Shah Can’t Captain His Own Ship Without a Crew

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah Jane Staats, director of policy outreach at the Center for Global Development, considers the continued vacancies at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s management team as “unconscionable.” This situation, she suggests, undermines goals to make USAID the world’s premier development agency and elevate development in the U.S. foreign policy hierarchy.

Twelve USAID management jobs require Senate confirmation. To date, only one official—the administrator—has been confirmed. Two more nominees have had confirmation hearings (hooray!) which means USAID might have new assistant administrators for Latin America and Asia before the Senate recess begins on August 6.  That still leaves nine nominations, nine hearings, and nine more confirmation votes before USAID Administrator Raj Shah will have a full management team in place. Shah cannot captain his own ship without a crew.

Shah has skilled and capable leaders in his front office and throughout the agency—several of whom have been doing yeoman’s work in acting positions—but having all remaining management seats empty eighteen months into the administration is unconscionable. And many of these staff have since exceeded the allowable time in acting positions and moved on to new posts.

USAID cannot be the premiere development agency everyone envisions without appointed and confirmed leaders at the helm of its regional and functional bureaus. Nor can it elevate development across the U.S. government without a full cadre of assistant administrators to inform major development policy reviews taking place right now and congressional efforts to rewrite foreign assistance legislation. And other important decisions like whether USAID will lead the Feed the Future initiative may very well depend on whether Shah has staff in place throughout the rest of the agency in order to take on a major new administration priority.

Who’s to blame? Is Shah’s attention on Haiti and the interagency efforts? Are good candidates worried about USAID’s future and turning jobs down? Is State delaying or impeding the process? Is the White House vetting process impossible? I suspect it’s a combination of all of these, but it certainly calls into question the priority the administration places on development.

According to the current congressional calendar, there are a mere nineteen working days left before the November elections. Even if the administration announced all nine remaining positions immediately—and they should—there is only a slim chance USAID would have its team in place before November. Must we add this to the Christmas wish list?

Re-published with permission by the Center for Global Development. Visit the original article.

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