The Senate must act fast to confirm Gayle Smith

2015 is a big year for the global system, with two major multilateral negotiations taking place in July and September. The next five months will set the course of global development for the next 15 years.

In July, ministers from around the world will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to set the agenda on how to finance and implement development. At the end of September, heads of state and government-level agencies will agree to a new framework for development at a Summit in New York City, including a successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

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The United States cannot afford to sit on the sidelines without active engagement from a United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, administrator to convey American views as negotiations heat up and high-level officials from around the world step in to finalize the outcome. These negotiations will shape the course of the next generation of development progress, and talks are already underway in New York.

The next five months present an opportunity to set powerful goals—such as ending poverty and fostering conditions for business and entrepreneurship to flourish—and to work with partners to achieve them. As the world’s largest contributor of official development assistance globally, the U.S. needs to show leadership in these negotiations and ensure a focus on results and effectiveness.

To do so, we need to have the USAID administrator engaging with global counterparts to shape a successful outcome.  

Nor is there a shortage of pressing crises that desperately need the world’s largest development agency to be performing at its highest level. From earthquake-devastated Nepal to struggles in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to recover from Ebola and rebuild their economies, a capable and experienced hand at the helm of USAID is essential.

As a broad coalition of over 100 international development organizations and stakeholders attests, when the administrator position was vacant in 2009 for nearly a full year, USAID and its programs suffered, with consequences for foreign policy and the lives and well-being of men and women around the globe.

The good news is that President Obama announced Thursday that he will tap development and African regional expert Gayle Smith to head USAID.

Smith, a former senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-founder of the Enough Project, is well-known in development circles, and her credentials are indisputable. During her six-year tenure at the National Security Council, she oversaw the creation of leading initiatives including Power Africa, a platform to overcome the barriers that have constrained Africa’s power sector and its economic growth by pooling and leveraging commitments of governments and private sector partners. Smith also oversaw the Open Government Partnership, an innovative initiative that secures commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, and fight corruption, which has grown from eight to more than 60 members in less than five years.

Smith also helped coordinate U.S. government responses to a record-setting number of humanitarian crises around the world. Throughout, she ensured that development was integrated with other national security, political, and economic imperatives.

Now it is up to the Senate to confirm Smith. If the United States is to play a role in shaping the future development agenda and most effectively answer the call to respond to current crises, we need a new USAID Administrator in place quickly. Otherwise, the U.S. will be sidelined at this crucial juncture in international development.

Time is short, and the Senate must act fast to confirm Gayle Smith and empower U.S. leadership in global development.

Elgin-Cossart is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where she works on issues involving foreign policy, international development, and global conflict.

 

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