Trump’s nominee to lead USAID has the right philosophy on international aid

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Much is being said about the form and future of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID. President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, Mark Green, a former Ambassador to Tanzania where he oversaw some of the world’s largest U.S.-led development programs, has a definite point of view.

“I will make it clear to our partners that our assistance isn’t open-ended or inevitable or, most important, a substitute for what they must take on themselves,” Green told the Senate at his recent confirmation hearing. “Our support must never be seen as a gift or a handout, but instead as the proverbial hand up.”

Green understands that building local capacity to implement and resource one’s own development will eventually end the need for foreign assistance. Mark Green is trying to put himself out of a job.

{mosads}As someone who has worked on foreign assistance reform in the House and Senate and from inside USAID, I fully endorse this approach because we can be smarter about optimizing foreign aid. This is why I signed on to MFAN’s Guiding Principles For Foreign Assistance, which call for any reorganization effort to be based on five sound principles, clear objectives, and a global development strategy. 


Using international assistance to help mobilize local resources to ensure host-governments and local partners have “skin in the game” is smart; it creates incentives that build local capacity for sustainable implementation. Creating the conditions under which foreign assistance is no longer necessary puts both American compassion and pragmatism to work.

Yet Ambassador Green also made it clear that “USAID will not walk away from our commitment to humanitarian assistance, and we will always stand with people everywhere when disaster strikes, for this is who we are as Americans.”

We must never forget that there is a clear connection between American national security, our humanitarian values, and sustainable development work. The crisis in Yemen is just one case in point. More than 10 million Yemenis are in dire need. Desperate people will understandably look for help wherever they can — from Iran, ISIS, or other adversaries of the United States. We must work with allies and ensure that food and medical supplies are not delayed, to curb this suffering and deter further destabilization of the entire region. 

I offer four ideas for country-specific engagement that I believe are required to help create the conditions under which foreign assistance can put itself out of business, turn aid to trade, make all of us safer, and free up and focus our resources where they are needed most.

First, we must encourage meaningful, country-specific engagement from the beginning of the process. When in 1994 South Africa peacefully moved from apartheid to real democracy and respect for the rights of all South Africans, the U.S. government failed to recognize the importance of directly supporting the new majority government and relied on an outdated NGO model of implementation. Some of us who followed this closely from Capitol Hill encouraged the administration to fix this problem, and to the Clinton administration’s credit, they did, directing a substantial portion of the aid to President Nelson Mandela’s priorities.

Second, we need to build up the capacity of local governments and institutions. The terrifically successful PEPFAR and malaria programs, for example, are reliant on direct U.S. government funding for their success so far. But to be truly sustainable and ultimately victorious, these two programs will need to move toward total ownership by the affected national governments and the communities they represent.

Third, we must factor in a transition strategy that ensures a strong commitment to partnership with the U.S. With its embrace of private sector-led economic growth, the Czech Republic has not received U.S. development assistance since 1997. While some other non-development programs persisted for a few years, the Czech Republic is now itself a foreign assistance donor, paying forward our aid to other nations in need.

All of the above must be part of a coherent global development strategy with clear goals and metrics, so that we learn more about what we are doing right, based upon goals, data, and experience. President Bush rightly elevated development as a pillar of our National Security Strategy. President Obama issued the first-ever U.S. Global Development Policy. President Trump can be the first to present a global development strategy that prioritizes, focuses, and clarifies our development efforts abroad.

There’s a lot of chatter about the U.S. State Department making major structural changes to USAID and even gutting development programs. All reforms, reorganization, and funding should follow the wise advise advice of Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), himself a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, “Strategy should inform major personnel and organizational decisions at the Department of State, not the other way around.”

He and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.), both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation requiring a clear global diplomacy and international development strategy across the U.S. government and in support of our National Security Strategy. When I was working in the House for then-Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, he introduced bipartisan legislation calling for a National Strategy for Global Development. It was needed then, and is even more urgent now.

I hope this call for a coherent and principled strategy for our development programs will receive the bipartisan consideration and support it deserves.

U.S. foreign assistance has come a long way in the past two decades. We’ve helped cut extreme global poverty in half, and reduced the death of children under age five; HIV/AIDS no longer is a death sentence and polio is near eradication. If we continue to improve upon success, with increasingly sophisticated development assistance strategies, as Ambassador Green said, “Every program should look forward to the day when it can end.”

Lester Munson served as staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2012 to 2015, under Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee. He is now vice president, international, at the government relations firm BGR Group and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University.

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

Tags Bob Corker Jeanne Shaheen Lester Munson Mark Green Mark Kirk Todd Young U.S. Agency for International Development USAID

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