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Message on the USAID Workings Groups

Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID
Washington, DC
April 12, 2007

As I am sure you are aware from the invitation to this meeting, this is a unique extended senior staff meeting and as you can see from the cameras, we are videotaping this meeting so that our staff overseas can watch and hear what I am about to tell you.

Back in December, I commissioned four working groups to develop recommendations to improve USAID operations and better define the Agency’s role within the context of the foreign assistance framework. Over the last few months, I have worked closely with the working groups to further flesh out their initial recommendations, while also consulting with our interagency colleagues, the NGO community and the Congress. As a result, I would like to tell you about an Agency notice that will go out later today. After that, I will open the discussion to hear from all of you, and to answer your questions.

In my role as Director of Foreign Assistance, I have been working for the past year, along with our partners in Congress, toward a restructuring of U.S. foreign assistance. The purposes for this effort have been clear:

  • First, to strengthen the strategic alignment of our foreign assistance resources with the new Strategic Framework for United States Foreign Assistance and the transformational diplomacy goal it supports: “To help build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.”
  • Second, to improve coordination and efficiency in the use of foreign assistance resources across multiple agencies and accounts, by evaluating comparative strengths and tools available;
  • Third, to improve transparency in the allocation and use of foreign assistance resources; and
  • Fourth, to improve performance and accountability for results, by aligning foreign assistance more clearly with human progress, and with a uniform scale for measuring our progress embodied in the new Strategic Framework for U.S. Foreign Assistance and its progress indicators.

During this period of restructuring, as the Administrator of USAID I have asked my USAID colleagues – Mission Directors and field staff, managers, technical specialists and, especially, several dedicated working groups – to examine a separate, but related, question: the new strategic framework is now the strategy and the focus of our foreign assistance. Within the new Strategic Framework for U.S. Foreign Assistance, what should be the focus and specific functions of the U.S. Agency for International Development, our nation’s leading provider of foreign aid, and how can we improve USAID as an institution to maximize its effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out those functions? As I have reported to you, these working groups have labored diligently and creatively, providing more than 100 concrete recommendations for improving human resources systems, for optimizing field systems, and for ensuring that we have the right structures in Washington to support our Missions and, in turn, those we seek to assist.

At the same time, I’ve had a number of conversations with various members of the Congress and their staffs, about our foreign assistance reforms generally and about USAID specifically, and have heard very similar messages to those I’ve heard from our own staff.

As an Agency, we have started implementing some of those suggestions, and will implement more in the months ahead, in consultation with the Congress and our other stakeholders, internal and external. Illustratively, I recently launched a reform of the assignment system for senior managers – the important system we use to name Mission Directors, for example – in order to make the system more transparent and to make selection criteria clearer.

By far the most critical issue tackled by the USAID working groups is the question of what USAID’s core focus should be. Given the substantial global economic, and technological changes that have taken place since the Foreign Assistance Act was last substantially rewritten; given the expanded interest in U.S. foreign assistance as a core element of our nation’s foreign and national security policy; given the arrival of new institutions like the Millennium Challenge Corporation and PEPFAR; given the enormous expansion of civil society and private investment flows; and given the post-September 11 world we now face; what is the appropriate 21st century role for USAID within the new Strategic Framework for U.S. Foreign Assistance?

Although we have more analytical work to do and much consultation with the Congress and other stakeholders is still required, the overall direction USAID should take is clear. Our nation’s priorities, global need, and USAID’s comparative advantage in development professionalism, technical competence, and presence on the ground all point to the same conclusion arrived at by our working groups: USAID’s focus must be to bring sustainable, positive change to the poorest, least stable countries, through world-class field Missions operating in those countries.

In practical terms, in the context of the Foreign Assistance Framework, USAID must, therefore, drive substantially more of its resources – both program and human resources – toward an increased field impact in those countries where our world-class technical assistance and field programs will do the most good. In order to accomplish this goal, we will target resources toward increased impact in countries where instability, poverty, and poor government capacity most impede human and national progress.

Although we will retain top-notch technical expertise in core functions in Washington – investing in people, economic growth, and democratic governance – we will emphasize delivery of technical support closest to the countries in which we work, including through the expanded use of cost-effective regional hubs. And, in support of our critical work in rebuilding countries, we will strengthen our capacity to respond in conflictive and post-conflict environments, in order to deliver humanitarian assistance as well as stabilization and reconstruction programs.

Driving USAID’s mission and resources to those countries most in need implies, naturally, that we will need to shift resources away from some functions, including those nations where USAID’s full-scale Mission platforms are not critical to delivering U.S. assistance effectively. We will work closely with our State Department colleagues, host country governments, and other stakeholders to develop mechanisms so that development progress is not lost in countries in which USAID Missions will not be located. Specifically, I will propose the deployment of USAID “development attaches” to assist U.S. chiefs of mission and countries teams in such nations.

In order to work carefully through the implementation of these changes, I have created a Working Group to prepare a set of detailed recommendations for a three-year focus and alignment plan. I will be part of that working group myself, and I’ve asked Susan Fine, Head of Program Development in the Asia and Near East Bureau, to move to a full time role leading that effort. Susan brings both a solid field perspective and the experience of working on the “focus” working group that helped develop many of the ideas I am implementing.

At the same time, I will be engaging our partners in Congress. I encourage every USAID employee – foreign service, foreign service national, civil service, PSC – to provide input to the Working Group, and we will set up the appropriate communications mechanisms to facilitate your input. We will begin reorienting our focus with our appropriated resources. I have directed that the Agency’s FY07 operating budget, for the remainder of this fiscal year, and the FY08 operating budget, be structured to taking the initial steps in moving USAID toward this sharpened focus. For these operating budgets, I will ask bureaus to provide recommendations both for increasing functions and units required to achieve the new focus, and for directing resources away from other functions and units.

Since President Harry Truman’s famous “Point Four” inaugural address in 1949, the United States has been committed to sharing its wealth and expertise with those countries struggling to advance on the scale of human progress. USAID has been at the center of that commitment, making enormous contributions, but burdened by a multiplicity of taskings. We live in a complex world, and the U.S. foreign assistance program will naturally reflect that complexity. But, with the refocused direction outlined by our colleagues over the past six months, which I am implementing, I am convinced that USAID’s contributions, both to human progress and to U.S. foreign policy, will be sustained and magnified. I look forward to working with you as we move forward.

Before I open the floor up to questions, I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce Mr. Gene George who is our new DAA for the Office of Human Resources. I’m please he is with us and look forward to working very closely with him and Susan over the coming months.

Now, I would like to open up the discussion for questions.

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