Secretary of State Rice’s choice of Ambassador Randall Tobias as head of USAID is good news: Ambassador Tobias has established an outstanding reputation as a can-do manager in his direction of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It is also good to see high level State Department recognition that U.S. foreign assistance has become fragmented among too many offices
As the Secretary of State no doubt recognizes, the changes she has instituted are only the first step in what must ultimately be a much bolder overhaul of the U.S. foreign assistance enterprise to align the mission, budget, and operations against the challenges of the 21st century. Ultimately, this will require more than giving the director of foreign assistance a new title within the State Department (the Administrator already had an office at Foggy Bottom). It will require consolidating formal authority over all the many foreign aid entities outside the USAID/State Department structure, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Treasury’s oversight over the multilateral development banks. Indeed, the proposed structure does not appear even to give the USAID administrator formal legal authority over aid entities within the State Department, most importantly the Global AIDS Coordinator and the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization — only “strategic direction, coordination and guidance.”
A bold overhaul will require serious engagement with Congress to eliminate special interest earmarks and restructure budget accounts so that resources can be aligned with today’s core missions rather than anachronistic holdovers from the Cold War. It will require a transforming the culture of the Foreign Service to instill pride in the mission and reward operational success in the field. It will require cooperating with other countries in a common fight against global poverty, disease, and conflict. And it will require elevating considerations of development to a coequal status with diplomacy, as promised in the President’s National Security Strategy of 2002, not merging the two. Ultimately, for these initial steps to bear fruit, the President himself will have to make improving foreign assistance a high priority and to expend political capital with Congress to get it done.