BURLINGTON, Vt. — The U.S. Agency for International Development is the “only entity” in the U.S. government that has the capability to lead on an international response to COVID-19, according to Mark Green, executive director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and former administrator at USAID.
“We can’t conquer this pandemic simply by focusing here at home. We’ll always be vulnerable. … USAID, with its fantastic field presence, is the only entity that I think can help get that job done,” he told Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar at Devex World on Thursday.
That assessment has been challenged by decisions made by President Donald Trump’s administration about how to organize the international components of its pandemic response. The USAID administrator was not given a seat on the White House Coronavirus Task Force — though the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation was — and the administration has considered proposals that would give leadership over global pandemic response to the Department of State.
Since Green’s departure in April, USAID has faced a tumultuous stretch, with internal power struggles and controversial political appointments making headlines, while the agency continues to see massive disruption to its programs as a result of COVID-19.
Asked to comment, Green shared lessons from his own 2.5-year tenure.
“Trust the team … create a mission, and let them go to work,” he said, adding that as administrator he also sought to build trust with the development community and members of the U.S. Congress.
“That’s the way I tried to go about my work, and that’s what I hope the team will do,” he said.
Green, who formerly led the International Republican Institute, an organization focused on governance and election observation overseas, has long been a champion of democratic institutions. Asked whether efforts by President Trump and others to sow doubts about the integrity of the U.S. election and undermine its outcome threatens the country’s ability to lead globally on those issues, Green maintained an optimistic outlook.
“I think the mandate coming out of these elections will continue to project principled American leadership around the world,” he said.
Green declined to offer specific recommendations for whom President-elect Joe Biden might consider to lead USAID but gave some general advice.
“When you create a sense of mission and purpose, and let them go to work and free them up to go about their business, you can do extraordinary things. And listen to them,” he said.
“We can’t conquer this pandemic simply by focusing here at home. … USAID, with its fantastic field presence, is the only entity that I think can help get that job done.”— Mark Green, McCain Institute executive director and former USAID administrator
While Green led USAID, the Trump administration oversaw the creation of a new development agency: the private sector-focused DFC. That policy initiative created some tension over how development finance efforts ought to work in coordination with foreign assistance programs led by USAID. Green said he hopes the next administration might take on this issue.
“If you don’t integrate the development portion with the DFC so they’re working hand in glove, then all you’ve done is created a commercial bank. It’s crucial that we use the field presence of USAID to identify opportunities — some of them are very small, perhaps not on the radar screen of the DFC based back here in Washington,” he said.
“Something I do regret … I don’t think we did as good a job as we need to do in turning back some of the fragmentation in development and foreign assistance that we’ve seen for years — not this administration, multiple administrations,” he added.