Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers December 27, 2012

Obama better coordinates foreign aid, but restructuring stalls

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised to "coordinate and consolidate” foreign assistance in a newly empowered U.S. Agency for International Development.

The agency, created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, needed to be "restructured,” "streamlined” and "elevated,” the Obama campaign wrote.

Four years later, there's evidence of better coordination of foreign assistance efforts, but almost none of the promised consolidation.

"There are pieces that are happening in terms of empowering and elevating USAID,” said Sarah Jane Staats, director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program at the Center for Global Development.

But, she said: "The emphasis has been on coordination versus consolidation."

PEPFAR, the multibillion-dollar President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief launched under President George W. Bush, remains by statute under the State Department.

Millennium Challenge Corporation, also a Bush-era creation, is still an independent agency with a nine-member board of directors including the secretary of state, the Treasury secretary, the U.S. trade representative and the USAID administrator.

Middle East Partnership Initiative, a decade-old project in the Middle East and North Africa, remains part of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Meanwhile, there's been at least one step backward in putting USAID in the lead, said Larry Nowels, a consultant on foreign assistance who was part of the agency's 2008 Obama transition team.

The Global Health Initiative, pitched as a six-year, $63 billion effort to consolidate U.S. efforts in more than 80 countries, has never been fully funded and hasn't delivered on its goals.

The push to organize global health spending under USAID fell apart in a very "unconstructive” way, Nowels said.

"They basically gave up because the infighting was too much,” Nowels said.

Still, there are two strong examples of progress under the Obama administration:

• The White House pulled together foreign assistance agencies to collaborate on a shared approach, encapsulated in the first Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development. The interagency group still comes together to work on a variety of issues, Staats said.

• One result of that process is the Partnership for Growth, a pilot project in four countries to pull together the development efforts of more than a dozen U.S. agencies — including USAID.

Those efforts are just now taking shape, with promise for greater progress.

Experts tell us USAID has a stronger voice under Obama, but it's still not the vision of his campaign. We rate this promise a Compromise.

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan November 11, 2009

White House names nominee for USAID

President Obama pledged to restructure, empower and streamline the U.S. Agency for International Development, an agency charged with distributing economic and humanitarian aid worldwide.

After a significant delay -- one that prompted Democratic senators to ask Obama to expedite a nomination -- the White House said Rajiv Shah would be named to head USAID.

Shah already serves in the administration as undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. In theory, that means his nomination should proceed more quickly than someone who needed to be vetted and approved by the Senate for the first time.

In October, U.S. senators led by Sen. Christopher Dodd called on Obama to appoint a USAID administrator as soon as possible. A Senate resolution said that "a highly capable and knowledgeable individual should be nominated with all expediency and exigency to serve as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development."

Nominating the head of USAID is a significant move that prompts us to label this promise In the Works.

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