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MFAN QDDR Blog Series: Time for Hard Questions

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The release of initial findings from the State Department’s landmark Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review (QDDR), which will for the first time provide a strategic blueprint for U.S. development and foreign assistance efforts, is expected soon.  Because this is such a key moment in the long push for foreign assistance reform, MFAN is launching a blog series to ensure lively debate about the goals and impacts of the QDDR.  Beginning with the piece below from MFAN Co-Chair George Ingram, development experts from across the MFAN community will post blogs on the QDDR and the importance of transparency, civil society engagement, gender, ownership, and legislation to making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable.  Check back here and on www.Twitter.com/ModernizeAid for regular updates!

lg_George-Ingram.jpgIt’s Time for Hard Questions on the QDDR

By George Ingram

The initial findings from the State Department’s landmark Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) are set to be released any day now.  The impact of the QDDR on U.S. foreign policy could be significant – optimists might even say transformative – and its effects could be felt widely from the halls of Congress to the villages in developing countries where U.S. foreign assistance programs aim to save lives and help build more prosperous futures.

At a time when complex global challenges demand that we get the structures and policies of government right, the development community must be prepared to respond to the QDDR findings in order to create a more effective approach to our foreign policy objectives.

We are fortunate to have a President and a Secretary of State who believe deeply in development and champion it as a core pillar of U.S. global engagement, alongside diplomacy and defense.  Many of us who have spent our lives at the crossroads of development policy and practice believe that the substance of this elevation – not just the idea – will make or break our opportunity to create lasting and better programs that improve people’s lives.  Whether we are development policy wonks or practitioners who have built careers in the field, we have a duty to ask the hard questions.

The core objective of the QDDR is to strengthen the overall capacity of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development to lead the formulation and execution of U.S. policy.  Within the framework of the QDDR, accomplishing this goal involves:

  • Rebalancing the roles and resources of our civilian and military functions;
  • Bolstering staff numbers and skills in both organizations;
  • Clearly defining the roles of each agency and focusing their resources on core functions; and,
  • Designing structural relationships that allow both State and USAID to effectively carry out their mandate – working both jointly and independently, but always in cooperation and as close allies.

These are important objectives that have been overlooked for too long, but in reading them again, I am reminded of key questions that are core to good business:  Is development decision making delegated close to the customer, and are lines of authority clear and distinct?

There is considerable tension over the correct answers to these interrelated questions.  During the Presidential campaign, President Obama called for steps that would ensure development is established and endures as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, mainly through the empowerment of a 21st-century development agency.  In the first year of the Administration, partly due to the unfortunate delay in appointing the Administrator and senior officials at USAID, it is not yet clear how this commitment will be implemented.

More recently, confusion reigned after Secretary Clinton called for the integration of diplomacy and development in a speech at the Center for Global Development in January.  This is absolutely the right issue to address and we can hope that the QDDR puts it front and center. As we parse the initial findings from the QDDR, we should keep in mind:

  • What policies and programs should be integrated, under what circumstances, at what levels, and how?
  • Without a high-level, distinct voice for development at the table when key foreign policy decisions are made (e.g., USAID Administrator Shah in a seat at the National Security Council), how can we consider the third “D” to have been elevated into balance with diplomacy and defense?
  • Will USAID be given more autonomy and authority to drive development policymaking, budgeting, and execution, such as with new initiatives launched by President Obama on global food security and global health?
  • Will our development professionals have the authority and mandate to make on-the-ground development decisions, and therefore be held accountable for results?  Will recipient countries also be given more ownership of the process and responsibility for the results?
  • Will USAID or the State Department or some other/new cross-government entity, like CORE from S.1524, create and oversee development measurement and evaluation across the U.S. government?
  • What legislative avenues will be followed to make sure the QDDR recommendations carry lasting weight?
  • How will the findings work in tandem with the White House’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy?

The light shed on the above questions by the release of the QDDR’s initial findings will tell us a great deal about how the Administration is sorting through the issues involved in effectively and permanently elevating development in U.S. foreign policy.   Whether we are talking about integration, authority, or any of the other technical issues related to foreign assistance reform, perhaps the most basic – and critical – question is this: What do America’s development professionals and institutions need to deliver better results for the struggling people we are trying to help as well as for U.S. taxpayers?

Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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15 Responses to “MFAN QDDR Blog Series: Time for Hard Questions”

  1. I think that the most important change will be to have a strong advocate for development at the table, that is not also beholden to diplomacy concerns. We need to ensure that long-term development objectives do not get subsumed by short-term political interests, and certainly not on a regular basis as they are now. I wonder if the QDDR will acknowledge this need, and how it will be addressed in policy changes. I think this is something we will have to continue to push for, or we will end up with the State Department as the actual voice of development in the high level policy discussions, which we know will underserve development objectives in too many situations.

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