SOTU: Why Do Salmon Swim Upstream? To Get Away From Whole-Of-Government Advocates

EDITOR’S NOTE: As expected, U.S. President Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address was light on foreign policy, though it indicates that the current administration aims to safeguard funding for diplomacy and development, Connie Veillette, director of the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance initiative, says. She also highlights Obama’s call for a major reorganization of the federal government.

Last night, President Obama addressed the Congress and the nation in a State of the Union speech. It was light on foreign policy, as expected. Nonetheless, there were two items that caught my interest.

First, he proposed freezing discretionary domestic spending. There was much speculation pre-speech that the call would be for a freeze of “non-security spending” leaving us to wonder whether that includes the international affairs budget, or just defense and homeland security. Obama’s wording may indicate that he will seek to protect funding for diplomacy and development.

The second item is a lot more interesting. President Obama called for a major reorganization of government, saying:

In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote – and we will push to get it passed.

Well, there’s nothing us policy wonks love more than playing with org charts. Do you think this represents a rejection of the whole-of-government, what some of us call the WOG, approach? WOG became a mantra several years ago as a work-around to a fractured aid system. It was not envisioned as the solution, but as a temporary way to get some coordination and coherence until a time came when reform and restructuring could be accomplished. With the QDDR, the work-around was transformed into the solution.

If President Obama thinks it’s odd that Interior is in charge of salmon in fresh water, and Commerce is in charge of salmon in salt water, I wonder who he thinks is in charge of salmon in foreign waters – State, USAID, USDA FAS, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, Commerce, USTR – am I leaving anyone out?

Oh yes, to continue on the theme, reorganizing foreign aid may be like swimming upstream, but the water’s fine, so please feel free to jump in. Your post speech assignment – tell me how you would reorganize the government agencies that now manage some type of foreign assistance. Bonus points for doing it in less than 100 words. To help you get started, here is the list of government agencies. Extra bonus points for untangling this: FAS/OCBD/DRDA/PCDA.

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

About the author

  • Devex Editor

    Thanks a lot for your interest in Devex News. To share news and views, story ideas and press releases, please email editor@devex.com. We look forward to hearing from you.