USAID Head Outlines ‘Core Areas’ For Agency’s Reform, Announces Policy Bureau Launch

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah outlined a “broad plan” for reforming the agency and discussed the “overarching themes that will guide USAID reform under his tenure” during a town-hall meeting on Wednesday, Foreign Policy’s blog, “The Cable,” reports.

In prepared remarks, Shah said the agency will focus its work in four main areas: “recommitting USAID to the Millennium Development Goals, investing in country-owned models of growth and development success, developing and delivering scientific and technological breakthroughs, and utilizing USAID expertise in conflict settings,” the blog writes (Rogin, 5/5).

Shah praised USAID’s work in Haiti, according to a transcript of the speech. Of the agency’s response to the January 12 earthquake, he said, “I saw our professionals at their best – I saw them as what we all need to be: development entrepreneurs. … We need to bring this sense of urgency, sense of focus, and ability to innovate to all of our work.” He also referenced Senator Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) comments from a hearing about the need for USAID to make some changes. “So it’s been made pretty clear to me – our time to change is now, and our time to change is short,” Shah said (5/5).

In addition, he “formally announce[d] the restitution of USAID’s policy planning shop,” writes “The Cable” (5/5). Shah said “smart, informed decisions” require “the right tools and skills. That’s why this month we are rolling out a new policy bureau and budget reforms,” the speech transcript shows (5/5). Politico’s Laura Rozen writes on her blog: “The creation of the USAID policy office was called for in the foreign aid reform bill last year, and Congressional development hands consider it a good first step, but say bigger questions remain what will happen to USAID’s budget function.”

The blog notes that the “chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee praised Shah’s creation of the policy office.” In a joint press release, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said, “If the Administration pursues its goal of doubling foreign assistance, it is crucial that Congress has confidence that these funds will be used efficiently and effectively.” USAID “must have a central role in development policy and budget decisions,” he added (5/5). Also in the release, Kerry called the new bureau an “important first step,” but said, “further reforms are necessary to ensure we build a premier development agency that can meet the challenges of the 21st century” (5/5).

In related news, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to USAID employees on Wednesday as part of her “tour of the federal government’s departments and agencies,” ABC’s “Political Punch” blog writes. USAID was her 17th stop.

“Mrs. Obama said the ‘ultimate objective here is to create the condition that you are no longer needed,'” the blog reports. “That’s why you have always represented what is truly best about America – the idea that we have an obligation not just to help those in need, but to also help folks beyond our borders build capacity to help themselves,” Obama said. She also discussed her recent trip to Haiti (Travers, 5/5).