From Dr. Shah’s speech, we get the sense that change really is in the air at USAID. His key point was that we are in a unique window of opportunity for change over the next 12-18 months. There is currently an unprecedented political opportunity for global development policy reform: we have a supportive President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Joint Chiefs of Staffs. Congressional leaders also support reforming foreign aid. And we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the Foreign Assistance Act, USAID, and the Peace Corps.
Dr. Shah emphasized that USAID is starting to do things differently. Here are some of the changes planned for USAID:
- more evidence-based programming
- improving effectiveness to stretch tax dollars
- building institutional capacity in partner governments, and aligning programs with local needs and priorities
- creating incentives for good governance
- working towards greater policy and budget capability at USAID
- requesting greater flexibility from Congress
- implementing procurement reform
- broadening USAID’s base of partner organizations
- prioritizing “true and effective” transparency
- treating Foreign Service Nationals better, giving them opportunities and respecting them as professionals
- reducing the data-collection burden on USAID missions and partners, while using the collected data more effectively in planning
The main challenge to reform that Dr. Shah identified is resistance from Congress, because during hard economic times anything having to do with foreign aid is a tough sell.
Dr. Shah also made some requests to InterAction member organizations:
- be more transparent about how funds are being spent, getting the money out of the beltway and into countries
- invest more in training local resources, instead of American experts
- create the conditions for a long-term exit
All in all, an interesting speech and a recommended read.