many progressive foreign policy groups have been eagerly anticipating California Democrat Barbara Lee’s ascension to the top of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee ever since the panel’s former chairwoman, New York Democrat Nita M. Lowey, announced in late 2019 that she would retire at the end of the 116th Congress. The subcommittee is charged with allocating annual funding to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other smaller aid and global affairs entities. In the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated a total of $55.5 billion for diplomacy and foreign aid programs.
“I’m really excited as the first African American woman to chair the subcommittee, I hope to really show the country how, once again, we can help make our country stronger in global affairs” by bringing “an added lens of equity, racial equity” to U.S. global engagement, she said. Lee has been a longtime member of the subcommittee and had the most seniority on the panel after Lowey. She is generally regarded as more skeptical than Lowey about the benefits of continuing military assistance to some partners in the Middle East such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Lee has also been willing to sign statements criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and treatment of the Palestinians. That has caused some consternation with more conservative pro-Israel lobbyist groups.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Lee said it was too early in her tenure as subcommittee head for her to have reached any major decisions about things she wants to change in the annual State-Foreign Operations bill, including security assistance programs, which received $9 billion in fiscal 2021. (Read further for information on her views on the Pro-Choice Caucus, opposition to the Helms Amendment, repealing the Mexico City “global gag rule”, and more aid for the Caribbean countries.)
- New! Rebuilding the State Department from the Ground Up (National Interest by Robert D. Kaplan, February 14, 2021) — America’s standing in the world can now be improved in quite a number of ways from the top down. The government can be made to work. The State Department can be renewed. But this transition should begin from the ground up; it should start with the human element.It’s always a challenge for those who lead a great power like the United States to see the big picture. At the same time, they require access to in-depth, granular knowledge of every country in the world. It is a matter of looking up-and-out and at the same time down-and-in. Rebuilding the State Department is not only a matter of repairing the devastation of the Trump era with its politicization of everything at Foggy Bottom. It doesn’t only mean reducing the number of political appointees as ambassadors and replacing them with career diplomats, or even raising the department’s budget. It also means re-emphasizing the reporting function of the foreign service, and thereby underlining the development of area expertise. The Cold War-era Arabists and China hands might have gotten certain things wrong, but they represented the foreign service at its best: merging linguistic and cultural knowledge that made them indispensable to policymakers. Good policy rests on understanding the material at hand in distant places: all the nuances and distinctions that, for example, separate one Baathist head of state in Syria from another in Iraq; that separate one Cold War-era proxy insurgency in Angola from another nearby in Mozambique; that separate the ideological evolution of Turkey’s current ruling Islamists from the generation of Turkish Islamists which preceded them. Henry Kissinger once told me that while he was the one to make the policy decisions, he could not have executed his diplomatic agreements in the Middle East without the advice and granular knowledge of the Arabists.
I concentrate on the Cold War because it was an era when political differences within the State Department were muted compared to today when realists worked well with neoconservatives, and vice versa. It was an era when realism and human rights were not enemies, as humanitarian considerations fit more easily into calculations of national interest because the Cold War was a contest over which system of political values—the United States’ or the Soviets—was best. This ability to synthesize opposing positions constitutes an intellectual virtue that should not be lost. Alas, the bane of Washington today has often been the tendency to see the world in opposing, unreconcilable archetypes: democracies and dictatorships, moderates and radicals, friendly states and enemy states. But it is the job of the foreign service to break down those formulaic categories and to depict a world of subtle shades: in which progress can be made even with adversaries because some dictatorships are enlightened and some democracies illiberal. The foreign service through its field reporting is the networker par excellence for the U.S. government. It creates opportunities where none have thought to have existed. Having studied the foreign service for several years in the course of writing a biography of a State Department humanitarian, I can attest that what makes a good foreign service officer is sometimes not that much different from what makes a good newspaper correspondent: a willingness to escape from the embassy and explore beyond the capital city; to explore alone so as not to be influenced by groupthink; to listen for hours to people in the field without asking leading questions; to employ anxious foresight, that is to know the worst about a place so as to warn policymakers about avoidable bad outcomes; and most of all to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good since policymaking is often a world of tough choices. In other words, it takes a highly unusual individual to become a successful foreign service officer. And that is the way it always should be. If we compromise on innate talent, the quality of the foreign service will suffer, no matter how much money is thrown at it.
- New! Four Ideas for Samantha Power’s USAID (Devex by Charles Kenney, February 1, 2021) — President Biden has nominated Ambassador Samantha Power to lead USAID. If confirmed, Power is likely to bring significant change and newfound focus to an agency in sore need of direction and leadership. A large and bipartisan group of supporters on and off Capitol Hill who back US assistance but believe it could do more will be rooting for her success. The agency is already engaged in vital development efforts covering global health and humanitarian assistance, but it could do more, especially in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
I have four suggestions for new or expanded directions and initiatives:
- A focus on sustainable industrial policy,
- Universal mobile Access,
- Responding to the threat of zoonotic disease, and
- Providing support to civil society to strike down laws that enforce discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief worldwide.
- New! Foreign Aid Is Having a Reckoning–The Black Lives Matter movement has given leaders from the Global South new traction for change. (New York Times by the Editorial Board, February 13, 2021) — Sending aid to Africa became popular in the 1980s, when a famine in Ethiopia prompted some of the most famous singers in the world to raise money for food aid with concerts and songs like “We Are the World.” Images of malnourished children with distended bellies primed an American public to support some of the most ambitious humanitarian relief efforts on record: airlifts of supplies to Sudan, which ran from 1989 to 2005, and a military intervention that aimed to deliver food to war-torn Somalia in the early 1990s. Such efforts have helped shaped outsiders’ perceptions of a diverse continent that is home to 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. Generations of American children were told to eat their vegetables “because there are starving children in Africa.” Today, a rising African middle class on a continent that is home to nearly two-dozen billionaires is challenging previous assumptions about foreign aid, from who donates money, to who should get paid to deliver aid, to whose metrics ought to be used to determine whether it was a success. A growing group of intellectuals, aid workers and civic leaders from Africa say the “white savior” mentality of the world’s foreign aid system can end up doing more harm than good.They point out that planeloads of free American corn can help famine victims in the short term, but they can also put local farmers out of business, making the food supply in the long term more precarious. Relief efforts in Sudan may have saved countless lives, but they also emboldened combatants who controlled access to food, prolonging a brutal war. The international efforts in Somalia to stand in for the government have sometimes harmed attempts by Somalis to create governing structures of their own, fostering long-term dependency. The images of starving children used to raise money for famine relief are now decried as “poverty porn” that portrays Africans as helpless victims so that American and European organizations can collect funds. Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, a Nairobi-based organization that works in Somalia and Kenya, is among the most outspoken African activists demanding an overhaul of the way foreign aid works. The daughter of a Somali military officer who moved the family to Washington when Ms. Ali was a child, she returned to Somalia as an employee of the United Nations but quickly grew disillusioned. She watched her mother, an award-winning environmentalist in Somalia, struggle to raise funding, while big grants went to international organizations led by white Americans and Europeans who made influential decisions far from the places they were trying to assist.…Just when the aid sector seemed impervious to change, an opening came. In the protests that followed last year’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a flurry of private foundations and international humanitarian organizations put out statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. That prompted calls from staff members inside those organizations to demand self-reflection. USAID, Britain’s aid agency and Doctors Without Borders all faced allegations of systemic racism in their ranks. Suddenly, more Americans seemed willing to listen to the critiques of people like Ms. Ali.
- New! USAID’s Policy Voice Should be Heard (Brookings by J.Brian Atwood and Larry Garber, February 10, 2021) — The nomination of Samantha Power to be the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has excited a demoralized agency and the entire development community. While the mission of USAID has been recognized along with defense and diplomacy as contributing to national security, this is the first time its administrator has been formally given a seat at the National Security Council (NSC) principals’ table. Power, the ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, will now lead an institution frequently mischaracterized as a purely technocratic instrument of foreign policy rather than as a policymaking actor. Yet, we can attest that USAID has always played a policy role not only in devising the U.S. government’s development strategy, but in contributing to deliberations on other critical national security concerns. Power’s appointment to the NSC means that she will not have to be invited on a case-by-case basis. To be sure, some development activists worry that too broad an engagement will distract from USAID’s explicit development and humanitarian mandates. Others express concern that the USAID administrator could intrude on the State Department’s traditional turf. These concerns should not be dismissed out of hand.State and USAID have similar but distinct missions. The perspective of each of the two institutions is complementary and many professional attributes are the same: Intercultural and language skills, for example, are essential. There are differences, however: Development professionals are primarily responsible for managing resources and programs, and their relationships in the field are with multilateral and bilateral aid organizations, sectoral ministries, and nongovernmental organizations. USAID’s policy voice can be vital, especially in a world where the source of many transnational threats is underdevelopment. Ideally, the State Department and USAID interact with each other as civilian partners within the NSC, even as the USAID administrator operates under the foreign policy guidance of the secretary of state. The presumption is that U.S. foreign policy is informed by the development perspective as well as by statecraft considerations. In practice this rarely creates dissonance. President Biden’s national security team is as collegial as any assembled in the modern era. On a personal level, there is great respect and trust, emanating from having worked together on national security matters during the Obama administration. Power, having previously addressed policy from more than one institutional perspective, will no doubt be fully capable of formulating the USAID position on an issue in a constructive and supportive manner. But what is unique about that perspective?First and foremost, there is a long history of evolving development thought. Effectiveness principles have been agreed among donors and their partners. Aid tied primarily to the financial interest of a donor should be avoided. Donors should strive to enhance local ownership and to use local systems whenever possible. Projects should be evaluated to determine that they are not creating dependency. These and other principles are designed to enhance prospects for sustainable development, or self-reliance. Occasionally, the desire for short-term diplomatic or domestic gain conflicts with these principles. Policymakers should understand the trade-offs involved, including the costs to long-term development investments. In the end, the development perspective may well be rejected, but not always. The past offers several relevant examples. (Pls read the full text to gather the important examples given by the authors.)
- New! The Quite Revolution: What Congress should know about foreign assistance today (Brookings by Kristin Lord and Ann Mei Change – February 9, 2021.) America’s next leaders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) have their work cut out for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out decades of gains in international development. For the first time since 1998, there will be a rise in global poverty that will push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021’s end. The World Bank has estimated that reduced availability of health services and nutrition this year will lead to a 45 percent rise in child mortality. School closures have disrupted education in one form or another for more than 90 percent of the global youth population. Developing countries bear the heaviest brunt of these and other consequences of the pandemic. But wealthier countries also have an enormous stake in helping them address those challenges successfully. We must help not just for humanitarian reasons but also because failing to do so will damage public health, economic well-being, and national security interests worldwide. As President Biden selects a new cohort of leaders for America’s international development agencies, the world is watching closely to see what example America will set. The early nomination of foreign policy heavyweight Samantha Power to lead USAID—and the president’s decision to add the position of USAID administrator to the National Security Council—indicate that the U.S. is thinking seriously about its global development strategy. Eventually, though, U.S. leaders and their counterparts in other wealthy countries will have to contend with the growing gap between international development needs and the political will to address them—especially as domestic needs have ballooned during the pandemic. In confirmation hearings for U.S. government agencies, Congress should ask how they plan to address it. The good news is that a quiet revolution has been unfolding in international development, with new approaches yielding fresh solutions and generating additional resources……Already, governments are embracing financing models that leverage public money to draw in additional resources. And there are still huge amounts of money left to tap, employing mechanisms like the following: (The article continues to explore the mechanisms to leverage development capital including Domestic resource mobilization (DRM); de-risking innovation; development finance; and asset recovery.)
- New! Restoring US Leadership Abroad, with 60 years of experience, USAID tackles historic crises (Medium by Gloria Steele, February 4, 2021) — Today, our world faces multiple crises of historic proportions: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, the devastating effects of climate change, and fundamental threats to democracy, equity, and human rights. These challenges, which see no borders, have a direct impact on U.S. national security, as our health and prosperity are closely intertwined with those of other nations around the globe.
Under President Biden’s leadership, great importance has been placed on development, diplomacy, and defense in order to protect and promote the interests of all Americans. Reflecting this, the President has elevated the USAID Administrator to be a member of the National Security Council.As the world’s premier global development agency, USAID is uniquely poised to lead the U.S. response to many of the pressing challenges we face today. USAID will help achieve the President’s vision of restoring U.S. moral leadership, creating a safer and more prosperous world, and demonstrating American values on the world stage.
With 60 years of experience, USAID will do what we do best, which is improving lives in more than 100 countries throughout the world. We will work with key partners to battle COVID-19 and prepare for future outbreaks, promote an inclusive global economy, bolster resilience to climate change, advance global health, restore global leadership and partnerships, and defend democracy and human rights.
COVID-19. — USAID and our partners must be on the front lines bravely and selflessly battling the virus around the world. President Biden has made clear that the U.S. will help to lead this fight, through partnership and cooperation rather than nationalism or competition. Under the Biden Administration, the United States is proud to join COVAX, a global consortium working to ensure that everyone worldwide has equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.We will continue to build and adapt our COVID-19 response. USAID has committed more than $1.3 billion to save lives by protecting health care workers, strengthening laboratory systems, distributing public health information, and boosting rapid response in more than 120 countries. We will continue to develop new efforts to strengthen the global fight against COVID-19 in the months ahead.
Climate — We will take swift actions to tackle the climate crisis. On day one of the Biden Administration, the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement to work with nearly 200 countries to combat the existential threat of climate change.USAID partners with the international community to build a climate-resilient future for generations to come. USAID programs have been pivotal in helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change and in strengthening community resilience for decades.
Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases. And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.
Global Health — For more than half a century, USAID has saved lives and protected people most vulnerable to disease, from HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis and malaria. We prevent child and maternal deaths, we strengthen health systems, and we combat infectious diseases. And as the world’s largest donor to reproductive health, the United States has a long history in international voluntary family planning. President Biden issued a presidential memorandum to support women’s health needs globally, including expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, which is essential to empowering women and gender equality. Women and girls who can make informed decisions about their lives — decisions to stay in school, delay marriage, and make their own reproductive choices — are often healthier and have healthier families.
Democracy and Human Rights — USAID’s work to advance democratic governance is foundational to everything we do. Citizen-responsive governance is a critical factor in development, and we believe it is not possible for any country to rise to its full potential without it. Democracy is precious and fragile, as President Biden said in his inaugural remarks. That’s why the United States’ ability to lead by example and partner to promote democracy and human rights — both at home and abroad — is so important. We cannot help build resilient democracies without also combating inequity and racism. An unjust and unequal society will never achieve its full potential.
USAID will engage and partner with the international community to build a more stable and just world. As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we recognize our past accomplishments and significant tasks ahead. We, the dedicated USAID staff, serve the American people to save lives and advocate for those facing hunger and poverty around the world.
- New! Exclusive: 5 potential picks to succeed Deborah Birx at PEPFAR ( Devex By Michael Igoe, February 4, 2021) — President Joe Biden has yet to announce a nominee for U.S. global AIDS coordinator, the role that was previously held by Deborah Birx and includes leadership of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. It is one of the highest-profile positions within U.S. global health and development agencies — particularly given PEPFAR’s role in the global response to COVID-19, as well as Birx’s highly visible departure. Multiple sources with knowledge of internal discussions or external lobbying efforts have told Devex that five names have risen to the surface as potential leaders of the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy: Shannon Hader, Charles Holmes, Chris Beyrer, Vanessa Kerry, and Paul Farmer. Among the group, three are well-known experts within the global HIV community, two are veterans of former President Barack Obama’s administration, and two are prominent global health leaders.Hader is currently deputy executive director at UNAIDS. Hader served under Obama as director of the global HIV and tuberculosis division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as former vice president at Futures Group, now known as Palladium. Holmes is director at Georgetown University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health and served as chief medical officer and deputy U.S. global AIDS coordinator for PEPFAR during the Obama administration. Before that, Holmes was CEO at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia. Beyrer is currently the Desmond M. Tutu professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was formerly president of the International AIDS Society. When reached for comment, Beyrer told Devex he would be willing to serve if given the opportunity, noting that he has been “in conversations with some people in the administration about serving in a global health role generally.” “The opportunity to be a part of America’s return to international diplomacy and American soft power — which I think PEPFAR is probably the iconic program for — is compelling to me,” he said.In addition to the three HIV experts, sources told Devex that the search for Birx’s successor has also surfaced two well-known — and politically well-connected — names. Multiple sources told Devex that Vanessa Kerry, founder and CEO at Seed Global Health and daughter of former Secretary of State John Kerry, has been mentioned for the role. Seed Global Health, under her leadership, has established public-private partnerships with U.S. agencies and initiatives, including PEPFAR. One source told Devex that Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist at Partners In Health and a perennial candidate for high-level health and development positions, has also received attention. Multiple sources also cautioned that these names are not necessarily the only ones under consideration by an administration that is still primarily focused on domestic COVID-19 response. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive nomination process.
- New! USAID nominee Power calls for US to lead on global COVID-19 response (Devex by Adva Saldinger, February 4, 2021) — The United States needs to take a leadership role in global COVID-19 response and play an active part in helping address the mounting number of world crises — from the coup in Myanmar to the protracted conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela, according to Samantha Power, the nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development. “The only way a collective action problem gets addressed, resolved, is for a catalytic actor to put skin in the game and to leverage what it is doing to get others to do more,” Power said at an online event Wednesday. While some countries have tried, the U.S. — by virtue of its stature and potential funding ability — can make a critical difference in global COVID-19 response, though it will face trust issues with world leaders, Power said.In the Ebola response, U.S. leadership and commitment to deploy troops and other personnel helped mobilize other countries to act and spurred coordination, including with China, she said. The $11 billion in global funding in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill “desperately” needs to be preserved, Power said. Advocates, including CARE and the ONE Campaign, are calling for $20 billion to fund the mounting needs of the global response. Power, who has been speaking to lawmakers ahead of her nomination hearing — which may come as soon as next week — said she heard agreement on several foreign aid issues from members of both parties. “Everybody just feels these gains that so many countries and communities have … are imperiled in such profound ways,” she said. She credited development advocates — including CARE, which organized the event — with working hard to build bipartisan support for these issues, which Power said “requires kind of fighting gravity.” The challenge both parties face now is how to convey why foreign aid matters to “people who are hurting in our own country in unprecedented ways,” she said. There are two key dimensions in making the argument for robust U.S. engagement in COVID-19 response: the risk of continued mutations and spread if there is unequal vaccine access and response, and the real economic consequences of not having a robust global response — which the International Chamber of Commerce estimated would cost the global economy $9 trillion, she said. (Click on the article title to see the full article.)