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Noteworthy News — 12.3

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009
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This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.

What we’re reading:

  • US envoy criticizes civilian effort in Afghanistan (Reuters, December 2) – Holbrooke signaled his concerns over efforts involving the United Nations and scores of foreign aid and development agencies before a meeting at which U.S. and European ministers are expected to discuss how to improve the reconstruction drive.  “We have a unified military command but we have an ‘un-unified’ international effort that involves the United Nations, individual countries, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and other international institutions.”  “We believe that we need to coordinate that civilian effort better,” he added.
  • New aid chief lays out plans to fix USAID (FP Blog-Josh Rogin, December 1) – Shah will report to directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, he wrote in the answers, obtained by The Cable. But it’s not yet determined if he will have control over the “F bureau” at State, 60 percent of which is staffed by USAID personnel, he said.  “It is critical that we rebuild all types of capacity at USAID, including policy expertise,” Shah wrote to the committee. “I believe USAID must be able to inform policy decisions, develop strategies, and implement programs effectively and efficiently.”  “This is part of a larger struggle over the shape and direction of our country’s global development efforts,” Kerry said. “Our aid program is in need of a course correction.”
  • Money Can’t Buy America Love (Foreign Policy- Andrew Wilder and Stuart Gordon, December 1) – National security interests have always had a major influence over development assistance priorities, most notably during the Cold War. But never has aid so explicitly been viewed as a weapons system — a fact that is having a major impact on the development assistance policies and priorities of the United States and indeed of many other Western donors.  The primary objective of U.S. aid to countries such as Afghanistan is also shifting — from development for its own sake to the promotion of security. The result is that funding for insecure areas takes priority over secure areas.
  • Addicted to Contractors (Foreign Policy-Allison Stanger, December 1) – Waging war through contractors also means a lot of waste. Money must change hands multiple times in a foreign country — a standing invitation for corruption. The contracting apparatus spawns a web of complex financial transactions that the U.S. Congress cannot effectively oversee. Funding it is equally problematic; Washington continues to finance the struggle against terrorism through supplemental appropriations as though they were emergency operations.
  • The Downside of ‘Smart Power’ (New Republic-Jesse Zwick, November 30) – But there was a catch: Emphasizing aid’s strategic rationale also meant changing its very nature. Several months ago, I spoke to Brian Atwood, who ran USAID from 1993 to 1999 during the Clinton administration. USAID’s underlying philosophy, he pointed out, had traditionally hinged on a very long-term vision of American interests–a faith that alleviating poverty and other social ills would somehow ultimately benefit the United States. It wasn’t pure altruism, but, in practice, it was certainly closer to altruism than the vision of aid as a strategic tool put forth by “smart power” proponents. “You need an aid administrator who can think long term and work on preventing crises,” he told me–as opposed to simply responding to crises, a task that occupies much, if not most, of the secretary of state’s time.

MFAN Statement: Initial Bill Passed by SFRC Adds to Aid Reform Momentum

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
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November 17, 2009 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

Today, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Ranking Minority Member Richard Lugar (R-IN), and a bipartisan group of Senators took a concrete step towards making U.S. foreign assistance more effective by passing the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S.1524) out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Following last week’s nomination of Dr. Raj Shah to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the bill proposes important changes that would give the new administrator the necessary tools to lead U.S. development efforts by implementing and coordinating the pieces of President Obama’s ambitious agenda.  Among other things, S.1524 would establish the promotion of global development, good governance, and the reduction of poverty and hunger as U.S. policy; rebuild the policy, strategic planning, and human resources capacity at USAID; and create an independent Council on Research and Evaluation of Foreign Assistance (CORE) to evaluate the impact of all U.S. foreign aid programs.

Building on the visionary leadership they have shown in the movement to reform U.S. foreign assistance, Chairman Kerry and Senator Lugar made a strong statement today about Congress’ firm commitment to elevating development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, distinct from diplomacy and defense.  We hope that leaders in the Obama Administration will take note and work with both the Senate and the House of Representatives on their reform efforts.

CONTACT: Sam Hiersteiner at 202-295-0171 or

MFAN Helps Spread the Word about USAID Administrator Nomination

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
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After ten months of waiting and wondering, yesterday President Obama nominated Dr. Rajiv Shah to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).   MFAN welcomed the news with a key message for policymakers and the community:  For Dr. Shah to effectively lead critical, ongoing U.S. development efforts – foreign assistance reform, the global food security initiative, and Afghanistan-Pakistan, to name a few – he should be given a seat at the National Security Council from which he can lend a distinct voice for development to ongoing foreign policy discussions, and budget and policy authority should be restored to USAID, as provided for in S.1524, the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 Below are excerpts from key media stories about the nomination:

  • Ex-Gates Foundation exec named foreign aid chief (AP, November 10) – Given that speculation, and the delay in appointing an administrator, David Beckmann, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, said the administration needs to move quickly in defining Shah’s responsibilities.  “They’re going to need to give him some clear signals that he has real power,” he said.
  • Obama Names Agriculture Official to Lead USAID (Congressional Quarterly-Caitlin Weber, November 10) – “We are hopeful that his unique combination of knowledge about global health, agriculture, and other issues will allow him to provide a strong and indispensable development voice as major decisions are made about U.S. foreign policy,” said David Beckmann and George Ingram, co-chairmen of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, in a statement.
  • Rajiv Shah: America’s Next Top USAID Administrator (Washington Independent-Spencer Ackerman, November 10) – It’s not obvious to me what Shah’s credentials are, but as Josh notes, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a development-policy group, is firmly on board.  MFAN wants to give the next USAID administrator a seat on the National Security Council.
  • Breaking: Rajiv Shah for USAID administrator (Politico-Laura Rozen, November 10) – David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and speaking on behalf of a coalition of development assistance groups, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, applauded the nomination in a statement, urged Congress to confirm Shah quickly, and for the Obama administration to give Shah a seat at the NSC.
  • USDA’s Rajiv Shah to be named USAID head (FP-Josh Rogin, November 10) – Development groups were quick to praise the selection but also to call for increased powers for the USAID administrator role, which is now under review.  “Congress should confirm Dr. Shah quickly,” said Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram in a statement, “We are hopeful that his unique combination of knowledge about global health, agriculture, and other issues will allow him to provide a strong and indispensable development voice as major decisions are made about U.S. foreign policy.”
  • Obama nominates U.S. aid chief, filling key vacancy (Reuters, November 10) – J. Brian Atwood, who served as USAID administrator from 1993-1999, said Shah would face a major task in rebuilding both confidence and capacity at the agency while advocating a more holistic approach to overseas aid within the government.  “We need a development voice within the U.S. government, especially in economic circles,” said Atwood, dean of the Hubert Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.  “Finance policies and trade policies have as much to do with eradicating or mitigating poverty as development assistance.”  Development group Oxfam said Shah had his work cut out for him because USAID itself has been underfunded.  “U.S. development efforts have become diffuse and USAID’s development objectives unclear, with the Pentagon and more than 20 other federal agencies increasingly engaged in development activities,” said Raymond Offenheiser, Oxfam’s president, in a release.
  • Administration Names Agriculture Official to Run U.S. Aid Agency, Ending Delays (The New York Times, November 11) –  “This administration has inherited a very weak and fragmented Usaid and aid infrastructure,” said David Beckmann, the president of Bread for the World, a Christian group that advocates for hunger relief. “By getting someone in that position, Mrs. Clinton has taken a step forward.”  Mr. Beckmann called for Mr. Obama to restore the agency’s profile by giving Dr. Shah a seat on the National Security Council, and for Mrs. Clinton to give back its independent budget and policy-making authority, which had been subsumed by the State Department.
  • Agriculture expert picked to lead struggling USAID (Washington Post, November 11) – Shah “has very impressive credentials and knows many of the sectors we work in, in development, agriculture and health,” said J. Brian Atwood, who led USAID in the 1990s. But he and other development veterans say the agency has been weakened in recent years as its budget and policy functions have been folded into the State Department.  “I hope he has assurances he’ll have the authorities he needs to get a very difficult job done,” Atwood said.

MFAN Statement: USAID Nominee Shah’s Leadership Needed on Development

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009
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091110_rjs_portraitNovember 10, 2009 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

We applaud the nomination of Dr. Rajiv Shah to be Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  We are hopeful that his unique combination of knowledge about global health, agriculture, and other issues will allow him to provide a strong and indispensable development voice as major decisions are made about U.S. foreign policy.  Congress should confirm Dr. Shah quickly.

If confirmed, Dr. Shah will take leadership of America’s premier development agency at a time when we face complex challenges in the developing world, not just from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also from transnational threats such as disease, poverty and lack of opportunity, hunger, climate change, and political instability.  This is why the Obama Administration has pledged to elevate development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy alongside defense and diplomacy, and is already undertaking a whole-of-government review of how the U.S. engages with poor countries.  If confirmed, Dr. Shah will be the U.S. government’s lead voice on these urgent issues; therefore, the Obama Administration should take the following steps to empower him during these challenging times by:

  • Giving him a seat at the National Security Council from which he can bring a high-level and distinct development voice to critical foreign policy discussions, including the White House’s ongoing Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy;
  • Installing him as a co-chair of the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR); and
  • Revitalizing the agency he will lead by restoring USAID’s policy planning and budget capabilities, as well as the technical development capacity and expertise of the agency (as provided for in the bipartisan Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009, S.1524, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider soon).

We look forward to supporting Dr. Shah and the Obama Administration in their efforts to strengthen development and make foreign assistance more effective and accountable for the 21st century.

CONTACT: Sam Hiersteiner at 202-295-0171 or

Save the Date: 3 Events to Watch Out For

Friday, October 30th, 2009
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Get out your calendars and take note of the following upcoming events to support MFAN and the larger development community:


*TODAY.  Friday, October 30th 5-7 PM at the School of International Service Lounge, American University

This evening, the International Development Program Student Association (IDPSA) of American University presents “Reforming U.S. Humanitarian Aid,” part of its Friday Forum series.  Panelists include MFAN Principal Sam Worthington, President of InterAction, and Kathleen Campbell of Save the Children, as well as Steve Feldstein, Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffperson and Charlie Flickner, retired staffperson subcommittee of Foreign Operations in the House.  The panel will be moderated by Don Krumm, senior advisor at USAID.

For more information, see Reforming US Humanitarian Aid-Oct 30 09.


Thursday, November 5th 2-3:30 PM at Rayburn HOB 2200

Save the Children will host a panel discussion, “Modernizing Foreign Assistance:  Insights from the Field,”  in which panelists will discuss their findings from interviewing aid stakeholders and researching foreign aid trends in Haiti, Bangladesh, and Liberia.  Panelists include Polly Byers, former senior coordinator at the State Department and previous senior inter-agency policy advisor at USAID, and Alice Burt, research consultant at Save the Children.  The panel will be moderated by associate vice president and chief policy advisory for Save the Children and MFAN Principal Ambassador Michael Klosson.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact 202-640-6636 or


Monday, December 7th 6 PM reception, 7 PM dinner at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC

For its 2009 Tribute dinner, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition will honor Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for her career in public service and commitment to using smart power and promoting diplomacy and development in foreign policy decisions.  Master of Ceremonies for the evening is Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent, NBC, and the dinner is co-chaired by James A. Bell and Richard Stearns.

Click here for the official invitation and more information.  Please note the cost of the dinner, and RSVP by November 20th.