The Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid and the New Approach to U.S. Foreign AssistanceAmbassador Randall Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Remarks at the ACVFA Second Public Meeting for 2006
The George Washington University, Washington, DC
June 7, 2006
Thank you, Ben [Homan], for that kind introduction and thank you all for coming. I am very pleased to be with you this morning and to have all of you here today.
Those of you who have heard me speak before may know that I frankly never expected to find myself here, serving as the first Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID.
But after nearly three years serving as the first U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, I realize that the issues related to foreign assistance are so important, and opportunities for impact so great, that I consider it an enormous privilege to have been asked to lead this new and significant foreign assistance reform effort. This is an exciting time for foreign assistance.
As I told my colleagues at my first USAID Town Hall meeting, the good news is: Foreign assistance has never had a higher profile than it does now. There was once a time when outside of the State Department, USAID, and a few people on the Hill, not many others in the government cared very much about foreign assistance. But foreign assistance is now a mainstream commitment of the United States Government, elevated to a national priority as a core part of our national security strategy, and receiving large increases in resources.
Yet for some, I fear, the bad news is that foreign assistance is now a mainstream commitment of the United States Government. They see it as bad news because there is now competition across the government for ideas, approaches, resources and positions of leadership in the control and implementation of foreign assistance resources and programs. I hope I can win them over to the good news side of the debate–and I believe I can.
From the highest levels, this Administration has made an enormous commitment to development and transformation. President Bush has made–and is keeping–that commitment. In fact, the total official development assistance (ODA) provided by the United States for 2005 came to $27.5 billion–a near tripling of ODA since 2001. But these vastly increased resources have also come with new responsibilities—to focus on performance, results, accountability—and ultimately, to define success as the ability of a nation to graduate from aid and become a full partner in international peace and prosperity.
Under the Secretary's leadership, the United States seeks now to reform its organization, planning and implementation of foreign assistance in order to achieve this objective. We will do this, in part, by better leveraging the strengths and the contributions of our foreign assistance institutions toward the accomplishment of shared goals. A fundamental purpose of this reform is, in the end, to better ensure that we are providing both the necessary tools and the right incentives for host governments to secure the conditions necessary for their citizens to achieve their full human potential.
As you have likely heard (and may have read in this morning’s Wall Street Journal) we have developed a new strategic framework to focus foreign assistance policy, planning and oversight at the State Department and USAID on the Secretary’s overarching transformational diplomacy goal.
The working draft of our new strategic framework is now on the State Department and USAID websites, where you will see that goal defined at the top: "helping to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."
I’ve heard some raise concerns that the words "poverty alleviation" do not appear in the goal. I’ve heard others say that the goal itself sounds too political, in that it focuses directly on state governance. For some, the goal as stated feeds the fear that "development assistance" is now being overtaken by foreign policy concerns—that short-term goals will overtake our long-term development objectives. I strongly disagree.
In many ways, our foreign policy is now recognizing what has been best practice in the development arena for at least a decade. As President Bush has said, true development requires far-reaching, fundamental changes in governance and institutions, human capacity and economic structure, so that countries can sustain further economic and social progress without permanently depending on foreign aid. Empowering human potential and achieving such transformational development requires more than short-term charity—or even the long-term provision of services.
A crucial element is the role of host governments. It is no secret that many governments have demonstrated an inability – or worse, an unwillingness – to be accountable and respond to the needs of their citizens. The international system, including donors such as the United States, have thus stepped in to deliver those services, often by creating parallel systems of service delivery through international mechanisms. Now that is an understandable response, and for a famine or a major flood or a global pandemic, it is essential. But the dominance and the permanence of donor-led responses has had the effect of shifting the focus of responsibility from host governments to donors.
We’ve often created parallel systems of service delivery that have allowed governments to shirk their responsibility—and shifted citizens’ expectations from their own governments to the international donors. But despite the noblest of intentions, outsiders cannot with sustainability, secure citizens’ health and safety, educate a critical mass, or create the conditions needed for economic growth—all of which are necessary for development, and all of which are the responsibilities of government.
Citizens must understand that their governments are responsible; they must make demands of their governments, and reject excuses for failure. This understanding is a prerequisite for true democracy, and for transformation. And the assistance and policies of the United States can and must play a vital and catalytic role. That’s why our strategic framework focuses on achieving a well-functioning and accountable state that responds to the needs of its people. That’s also why the framework explicitly identifies end goals for U.S foreign assistance that focus on graduating from assistance.
It turns out that most of our foreign assistance is focused on five goals. They are:
While important, these goals do not of themselves add up to a foreign assistance strategy that supports transformational diplomacy.
While we may be achieving great progress in some areas—like HIV/AIDS—our lack of coordinated, comprehensive, mutually supportive foreign assistance programs means that we will not be able to sustain the gains of our investments in the long term.
The framework explicitly identifies a comprehensive approach. It recognizes that nations cannot progress without peace, security, and stability. They cannot progress without just and democratic governance. They cannot progress without investments in the human capacity of their citizens. And they cannot progress without economic growth. These now are the objectives of U.S. foreign assistance.
The framework focuses our efforts further by categorizing countries on the basis of shared characteristics, and therefore the types of program we would seek to support based on those characteristics. It’s designed to get our program planners and implementers thinking about the right combination of programs, based on country circumstances, that will result in moving that country along a development path.
We know, for example, that in "rebuilding" countries—where societies are in or emerging from conflict—little else can be effectively implemented with achieving peace and stability. We know that in "developing" countries, where government accountability may be lacking, we must address issues of governance and democracy even as we support programs in health, education, and poverty alleviation. We know that "transforming" countries often have the governance right—but need continuing assistance in funding health, education, and economic programs until they are fully on a path to sustainable progress.
Along with this new strategic approach, we have implemented a leadership and management model that will help us achieve what this strategy intends. We all know that a strategy is merely words on paper if we cannot mobilize our bureaucracies, here and in the field, to implement effectively.
As the Director of Foreign Assistance, it is my responsibility to help ensure that USG agencies delivering foreign assistance are not working at cross purposes, that in fact we are taking advantage of agencies’ comparative strengths to create a U.S. Government program that is effective and makes the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. The process we are now implementing seeks to integrate our foreign assistance planning, budgeting, programming, and results reporting at every level.
One of the most important "lessons learned" by me over the course of my tenure at the Emergency Plan was the incredible impact the USG can have when it speaks with one voice. On a country level, the fact that USG agencies spoke from the same page, implemented one strategy, and monitored results in the same way, vastly increased responsiveness from both government and nongovernmental partners, and therefore vastly increased effectiveness. That success was never about suppressing one USG agency over another, but about better aligning all of our efforts so none could divide and conquer among us by taking advantage of our own USG fragmentation to get out from under the need to perform.
The new approach strengthens the role of the Secretary and other senior leadership in driving the strategic, budget, and program planning process rather than reacting to the process. It focuses Washington and the field on their respective strengths and responsibilities. Washington will set integrated, coherent strategic direction and priorities across agencies.
We also want to support the field in focusing on implementation—as opposed to responding to constant and sometimes conflicting requests from Washington. Leadership will have a "full picture" of country programs and all the resources brought to bear against the achievement of goals, which will enable better decision making for the most effective use of funds. And with common indicators to assess performance, we will be able to compare country progress, partner performance, and programs in a way that we have never before accomplished.
Remarkably, the United States has never before had an integrated foreign assistance strategy. We have not had a consistent and comprehensive story to tell to our various stakeholders, including Congress and the American public. This new strategic approach tells the story of what we are trying to accomplish, and provides the basis for evaluating our progress, because progress is essential. The challenges of our time demand this change, not only because our national security depends on it, but because peace, prosperity, health, education, and the freedom to provide for themselves and their families are the aspiration of human beings everywhere.
ACVFA, as many of you here today know well, was established by Presidential Directive after World War II to serve as a link between the USG and Private Voluntary Organizations active in humanitarian assistance and development work overseas. Much has changed in our world since the days when this group was founded. But some parts of foreign assistance we got right early on. Making the case that foreign assistance should be about helping others help themselves – in other words, not about us, but about them – when General Marshall laid out his Marshall Plan, he said: "Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this Government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative."
A cure – one in which we all leverage our respective expertise toward a shared goal focused on sustainability – is precisely what this reform is all about. Thank you very much.