Dear Administrator Green: A five-step vision for the future of USAID
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Earlier this month, Mark Green began his tenure as the Administrator of USAID. His proven leadership record and ability to navigate bipartisan waters will serve him well, yet he is walking into a hornet’s nest of redesign efforts, staffing freezes and budget cuts. We have five recommendations as he faces challenges both internally and from an increasingly violent world: 

  1. Invest in fragile states and ending violence

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USAID’s greatest potential for impact is in the most fragile, conflict-affected countries. Here, where extreme poverty is expected to be concentrated by 2020, USAID can be a game-changer and yield great returns for Americans and international stability. For example, in Somalia, a USAID five-year investment in education and civic engagement opportunities for youth yielded a 20 percent reduction in support for violence. Green should double down on these investments.

The U.S. government currently has no policy framework that governs spending or policy in fragile states towards an end goal of reduced violence or instability. Green would do well to rectify this missed opportunity, by fighting to ensure the National Security Strategy includes both Development and Violence Reduction as pillars. Targeted Missions should be mandated to prioritize violence reduction and addressing root causes of violence.

  1. Strengthen USAID’s independence

USAID must remain an independent agency. Mercy Corps’ years of experience in fragile states—including Iraq and Afghanistan—have shown us that when short-term political or diplomatic gains dictate development programming, aid becomes less effective. USAID should be more empowered—not less—to pursue and support the U.S. development agenda. Further elevating the agency’s voice will be good for the U.S. and the world. 

  1. Double down on existing reforms

No longer “your grandma’s development agency,” USAID has stepped into the 21st century, making extraordinary reforms over the last decade. For example, USAID’s resilience agenda has helped lead the global movement to proactively address recurring shocks and stresses, reducing the need for more costly humanitarian assistance. For example, during the 2015 drought in Ethiopia, communities that Mercy Corps reached through a USAID-funded Feed the Future resilience program became less vulnerable to poverty than communities not reached by the program. 

Other reforms include expanding public-private partnerships (PPPs) to ensure that development is sustainable and reaches the “bottom billion.” The Global Development Lab is a critical piece of this puzzle, fostering collaborations between unlikely partners. Green can expand on this success by finding incentives for broader, thematic partnerships, but will first need to protect the Lab, not cut it as suggested in the FY 2018 budget request.

  1. Cut the red tape – not the staff

The current budget and reform process put forward by OMB is regressive. Cuts in staffing do not always lead to more efficiencies. To be more effective, sometimes you need more resources, not fewer. For example, months-long delays because there aren’t enough staff at USAID means we could miss starting a food security program in time to support a planting season. One of the biggest problems partners of USAID face is the red tape and bureaucracy that slow down our ability to implement effective, nimble programs. Green will need to identify what impedes good programming then cut through the red tape and support the ability of innovative NGOs to pivot to new opportunities and challenges.

  1. Money matters

Thankfully, Green’s old peers in the House have mostly rejected the draconian cuts to USAID proposed by the administration. A top priority should be securing a more realistic budget submission in FY 2019. The wasted effort of producing a document Congress will just throw in a wastebasket is not a good use of anyone’s time. He must fight hard with OMB to ensure the FY 2019 USAID budget request actually represents American values and doesn’t slash effective assistance.

We wish Green good luck as he embarks on this next adventure. Confirmation was the easy part. Now comes the real test: to protect the mission, mandate and resources of USAID in a particularly trying time, and to continue to promote bold reform that helps us build a safer world.

Ann Vaughan is the acting vice president and senior director of policy and advocacy for the global organization Mercy Corps.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.