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Obama Nominates Senior USDA Official To Lead USAID

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced the nomination of Rajiv Shah – who is currently a senior official at the Department of Agriculture focusing on food security – to lead USAID, the Boston Globe reports (Smith, 11/11).

“Shah’s selection, which must still be confirmed by the Senate, would end a 10-month leadership vacuum at USAID, which has been operating with an acting director since Obama took office …,” the Associated Press writes (Lee/Pace, 11/10).

According to the Washington Post, “Shah, whose family emigrated from India, holds an M.D. and a master’s in health economics and gained political experience advising Al Gore’s presidential campaign on health-care policy. He was deeply involved with international vaccine efforts at the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation and led Agriculture Department efforts on the Obama administration’s food security initiative, part of a global campaign to help small farmers get more food to the hungry.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Washington Post that Shah “has a personal passion and commitment to this mission, and I think he’s got a style that will allow him to energize people over at USAID” (Sheridan, 11/10). 

In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Shah is “someone who understands the importance of providing people around the world with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty and chart their own destinies.” According to Clinton, Shah “has the skills and experience to lead a reinvigorated USAID in the 21st century,” Agence France-Presse reports (11/10).

Foreign Policy’s blog “The Cable” writes that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) “promised swift proceedings” for Shah. “It’s terrific, we’ll move forward as soon as we can, I hope weeks,” Kerry said, adding that he wasn’t aware of any objections from Republicans. According to the blog, “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” (Rogin, 11/10).

“Development experts praised the young doctor but said he would need increased authority to revive the beleaguered” USAID, according the Washington Post. Shah “has very impressive credentials and knows many of the sectors we work in, in development, agriculture and health,” said J. Brian Atwood, a former USAID head. He added, “I hope he has assurances he’ll have the authorities he needs to get a very difficult job done” (11/11). Atwood also said, “We need a development voice within the U.S. government, especially in economic circles,” Reuters reports. He noted, “Finance policies and trade policies have as much to do with eradicating or mitigating poverty as development assistance” (Quinn, 11/10).

Kerry and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) issued a statement welcoming the nomination, the Washington Independent reports (Ackerman, 11/10). Politico’s Laura Rozen reports on her foreign policy blog that Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) had a “more mixed take on the Rajiv Shah nomination.” Cardin said, “I look forward to meeting Dr. Shah, and to a prompt confirmation hearing, during which we can discuss his vision of how USAID can regain its position as the primary development agency of the U.S. government.”

According to the blog, “Some sense of ‘we’d like to learn more’ ambivalence as well from the USAID bureaucracy channeled through the statement provided by the American Foreign Service Association.” The statement said, “We welcome the opportunity to learn more about Mr. Shah and his ideas as the confirmation process unfolds” (11/10). A separate post from Politico’s Rozen has a letter Shah wrote to colleagues about his nomination. Shah explained that his “transition will not be immediate,” and he highlighted some of the initiatives he enjoyed working on during his time at USDA, including the launch of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (11/10).

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