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Obama Launches Whole-of-Government Review of U.S. Global Development Policy

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President Obama has signed a Presidential Study Directive (PSD) -- an order to initiate policy review procedures -- authorizing National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Chairman of the National Economic Council Larry Summers to lead a whole-of-government review of U.S. global development policy. White House leadership of the exercise is important given the convening power necessary to secure high-level participation by the more than two dozen government entities currently responsible for portions of U.S. development policy. Although the contents of the PSD are yet to be made public, I suspect it will be much like its predecessor PSD-1 which authorized a review of U.S. policy and organizational capacity to address homeland security and counterterrorism.

Lots of folks are asking how this White House-led PSD relates to State Department's recently launched Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)-- is it a power grab or a principled approach? This town seems to have so much more fun pushing political intrigue and skepticism. Hard not to enjoy the intrigue. Equally hard to avoid being skeptical, particularly when expectations for swift and bold action on the elevating development front were set so high during campaign and transition months. But I hope we can look at this moment as an extremely important opportunity to pull all the pieces out there right now aimed at elevating development and modernizing foreign assistance into one smart strategy. Here's what I hope might come of all this:

  1. The State Department continues with the important task of undertaking the QDDR but in a substantially scaled back form. Its current agenda is way too ambitious (at least for round one), promising to deliver on things that will take too long to produce to effectively influence the FY11 budget request or shouldn't be done without a new USAID Administrator in place. A nuts-and-bolts internal review of State and USAID practices, policies, operating systems, human resources capacity and coordination mechanisms (with each other, the field and other agencies) would be a huge contribution.
  2. The White House undertakes the PSD, bringing together all the players, all the policies, and all the new thinking on how to most effectively and efficiently execute a 21st century development strategy. Indeed, I hope to see a National Strategy for Global Development and a new Foreign Assistance Act as key recommendations. The QDDR findings will be an important contribution to the PSD from 2 of the many government entities involved. Including key Congressional members in the process should will be critical (see my next wish).
  3. Congress continues to make progress on efforts to rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act, the legislative underpinning of U.S. foreign assistance operations. Lots of recent momentum on the Hill pointing in the right direction.

It won't be easy to sync them all, but it is possible. From what I can tell, the QDDR has yet to progress in any serious way so it can be scaled back to a credible deliverable aimed at informing both the FY11 budget process and the PSD. Future QDDRs can be much more ambitious and based on the results of the larger whole-of-government PSD. The PSD is planned to be completed by January, which is probably a much more realistic timeframe for Congress to start rolling out a new FAA. Key to a successful integration of the three important activities is coordination between and within the executive and legislative branches of government. Hard not to be skeptical that a grand bargain can be reached. But I appear to be ever an optimist. And, if need be, we can fall back to the intrigue fun - best one going right now is voting for a new USAID Administrator -- do it!