Development Agenda Stymied By Bureaucracy

Our guest blogger is Natalie Ondiak, Research Associate at the Center for American Progress.

ap090123018856 Secretary of State Clinton’s trip to Africa this week highlights two things: U.S. interest and engagement with the continent and the fact that the Washington foreign policy bureaucracy remains a mess. A Washington Post article yesterday highlighted the fact that nearly seven months into the Obama administration, no USAID administrator has yet been named.

From the beginning of the Obama administration, and even before, there have been calls for a shift in U.S. foreign policy that focuses not just on American military might, but also on diplomacy and development capabilities—the so called “Three Ds.” Secretary Clinton, in her first speech at the State Department noted:

There are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy, and development. And we are responsible for two of the three legs. And we will make clear, as we go forward, that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States. And I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America’s future.

This language describes the sustainable security concept, a more integrated approach to national security that integrates human security, collective and national security. A few days later she said:

You know, if we are serious about diplomacy and development and culture and politics and anthropology and sociology and all the things that we can bring to the table, then we’ve got to be at that table from the very beginning as we plan for the national security strategy of the United States.

But this is all rhetoric and no reality. Seven months have passed. Without an administrator, how can USAID properly function? Where are the U.S. development capabilities?

As it now stands, USAID cannot be an equal leg on the stool. It is not a cabinet-level agency and it has well documented personnel and capacity deficiencies. It is unclear what the relationship between USAID and the State Department will be. But if the State Department retains budget authority and the USAID administrator reports to the Secretary of State, the agency will be a stepchild at best.

When it comes to rationalizing the time it has taken to get an administrator in place, the conversation is dominated by mudslinging. Secretary Clinton called the vetting process a nightmare as the excuse for why no Administrator is in place. The name that has longest been bantered around is Paul Farmer, the visionary doctor and founder of Partners in Health. But recent reports suggest he is no longer in the running. No other names are being suggested. Why is the potential USAID administrator the best kept secret in Washington? Who would want to take a job at an agency whose mission is undefined?

Secretary Clinton’s arrival in Africa without an administrator in place sends an odd signal: U.S. diplomacy remains healthy, but development is a question-mark. In the countries Secretary Clinton is visiting, U.S. investments in long-term, strategic development are essential, not U.S. defense or diplomacy capabilities. The trip to Africa could have been the place where the USAID administrator was announced and the agency’s abilities and commitments toward the continent were highlighted. Instead, development remains in the background on Clinton’s Africa trip because the bureaucracy in Washington is broken.