In Draft QDDR: More Hires, Smaller Contracts

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID administrator, along with the deputy secretary of state for management and resources, will oversee the implementation of QDDR recommendations. Photo by: U.S. State Department

In the coming years, the U.S. Agency for International Development will see its workforce grow, with new expert positions and a tripling of midlevel hires, based on the draft summary of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review’s recommendations. The draft QDDR also proposes that the government tap its agencies’ expertise before turning to contractors in pursuing diplomacy and development efforts.

The findings of the review came in a PowerPoint presentation, which was marked “NODIS” or no distribution, that the State Department sent to the U.S. Congress on Nov. 17. The draft was obtained by The Washington Post, according to Josh Rogin of “The Cable” blog.

Spearheaded by the State Department, the QDDR began 14 months ago to take stock of U.S. foreign assistance and outline reforms meant to streamline and strengthen the department and USAID’s operations. It underscores the need to build USAID as the “world’s premier development agency,” improve interagency collaboration, achieve “high impact” development results and target conflict prevention.

The recommendations found in the draft QDDR report mirror the points raised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an essay for the Foreign Affairs magazine. In the essay, Clinton discussed several of QDDR’s recommendations including the need for more cohesiveness between different elements of the U.S. civilian power and “stronger and more systematic links between the State Department and USAID both in Washington and in the field.”

>> Leading Through Civilian Power: Redefining American Diplomacy and Development

>> Clinton Praised for QDDR Sneak Peek, But Questions Remain

Members of the development community in the U.S. have long awaited the publication of the review’s findings. The interim QDDR report was initially expected to be out in January, but the release had been pushed back repeatedly and was eventually scrapped. The final version of the QDDR report, according to Reuters, is not due until “later this year.”

Proposed reforms

The draft QDDR recommends the following reforms in recruitment, contracting and procurement, and planning and budgeting processes within the State Department and USAID. The deputy secretary of state for management and resources and USAID administrator will oversee the implementation of the QDDR proposals. 

Using smaller contracts.

To enhance the competition for contracts, USAID will make “smaller and more focused awards,” while the State Department will divide large contracts “into discrete units.” They should also promote increased use of local partner country systems.

>> New Details on USAID Contracting Reform, Upcoming QDDR Release – And a Warning by Clinton on Taxes

Expanding USAID and State Department workforce.

To “build and rebalance” USAID’s workforce, the agency should recruit more direct hires and triple midlevel hires in its Development Leadership Initiative from 30 to 95 per year. The government will also create expert-level positions to boost USAID’s pool of highly skilled foreign service nationals.

The State Department, meanwhile, should expand limited-term appointments and in-sourcing positions appropriate for direct hire personnel. It should also open more opportunities for foreign service officer conversions for the State’s civil service and foreign service personnel.

Targeting “high impact”development through a focus on results.

USAID should launch a new evaluation policy starting in January 2011 and introduce more “outcome-level indicators” to monitor its programs.

The document also highlights innovation as a driver of sustainable development and calls for the establishment of the Development Innovation Ventures to help solicit “breakthrough ideas and game changing approaches” within USAID and the development community.

Such a recommendation has been implemented. As reported by Devex, USAID launched the Development Innovation Ventures in early October.

>> USAID Highlights Innovation in New Investment Facility

USAID should also set up an innovation fellowship program to attract professionals from leading academic institutions, social entrepreneurial ventures and the private sector to work with the agency.

>> US Eyes Simplified Grant-making for Development Innovators

Promoting conflict response and prevention as a “core mission.”

In line with the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the draft QDDR calls for investments in sectors where the U.S. has a comparative advantage, including sustainable economic growth, democracy and governance, food security, global health, climate change, humanitarian aid, and women’s welfare.

>> Obama Unveils Development Policy at UN MDG Meet

But with increasing conflicts and instability that threaten U.S. interests and national security, the draft QDDR proposes that conflict prevention and response be recognized “as a distinct discipline.”

The State Department will lead operations in political and security crises and conflicts, while USAID will spearhead humanitarian efforts in nations ravaged by large-scale natural disasters, famines and disease.

“USAID drives humanitarian response under State lead in acute political and security situations like Pakistan,” the draft document states.

Developing a joint State-USAID strategic plan, and creating a unified national security budget.

The State Department and USAID should “both rationalize and improve” planning and budgeting processes, according to the draft QDDR, pointing to the need to develop a joint USAID-State strategic plan through collaboration between State and USAID’s policy planning offices and the deputy secretary of state for management and resources.

The joint strategic plan will aid chiefs of mission, or U.S. ambassadors abroad, in putting together integrated country strategies, which will serve as the basis for mission and bureau budget requests.

Chiefs of mission should be empowered and held accountable “as CEOs of multi-agency missions and engage them in high-level interagency decision-making in Washington.”

The draft QDDR says the government is examining the creation of a unified national security budget. The idea was proposed by Clinton during the launch of the Obama administration’s national security strategy in May.

>> Clinton Renews Call for Integrated US Security Budget

Reorganizing the State Department and USAID to better coordinate interagency roles and responsibilities and procedures in diplomacy and development efforts.

The draft QDDR proposes the establishment of USAID bureaus on policy, planning and learning, science and technology, and budget and resource management.

The policy and planning and budget offices at USAID have already been launched this year.

>> USAID Gets a New Budget Office

>> New USAID Bureau to Work on Cross-Cutting Issues

The draft QDDR recommends improving USAID’s budget capacity through the bureau on budget and resource management to prepare the agency’s comprehensive budget proposal by fiscal 2013, which will be reviewed by the secretary and deputy secretary of state.

It also proposes the creation of the bureaus for international energy affairs and crisis and conflict operations at the State Department.

Reactions

Initial reactions to the draft QDDR summary were cautious, as members of the U.S. development community noted that the document leaves several issues unresolved.

The document “appears to give with one hand but take away with the other,” Todd Shelton, InterAction’s senior director of policy, told The Washington Post.

 He explained: “For example, it formally recognizes the new budget office at USAID, but then makes clear its recommendations will be subject to review and final approval by the Deputy Secretary of State. USAID also will have the lead in formulating the development component of ‘integrated strategies’ referred to in the draft but the chief of mission at an embassy will have the final say on the strategy, which forms the basis for budget requests. The draft calls for expanding USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives while reinforcing that it must report in-country to the embassy chief of mission.”

 Meanwhile, David Beckmann and George Ingram of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network said that the draft shows “positive movement towards a more streamlined, coherent, and coordinated approach to development” but it lacks a number of critical elements, including a strong call for collaboration between the White House and Congress “to turn the suggested reforms into legislation that will have lasting impact.

The co-chairs of MFAN also noted that the draft does not include the Obama administration’s plans for managing development programs and activities outside USAID and the Department of State.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition welcomed the draft as a “a continued push for more effective, accountable and transparent State and USAID programs” and added that the group looks forward to “a continuing discussion on the substance of the recommendations.”

On reorganization, a State Department insider noted that the changes proposed by the QDDR blueprint are not massive and appear to have been “designed to create minimal disruptions.” Lauren Hall observed that several organizations and positions were renamed in a “cheap way of demonstrating change without always having to do a lot.

“These changes, however, do demonstrate that there have been actual decisions taken after this year-long process,” Hall, a State Department official currently on a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship with the Stimson Center, notes in The Will and The Wallet blog.

Erin Bower, director and senior adviser at the Southeast Asia program at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, noted that the QDDR document does not provide concrete support for Clinton’s drive to align U.S. interest to its key partners in Southeast Asia.

“The QDDR does not go far enough in putting U.S. planning where the secretary’s mouth is – namely a paradigm change for partnerships with like minded governments that would significantly leverage American resources (which the incoming Republican House and conservative Republican senators will squeeze tightly in seeking a balanced budget),” Bower argued.

Ivy Mungcal contributed to this report.

About the author

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    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.