“Transforming” USAID: Reforms to Maximize Effectiveness

Amidst continuing budget uncertainty, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green has responded to President Trump’s 2017 guidance for all agencies to “improve [their] efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” with a smart set of proposals known as “USAID Transformation.” Designed to strengthen the agency’s capacity to respond to the growing humanitarian crises and challenges around the world, the proposal lays out a plan to strengthen the agency at a time when efficiency and effectiveness are particularly important to shore up funding.

Administrator Green has argued that these proposed changes are “not in response to a budget. It’s not about staff size…It is, instead, going back to the idea of what we need to do to maintain our world-class leadership.” While USAID Transformation began as part of the Redesign process with the State Department, it has moved forward independently with input from USAID’s career and foreign service teams.

Many of the reforms, such as increasing the focus on resilience and consolidating Food for Peace with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, reflect a consensus among the development community summarized in USGLC’s Report on Reports.

1. Improving Crisis and Humanitarian Response

Administrator Green has noted that humanitarian crises are a growing part of USAID’s portfolio. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State-nominee Mike Pompeo also spoke of the need to develop a plan to respond to “humanitarian needs,” drawing on “all other elements of U.S. diplomatic power.”

To do so, USAID’s Transformation initiative proposes creating a new “family” of three bureaus to fill gaps and improve coordination between humanitarian assistance and development, overseen by a new Associate Administrator for Relief, Resilience, and Response.

  • Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. The new Bureau will elevate USAID’s humanitarian voice and capabilities by consolidating the Offices of Food for Peace (FFP) and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), thus streamlining America’s food and non-food humanitarian response. 
  • Bureau for Resilience and Food Security. To mitigate the return of conflicts and other humanitarian disasters, the Bureau will incorporate the existing Bureau for Food Security, which currently oversees the Feed the Future initiative, with the Office of Water and the Climate Adaptation team from the current Economic Growth, Education and Environment (E3) Bureau.
  • Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. 70% of USAID programs today are in fragile and conflict affected countries. This new Bureau will help USAID better assist countries in these challenging and often insecure environments, bringing together the Offices of Transition Initiatives (OTI), Civilian-Military Cooperation, and Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM), alongside USAID’s Coordinator for Countering Violent Extremism.

2. Strengthening USAID’s Policy and Budget Voice

After losing its policy and budget authority during the creation of the State Department’s F Bureau in 2006, USAID argued that, to be an effective partner with State, it needed a more unified policy and budget voice. USAID Transformation proposes creating a new Bureau for Policy, Resources, and Performance that will bring together the existing bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning with the Office of Budget and Resource Management, the Management Bureau’s Operating Expense Budget Division, and a few small teams from the Global Development Lab.

This new Bureau will seek to reinforce evidence-based decision making and be overseen by an Associate Administrator for Operations who will report directly to the Administrator. Members of the development community including former USAID Administrators Andrew Natsios and Brian Atwood have long supported combining USAID’s policy and budgetary capabilities to ensure the agency’s best ideas are funded and implemented.

3. Enhancing USAID’s Support Overseas and Partnering with the Private Sector

To strengthen USAID’s capacity to provide better programmatic and technical assistance to its missions in partner countries around the world, USAID Transformation recommends creating a new Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation. This Bureau will bring together existing teams from the E3 and DCHA Bureaus as well as the Global Development Lab. This new Bureau will house several “Centers of Excellence” and act as a one-stop shop of technical expertise for Missions and other Bureaus that need support designing and implementing programs.

The Bureau will also contain a “Center of Excellence for Private Sector Engagement and Economic Development,” which will serve as a hub for USAID’s outreach to the private sector. The Center aims to simplify the coordination between USAID and its partners in the business community, engage them earlier in program design, and expand the impact of private sector innovations and expertise.

Next Steps: Consulting Congress

USAID will now begin a period of consultation with Congress to ensure that the new-look USAID is equipped for success, although many of the Transformation initiative’s proposals will not require legislation.

With Congressional approval, USAID Transformation would build on 15 years of bipartisan reforms with smart steps towards maximizing America’s return on investment from development and strengthening USAID’s response to crises – from conflict in Yemen and Syria to drought in the Horn of Africa or the massive refugee flows from Venezuela where a development voice is a critical element in ensuring America’s national security.

Originally written for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

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