Shah Reveals USAID Makeover Details

The U.S. Agency for International Development is reinventing itself to meet the development challenges in the 21st century, according to the agency’s chief, Rajiv Shah.

In a speech before the National Press Club June 18, Shah outlined a series of reforms in policy, procurement, human resource development, and monitoring and evaluation “to remake USAID into the world’s premiere development agency.”

Shah said: “Taken together, these reforms will mark the most significant operational improvements to our nation’s development agency since President Kennedy announced the creation of USAID almost 50 years ago.” 

In May, the aid agency unveiled its Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning to foster “more evidence-based and impact-oriented” development strategies. The new bureau, Shah said, will host next month a conference of scientific leaders to find ways to best support innovation such as polio and malaria vaccines.

Other operational reforms are ready to be rolled out, he added.

The agency will focus on fewer sectors in each partner nation as part of its move to improve budget accountability, Shah announced. It will also evaluate missions based on their achievements, “not the process indicators that often substitute for real results.”

Shah stressed that the agency will pursue “a development strategy that is based on focus, scale and impact.”

A package of procurement reforms is also being prepared. USAID will perform program design and evaluation in-house to help save money on contracts and boost the agency’s management capabilities, Shah said, adding that the organization is “redoubling” its efforts to enhance local institutions and build local capacity.

The aid agency also intends to reform its personnel policies to break “bureaucratic processes [that] are holding back USAID employees.” USAID is set to inaugurate changes in human resource policies to make its staff “more nimble at problem solving,” Shah said.

USAID also aims to offer “better opportunities” to its 4,000 foreign national staff members who work in the field, as well as expand civil service.

“[W]e have hired more than 500 new foreign services officers and we’re planning to hire at least that many more. We are depending on these officers to bring fresh ideas and energy into the agency,” Shah said.

USAID will more than triple its investments in baseline information collection to help improve the monitoring and evaluation of its supported programs, Shah said. The agency will host regular “evidence summits” to examine the impact of its initiatives. To kick off these summits, an After Action Review on Haiti is slated for next week at the National Defense University, according to the USAID chief.

As part of measures to foster “extreme transparency,” USAID will launch an online geospatial map of its programs for pilot country missions by the end of 2010.

“We are committed to making information about our investments public,” Shah said. “We owe American taxpayers hard evidence of the impact their money is making. We owe it to partner governments so they can plan around our assistance and to citizens, civil society and media so they can hold their governments accountable.” 

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