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Archive for June, 2010

The Battle of the Logos

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
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By Mark Green, Ambassador and Congressman (ret.)

I recently began posting a series of pieces with some of the reasons why I believe (a) America needs foreign assistance reform and (b) Conservatives should take up the cause.  Done right, foreign assistance can play a crucial role in our foreign policy. Unfortunately, the status quo isn’t “done right” or, at least, done as well as it could be.

Here are my first four reasons:

Reason 1: Our current foreign aid system is organizationally incoherent.

Reason 2:  We need to reform the system to make our precious taxpayer dollars go much further.

Reason 3: Foreign assistance reform is a great opportunity for Conservatives to reaffirm values and initiatives we care about. 

Reason 4: Simply put, Conservatives (and Republicans) have a long history of standing up for EFFECTIVE foreign assistance.

And now . . . Reason 5: The combination of fragmented authorities and overlapping bureaucracies in our current assistance framework is watering down public diplomacy efforts.

Foreign assistance is a crucial part of public diplomacy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks eloquently about the need for “smart power” in these challenging times. Her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, emphasized the ability for “diplomacy by deeds” to shape our image in far off lands. Whatever the terminology, the concept is straightforward: America enhances its image, and its prospects, when it is seen to be helping those in need.  Words are the currency of traditional diplomacy, but tangible deeds can be more eloquent than any cable or speech or public statement.

Here’s another way of looking at it: the late Jack Kemp, a Conservative hero to many (myself included), liked to say that “people need to know that you care before they care what you know.” Foreign assistance projects do just that, opening hearts and ears to the American message.

However, the deeds-based approach is only as effective as the messaging effort that follows it. We must make sure that people know the good work that is being done and that it ultimately comes from the American people. Unfortunately, our archaic patchwork of fragmented authorities and bureaucratic structures often undermines that effort.

These days, there are approximately 12 departments, 25 agencies and 60 separate government offices involved in administering foreign assistance.  With overlapping jurisdictions, conflicting rules and procedures, and differing organizational cultures, they often confuse those they mean to serve.  They may even unintentionally mislead the public into thinking that one or more of them are independent or even non-governmental. After all, what logical government would use handfuls of different agencies to work in a single country . . .perhaps even on a single project?

One symptom of this bureaucratic labyrinth is what I refer to as the “battle of the logos.” And it’s one of the many annoyances that Conservatives can fix when they take up foreign assistance reform.

The Battle of the Logos

In my first weeks at post as Ambassador to Tanzania, I attended numerous ribbon-cuttings for U.S.-funded health clinics, Malaria Logos 1school dormitories and other projects only to see banners with countless logos and acronyms plastered all over.  Some of the acronyms were alien to me – from organizations I hadn’t heard of before.  As a group, they were sometimes so large and colorful that they took up more space and attention than the actual “message” – something noticed by many of the Tanzanian officials in attendance.  Even if it meant distracting from that message, the organizations involved apparently wanted to make sure that their “brands” were noticeably on display.

In some cases, the named organizations on display were private ones with whom the U.S. government had contracted to implement or administer programs.  However, the bold banners and shiny plaques made it appear that it was their own money that was building that clinic or paying for those books.  My guess is that a good many of the Tanzanians in attendance had no idea that it was American taxpayers, not the named organization, that had been so generous. In fact, I can recall an event in which a Tanzanian official went to great lengths to thank a university for its great generosity in launching a global health project – even though that university was actually just implementing a grant it had received from the National Institutes of Health.

The Battle of the Government Logos

What was even more frustrating was the hodgepodge of government agency logos that adorned each banner and brochure.  Just as with non-governmental logos, they seemed to take up too much space and distract from any underlying message.  More significantly, some of the logos and acronyms were obscure enough that observers couldn’t have known they were actually referring to the U.S. government. Most Americans don’t know what acronyms like MCC, FSA, PEPFAR, PMI, USADF, USTDA and others stand for.  What are the chances that my Tanzanian friends wouldn’t recognize them?

Like most Conservatives, I believe that while foreign assistance should help those in need, it must also help America’s image and interests on the world stage. We support foreign assistance because it is the right thing to do, but also because – done right – it is the smart thing to do.  But again, how “smart” can a project be if its funding source is hidden by bureaucratic branding and self-promotion?PMI microscope close up

As ambassador, I tried to push back against all of this. First, I issued an embassy-wide directive creating a unified logo — an American flag with the phrase “From the American People” in Kiswahili — and called for it to be on every press statement and event banner.  I asked my team to send that message out to our implementing partners as well, and spoke about my “rule” at a USAID sponsored planning session with those partners. I let everyone know that I wouldn’t attend ribbon cuttings or groundbreakings unless there was a banner behind me with our new logo design.

I also created a business card-sized piece of literature — one that could be folded out into a small “table tent” – which bore the new logo and then summarized, by the numbers, just how much assistance American taxpayers were providing in Tanzania. Every member of my embassy team, American and Tanzanian, was supposed to carry it with him or her so he or she could answer the question, “What is America doing to help?”  Each member was supposed to leave one of these cards at their stops when they traveled in country.

A Good Job for Conservatives

It’s important to realize that our assistance network is made up of lots of good, dedicated professionals who are devoted to lifting lives and building communities in the countries where they serve.  It’s the system that is the problem.tshirt photo

In my battle of the logos example, some of my embassy team pointed out to me that federal offices and agencies often had rules that attempted to govern and even mandate the use of their brands in the field. Many federal agencies had sent out strict guidelines governing the use of their logos in these situations.  In some cases, they sent out “rules” directing not only the  use of their logos, but the size and position of the logos relative to other agencies’ brands.

Policymakers and opinion leaders back here in the States, especially Conservatives, need to get involved because bureaucracies never reform themselves . . . not willingly and not sufficiently.  As Ronald Reagan liked to say: “Bureaucrats do cut red tape – they just do it lengthwise.”

MFAN Partners Respond to Obama’s G8 Statement on Development

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
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Sarah Jane StaatsIn a new post on the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Blog, MFAN member Sarah Jane Staats reviews Obama’s recently released announcement on the G8, “A New Approach to Advancing Development.” Staats applauds the statement for putting a “little more meat on the bones” of U.S. global development strategy, but notes that the real challenge will be putting the policy directive into practice and tailoring U.S. development policy to reflect the goals and guidelines expressed in the announcement. Read a few excerpts and a similar post by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition after the jump:


MFAN Member Grapples with Delayed Reviews

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
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Sarah Jane StaatsSarah Jane Staats, director of policy outreach at the Center for Global Development and MFAN member, recently posted a piece on CGD’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance blog drawing an uncomfortable comparison to the delayed reviews and the muddled bureaucratic process these reviews are trying to streamline and simplify.  Both the Presidential Study Directive and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review were set to deliver findings by now, and the clock is running out for the administration to implement any durable reforms.  See excerpts from Staats blog below:

“Two major reviews on U.S. development policy—the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy (PSD) and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)—intend to make sense out of the confusing array of agencies and actors involved in U.S. global development policy; both appear to be suffering delays rooted in the very bureaucratic confusion they aim to resolve.”

“Nearly one year out, it’s hard to see whether we’re any closer to agreement. Eighteen months into this administration, the delay means President Obama and his team are running out of time not just to issue strategies, but to implement any reforms. The less time there is for the reforms to get traction, the less likely they’ll create any lasting legacy.”

MFAN Statement: Praise for President Obama’s Development Leadership at the G8 Summit

Monday, June 28th, 2010
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June 28, 2010 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

MFAN commends President Obama for showing leadership on development with his statement at the G8 Summit in Muskoko.  We continue to strongly support the Administration’s efforts to elevate and institutionalize the idea, most recently articulated in the National Security Strategy, that fighting global poverty is a “moral, strategic, and economic imperative for the United States,” as well as a key component of our “comprehensive, integrated” foreign policy in a world of complex challenges.

We eagerly await the impending release of the development policy directive highlighted in the G8 statement, and we support the general themes of growth, innovation, partnership, and accountability that were affirmed in the document.  We are particularly hopeful that the directive will answer a critical question that has not yet been addressed by the Administration: How will the U.S. foreign assistance system be modernized to institutionalize the importance of development, make U.S. assistance more responsive to local priorities, and deliver transformative results for the poor people we are trying to help?

In conjunction with the release of the directive, we call on the Administration to take three important steps to catalyze and strengthen the reform process:

  • Fill the senior leadership void at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which currently lacks the full complement of Deputy Administrators and Assistant Administrators needed to effectively execute the Administration’s new approach;
  • Prepare America’s first-ever Global Development Strategy ahead of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in September, in order to set a strategic foundation for U.S. development efforts and deliver on the President’s pledge to announce “a plan” for how the U.S. will contribute to eradicating extreme poverty by the MDG deadline in 2015; and
  • Announce now that the Administration will work with Congress to modernize foreign assistance in a durable way, including by rewriting the antiquated Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Administration and Congress to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in support of global development and poverty reduction.

Stimson Center’s Adams on Encroachment of Defense

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
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See below for a strong piece by Gordon Adams, distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, analyzing the recent dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal and the military’s continued dominance of foreign policy issues and programs.  Read more about this issue and other budgeting for foreign affairs on the Budget Insight blog.

McChrystal-izing a Problem: The Militarization of American StatecraftGordon Adams

Gordon Adams

June 23, 2010

General Stanley McChrystal’s candid disrespect for civilian leadership is being treated as an issue of bad judgment and personality.  But this episode reveals a much deeper dilemma for American statecraft, one that has long roots but has reached near crisis proportions over the past ten years: the gradual erosion of civilian leadership and the militarization of our foreign and security policy.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned about this trend in remarks to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University last year, but it has been under way for years.  Its manifestations include:

  • DOD and the military now define what America’s national security strategy will be.  The DOD strategic document – the Quadrennial Defense Review – was for many months the only definitive description of our strategy; the National Security Strategy followed, and is significantly less informative or clear.  DOD has for years done our only real national strategy planning, well ahead of any White House guidance.
  • DOD and the military have determined that our most important engagement abroad will be to fight terrorist and insurgents, despite the fact that terrorist tactics hardly threaten our existence and, outside of insurgents in Afghanistan (and in decline in Iraq) it is not clear either that there are a lot of insurgencies for us to fight or that other countries will welcome a major US military presence to deal with those that do exist. (more…)