White House Global Development Plan Ready: Worth the Wait But Now for the Tough Part

05/14/2010 12:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Global development advocates have been waiting and waiting for President Obama to signal how he intends to act on his bold and ambitious commitments to fight poverty and to promote growth and stability around the globe. The wait appears to have been worth it. Last week, a preliminary draft of Presidential Study Directive (PSD) -- A New Way Forward on Global Development -- found its way into the media, perhaps not the preferred means of disclosure, but one that offers enormous promise for a new vision of development as an elevated and core element of US foreign policy.

The draft PSD threads together multiple goals to be pursued by American investments in global development, bringing stability to nations emerging from conflict, attacking poverty, enhancing economic growth and supporting universal values. It brings a refreshing coherence to a policy agenda that has often times been marked by fragmentation, neglect, and contradiction. It recognizes successes from the past -- like the provision of life-saving medicines and delivery of humanitarian aid -- and proposes to integrate those into new priorities that address the challenges faced today. And it establishes a permanent means to routinely review and adjust policy priorities through a US Global Development Strategy, signed by the President every four years.

This new approach calls for a "deliberate development policy," moving away from a process of making trade-offs through implicit decision-making, to an explicit identification of policy objectives, an order of prioritization, and resource alignment that will achieve them. The PSD draft envisions a system that maximizes the potential of innovation, differentiates between widely divergent development landscapes -- from Afghanistan to Ghana -- and holds partner governments and societies accountable for results. Under a new business model, there will be greater emphasis on prioritizing sectors in which the US invests, including health, food security, and governance, and establishes and better defines divisions of labor with other donors. US policy will align with partner country national strategies, will leverage non-public development actors that have become such critical elements in fighting poverty and promoting growth, and will strengthen multilateral approaches to global challenges. All of this will be done utilizing rigorous evaluation procedures, measuring impact, and adjusting strategies when necessary.

Importantly, the New Way Forward commits to a bipartisan approach in partnership with Congress. It implies establishing the "grand bargain" with lawmakers, seeking greater executive flexibility in program and policy management in exchange for a commitment of heightened accountability for results to elected officials and the American people.

This is an impressive and encouraging statement of White House policy. But now for the hard part. First, the president needs to sign the PSD, something we hope will take place this week. And now that we've seen a draft, we will be watching closely that the final document fully endorses, or better yet, further strengthens the policy principles set out in the leaked version. As with any policy statement, the test will be in the implementation. The plan is bold but will be meaningless without strong and continuous leadership and monitoring from the White House. The wait is over -- we hope -- and now the real work begins.