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Will the real development champion please stand up?

Earlier this week, Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin published a leaked White House document detailing the Obama Administration’s “New Way Forward on Global Development.”

The optimistically-titled document is the draft output of the Presidential Study Directive (known as the PSD-7), ordered by the Obama Administration nine months ago as a government-wide review of global development policy, and conducted by the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

The document proposes to “elevate development” as a “key pillar of US foreign policy.” How so? The most significant change in the draft is the creation of interagency committee reporting to the President to run US development policy. This would essentially pull responsibility for development away from State, (where it has been since Condoleeza Rice initiated the mysterious-sounding “F process” in 2006), although not completely since the USAID Administrator would still report to the Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, the State Department is also promising to “elevate development” as a “central pillar of all that we do in our foreign policy.” The State Department’s own review of development policy, called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR to close friends) has not yet been published (or leaked), but will most likely not propose that State relinquish budget and policy planning authority over USAID.

What would be the best outcome for the people around the world on the receiving end of America’s imperfect largesse? Will it make any difference which one of these plans wins out in the upcoming political turf battles? One thing’s for sure, US foreign aid reform has a long and inglorious history, and tinkering at the margins (or stirring the spaghetti bowl, as a recent Oxfam editorial put it) will only make things worse.

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  1. RJS wrote:

    Development won’t be “elevated” until it’s taken away from State, which lacks the necessary expertise, management skills and organizational culture to properly manage foreign assistance funding.

    That said, despite what people claim, development isn’t as important as defense or diplomacy. It’s a nice tool to have, but not essential in the way soldiers or diplomats are. That’s just the way it is and no amount of wishing can make it so.

    Posted May 6, 2010 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  2. Rising Tides wrote:

    It’s good to see that this administration has been giving a lot of focus to the importance of aid recently, but it’s all for naught if they can’t manage it effectively. I think this idea might be a step in the right direction, though.

    Despite aid’s relevance to foreign policy, development clearly should be run by a more independent agency, as proposed in PSD-7. This would, ideally, make aid more about the poor, and less about advancing nuances of American foreign policy.

    Of course, this is Washington, and shaking up the nominal hierarchy of agencies often doesn’t change things at all…

    Posted May 7, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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