National Journal Examines USAID Administrator Nominee’s Experience, Prospects At The Agency

The National Journal looks at the professional background of Rajiv Shah, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the USAID administrator. “As Rajiv Shah prepares to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, former colleagues, lobbyists and current and past administration officials paint a picture of a man with dizzying brainpower and social intelligence who has won over skeptics time and again. But the 36-year-old wunderkind will need those gifts to overcome his own inexperience and myriad bureaucratic hurdles, they said, as he attempts to restore the troubled agency to its former glory,” the National Journal writes.

The article features quotes from colleagues at USDA, where he was appointed “undersecretary for research, education and economics, as well as its chief scientist,” and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “where he had the freedom to dream up clever and innovative development projects, like the foundation’s $1.5 billion vaccine fund.” The nominee’s “smarts and his ability to quickly absorb new information and connect dots have been central to his success. He likes to surround himself with smart people who challenge him, colleagues say, and he’s willing to change course when the data proves him wrong,” writes National Journal.

“But despite Shah’s patrons and his star power, USAID is a different beast than the Gates Foundation, experts warn. … USAID … is far less specialized, with around 2,300 full-time employees in roughly 80 countries and thousands more contractors. Much American aid money is tied up in expensive projects like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which Shah will have little control over and which Congress is unlikely to make major changes to,” the publication writes.

“An overhaul of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 – the outdated but durable patchwork responsible for some of those burdens – may help. But even with the full-throated support of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shah hardly controls his own destiny. Two dueling reports out of the State Department and the White House are already fighting to shape the future of USAID, and he’s entering the debate late in the game.”

The article looks at several other factors – including personal attributes, his lack of field experience and his preference for “data-driven development” – that could influence Shah’s leadership at USAID (Herbert, 12/17).

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