Delays in the Foreign Aid Reform Process

As reported in Foreign Policy’s blog “State Department Review? Not Until April,” the preliminary report on the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) will not be released until the beginning of April at the earliest. In an update email sent by the director of the QDDR, the State Department Director of Policy Planning reported that the preliminary report is in its final stages. Meetings will be held with all agencies involved in U.S. development programs to seek their opinion on this initial report and the QDDR will continue to work alongside the NSA as they conduct the Presidential Study Directive-7 process. The email also announced that briefings will be conducted with Congressional leaders and staff before this report is released publicly.

Modeled after the Quadrennial Defense Review overseen by the Department of Defense, the QDDR is a major step toward foreign aid reform that the development community has been anxiously awaiting since the review was first announced last year. However, there are some concerns about the QDDR process and what it means for the roles of USAID and State in global development planning.  By grouping diplomacy and development concerns together in one review and relying on the policy planning operation of the State Department rather than USAID, the QDDR may only serve to continue the subjugation of USAID in planning long-term U.S. global development policy. The State-centric process of the QDDR simultaneously strips USAID of any policy planning legitimacy of its own and undermines its effectiveness. This process sends an important message that has implications for what we can expect from the QDDR’s content: it appears that the State Department fails to realize that foreign assistance must be separated from the political motivations of diplomacy in order to meet global development goals. Along this logic, Global Washington has recommended that USAID be made a Cabinet-level department autonomous from the Departments of State and Defense to better coordinate the response to global development needs.

The QDDR seeks to establish a set of short, medium, and long-term strategies for how the U.S. conducts its diplomacy and development programs. The State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew are directing and overseeing the process of the QDDR. This process calls for a comprehensive review of the diplomatic and development challenges faced by the U.S. both now, and in the future, as well as the responses to these challenges in the past as a means to realize and disseminate long-term U.S. foreign policy objectives. With these objectives in place, the QDDR will offer direction on how the State Department and USAID should organize the tools and resources necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

As a result of the delay in the QDDR process, the entire course of foreign aid reform has been slowed down. The Presidential Study Directive to review the U.S. global development strategy (PSD-7) is also underway and will most likely defer release until the QDDR is finalized and released. The Senate bill S. 1524– the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009- sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, is also reported to be delaying Senate consideration until more detailed information on the findings of the QDDR is released.

The Presidential Study Directive has the potential to elevate USAID and global development concerns to a higher level, as it is an initiative of the White House, a neutral third party in planning the direction of U.S. global development policy. It follows a whole-of-government approach to reviewing and reforming the U.S. foreign assistance strategy. The PSD will evaluate the actions of the more than two-dozen departments and agencies contributing to U.S. foreign assistance programming in an effort to develop a national global development strategy to increase coordination and transparency, which is one of the principle recommendations of Global Washington in order to make U.S. foreign assistance policy more effective.

But before the PSD-7 can be completed and released, the State Department must first finish the QDDR. Thus, hopefully the initial report of the QDDR will be released during the first week of April as promised, and a clear and effective global development strategy will be one step closer to fruition.