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Financial Times Examines U.S. Foreign Aid Reform

The Obama “administration’s bold drive to improve the U.S.’s notoriously bureaucratic and dysfunctional foreign aid programme is setting out with highly uncertain chances of success,” the Financial Times writes. “Officials acknowledge inadequacies in the traditional U.S. approach. The U.S. programme involves overlapping bureaucracies … [and] frequently ‘ties’ U.S. aid to the purchase of American food and other goods and consultancy services,” according to the article.

To address some of the issues, officials say foreign aid will be channeled to governments that have their own plans, an approach that European and other donors have used for years. Some of these ideas are incorporated in President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to improve food security in developing countries. A senior administration official said, “It’s a response to a lot of work that has gone into foreign-aid-financed programmes that in the past have been too much top-down and not enough bottom-up.”

“But the shift in philosophy faces political challenges. The contractors who benefit from tied aid are an obvious obstacle. … While campaigners welcome the shift towards making [USAID] the main conduit for assistance, overlapping bureaucracies remain and many key positions in aid agencies remain unfilled. While the more overarching approach may make for better development policy, it may also make it harder to get Congress to appropriate money for aid, especially at a time of fiscal stringency,” the newspaper writes.

The piece also quotes Sarah Jane Staats, an aid expert at the Centre for Global Development, and Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America (Beattie/Dombey, 9/19).

Senate Confirms Two Senior USAID Officials; Nine Top USAID Spots Remain Vacant

The Senate recently “confirmed two top officials to the U.S. Agency for International Development, making them the first senior USAID leadership positions to be filled other than Administrator Rajiv Shah,” Foreign Policy’s blog, “The Cable,” reports. “The officials who were confirmed are Mark Feierstein as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Nisha Desai Biswal as assistant administrator for Asia,” according to the blog (Rogin, 9/17).

According to a USAID press release, “Feierstein previously served as a principal and vice president at the international polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.” Before that, “Feierstein served as director of USAID’s global elections office.” Biswal comes to USAID from the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Committee on Appropriations, where she served as the Majority Clerk for the State Department. Biswal was also the Director of Policy and Advocacy at InterAction (9/16). 

“The Cable” continues: “Of the top 12 leadership slots at USAID, only two more officials have even been nominated and nine more slots are currently vacant or being staffed by ‘acting’ officials” (9/17).