What The State Department’s First Strategic Review Accomplished

CREDIT: State Department

It was a tough Tuesday at the podium for State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, who clearly did not take notes when Secretary of State John Kerry launched the 2014 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Asked during the afternoon press briefing to name a single achievement of the first QDDR in 2010, Psaki drew a blank. It got a laugh from the journalists, but it was too bad because there are real outcomes from the first QDDR, and we should be glad Hilary Clinton created it.

If the public affairs team at State paid attention that morning to Kerry (along with Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and the man running the next QDDR, Special Representative Tom Perriello), they could have prepared Psaki to mention any of the following QDDR accomplishments:

  • Reorganization: The QDDR realigned two major State Department bureaus to create the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment and the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. It resulted in many other structural reforms to deal with issues from Cyber to post-conflict reconstruction, including the creation a Bureau of Energy Resources and a new Chief Economist for the Department.
  • Planning: The QDDR resulted in new planning processes that tie resources to strategic goals and improve monitoring and evaluation of grants and contracts. The Department also ensured the integration of women and girls into mission planning and budgeting.
  • Training: The QDDR created the first joint development and diplomacy training programs and expanded training for foreign service officers and civil servants.
  • Partnerships: The first QDDR drove new and innovative public-private partnerships by USAID on everything from Clean Cookstoves to child survival to ending deforestation in the supply chains for 450 companies. State’s narcotics and law enforcement bureau launched partnerships with 50 state and local law enforcement agencies to enable law enforcement professionals rather than contractors to implement programs overseas.
  • Now mandated by law, the QDDR is modeled on the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) as a tool for addressing major challenges in the sprawling global operations of State and USAID. Such reviews are tedious and bureaucratically painful, but they force a critical look at operations and can drive some important reforms that are good for American interests and for the stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

    Secretary Kerry noted this week that if you focus on everything, nothing is a priority. Special Representative Perriello is now deciding where he’ll focus the next QDDR. This is an important process, and he deserves credit for consulting widely within government and beyond. Perriello — who represented Virginia’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and was most recently the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund — will be under pressure from interest groups in and out of government, and he will have to decide what innovations and reforms can best make American diplomacy and development more effective.

    Perriello’s effort could usefully include an examination of how America wields power and influence as more nations challenge the international system that America helped to build and underwrite after World War II. It could examine options for better helping nations prevent, end, and recover from conflict. It could define how America will drive the global post-2015 development agenda. And it might just include a QDDR working group on how the State Department prepares for that daily press briefing.

    Vikram J. Singh is the Vice President for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. Previously, he served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia at the Pentagon.