Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Mark Green, a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and president of the International Republican Institute, to be the next administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Wednesday.
Green is well known in the development community and had been considered a frontrunner for the position. He met with President Trump in January about a potential job at USAID, according to a transition team briefing — and was one of only two people rumored to be under consideration for the role.
The long-awaited announcement comes at the same time U.S. foreign aid advocates worry over drastic cuts to development budgets and reductions of the federal workforce proposed by the Trump administration.
Trump has proposed a budget that would slash U.S. foreign affairs spending by roughly one-third, and U.S. foreign aid programs are expected to absorb a large share of those cutbacks. Congressional lawmakers — who ultimately hold budgetary purse strings — have pushed back against Trump’s plan, but it is clear USAID’s leadership will face an uphill battle to defend the role of development against a president bent on embracing “hard power” foreign policy.
Aid groups and U.S. development experts largely welcomed Green’s nomination — while also noting that if confirmed by the Senate, Green will face the difficult task of reconciling his stated belief in the value of U.S. development programs with service to an administration that has, through its budget proposal, deemed those programs to be outside of America’s core interests.
“It’s certainly a reassuring choice at a time when the foreign assistance community desperately needs some reassurance,” said Scott Morris, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
“Ambassador Green has a long history of thoughtful leadership on America’s development assistance strategy and would make a strong USAID administrator. His leadership will be particularly important and tested as he grapples with the unprecedented cuts proposed to USAID in the President’s budget,” Tom Hart, the ONE Campaign’s executive director for North America, said in a statement.
In his role at IRI, which supports democratic elections and institutions abroad, Green has been a vocal advocate for democracy and governance programs.
“The reason I moved into the democracy and government space is that you can’t get over the finish line on any of the broad goals we have on poverty relief, tackling hunger or tackling the great afflictions of our time if you don’t have responsible, citizen-oriented and responsive government,” he told the Washington Diplomat in a 2015 interview.
In addition to his development and diplomatic experience, Green presents Trump with helpful political credentials. The USAID nominee served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Wisconsin, a state that was instrumental in Trump’s surprising 2016 presidential election victory.
Green’s background as “a political actor who … has shown a real commitment to the development agenda” would also serve USAID well, since the former congressman, “can speak directly to the prevailing winds that run counter to having a robust presence in the world,” Morris said.
In his role at IRI, Green has often championed a bipartisan approach to U.S. foreign assistance, pointing to IRI’s work in conjunction with a “sister organization,” the National Democratic Institute, which is chaired by former Democratic Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Green was appointed by President Obama in 2010 to serve on the board of directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Prior to joining IRI, Green led the Initiative for Global Development, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that brings together business leaders to promote investment and poverty alleviation in Africa.
“In addition to bringing in the experienced voices in the business community early on in the planning process, we need to create a single access point for businesses that want to be involved in the developing world,” Green told Devex at the time.
As a recent college graduate, Green and his wife Sue taught secondary school English in Kenya as volunteers with WorldTeach.
If confirmed, Green will succeed Wade Warren, who has served as USAID’s acting administrator since Gayle Smith stepped down with other Obama administration appointees on Jan. 20.
* Update, May 11, 2017: This article has been updated to clarify that Green is no longer serving on the board of directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.
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