On January 25th, 2023, MFAN co-chair Lester Munson gave remarks at the launch of the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) Peer Review Report of U.S. development cooperation. The launch event was hosted by the National Security Council and speakers included Samantha Power (USAID Administrator), Ambassador Susanna Moorehead (OECD DAC Chair), Paula Tufro (NSC Senior Director for Development, Global Health and Humanitarian Response), and Michele Sumilas (Assistant to the USAID Administrator of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning). Munson’s remarks are below:
I’m Lester Munson, one of three co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN). MFAN is a bipartisan coalition of development experts, advocates, and practitioners that promotes more effective and accountable U.S. foreign assistance that advances American interests and delivers greater results for people in need and U.S. taxpayers.
The coalition advocates for 1) the continued elevation of development as a distinct arm of American global engagement; 2) a model of development that gives greater voice, resources, and decision-making power to local actors and an increased focus on accountability, innovation, and evidence of impact; and 3) an understanding between the agencies that deliver development assistance and the US Congress that focuses on outcomes and impact, not on specific activities or sectoral and regional directives.
My fellow MFAN co-chair, Larry Nowels, provided input during the DAC review process.
While my very brief remarks today will be in accord with MFAN principles, I am not speaking for the organization.
The findings and recommendations of the U.S. Peer Review report are very constructive and largely reflect the goals and principles of MFAN. I will comment on five of the recommendations.
First, with respect to locally led development, MFAN has worked with USAID, Congressional staff and stakeholders in the development community for several years, promoting localization efforts. Although the Peer Review listed localization ninth of ten recommendations, it is in many ways the most important and the most difficult. Making localization work will require broad changes to the way that USAID and its partners work - some of these changes are recommended in the DAC report. MFAN’s discussions, particularly with USAID Mission Directors, leave us optimistic that despite some frustrations with Washington efforts to agree on definitions and metrics, there exists within USAID’s own decentralized structure of in-country missions and offices, great enthusiasm for increased local ownership. I agree with the recommendations made by the DAC on the need for clear definitions as well as a commitment to measurement and learning precisely because of the complexity of this effort.
Second, on the recommendations for the Development Finance Corporation: MFAN has found that a significant challenge to the DFC’s success is the way in which its equity programs are scored in the budget process. To this end, stronger recommendations to OMB and congressional appropriators would be welcome. It is reasonable to expect f more fair and accurate budget scoring that unlocks the full potential of the new agency. Getting this DFC equity scoring right is a key to sustaining political and policy support for US foreign assistance programs more broadly.
Third, with respect to workforce issues at USAID, the DAC’s recommendation is on point. A more coherent personnel management system is long overdue for the agency. For several years, MFAN has advocated that Congress increase USAID’s operating expenses for this purpose. In particular, we would highlight the critical need for more contracting officers in the agency. This deficiency affects policy and process decision-making across the board. For example, fulfilling USAID's commitment to locally led development will not happen without significant changes in the agency’s workforce.
Fourth, the recommendation that the administration seek greater flexibility from Congress by engaging in more “strategic-level dialogue” with the legislative branch is correct but insufficient. MFAN has long worked with stakeholders in both branches to advance sensible development reforms. There is a desire from both the executive and the legislative to see greater flexibility and effectiveness in programming. The reality is that both the president and the Congress will have to compromise on their priority programs to achieve this. In other words, highly specific instruction from Congress will only be curtailed when it is also curtailed from the top levels of the administration, including the White House. It is a matter of creating trust with the Congress, engaging in meaningful consultation (not just informing), and refraining from so many Presidential Initiatives that complicate matters for agencies and the Hill.
Fifth and finally, here is where I may diverge from some of my colleagues at MFAN. The DAC gently recommends that “all federal government departments and agencies work in a coherent and coordinated manner to deliver” an integrated global development policy. This is certainly a wise recommendation and one that should be embraced. A good place to start is to build trust between USAID and the State Department, where a close partnership is essential. As we have seen most recently in U.S. government decisions regarding global health security and pandemic preparedness, USAID and the State Department often have differing priorities, as well as different capacities for implementation. It is incumbent on leadership in both agencies to see the comparative advantages in the other, and to work together as they tackle new challenges.
Thank you again, Michele (Sumilas), for the invitation today - and to everyone here who worked so hard on the DAC review process.
Principal and Managing Director, International and Trade Practice
BGR Government Affairs, LLC
Read USAID Administrator Samantha Power's full remarks here.