Sen. John Kerry urged the U.S. Senate to back bills in the House aiming to increase the number of foreign service officers at the U.S. Agency for International Development and create a national development strategy as a precursor to larger foreign assistance reform.
Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the bills sponsored by Rep. Chris Berman, D-Calif., would lay the foundation for a broad re-evaluation of the U.S. development bureaucracy. Speaking at the Brookings Institution late last week, Kerry said he believed the Obama administration, along with a Democratic Congress, would back more reforms if those sought for by Berman's bills work.
"These legislative efforts, I believe, can be a precursor to a much larger, more comprehensive rewrite of the Foreign Assistance Act next year," Kerry said. "And we're going to need the cooperation of the administration, needless to say, to engage in this."
The changes called for in Berman's bills would lay a framework for a more in-depth examination of how to revamp foreign assistance. Once a strategy is developed and USAID's workforce is expanded, Congress and the administration would be more willing to spend political capital on a sweeping effort.
For now, however, reform would be limited to the changes allowed by the Berman bills.
Kerry also called on the Obama administration to shift money used by the Pentagon for development purposes back to the State Department, as well as improve communication between field offices and USAID headquarters in Washington.
Paul Farmer as development czar?
Also in Washington, there are a growing number of reports that Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, is expected to accept some sort of a high-ranking development position with the Obama administration.
The Boston Globe reported recently that Farmer was in talks with the State Department about taking a job in the administration. Those rumors have now spread to Washington.
It's unclear what role Farmer would play. There is speculation that he would take on the position of development czar, with oversight over all U.S. development agencies. Attempts to reach Farmer were unsuccessful.
Farmer is known for his medical work in Third World countries as well as his work on HIV/AIDs and other infectious diseases.
If Farmer is indeed in the running for a top development job, he would come to Washington as a career outsider with no real government experience. Stay tuned for more as this story develops.