The shadow of a Philippine Army personnel is cast on boxes of relief items from US Agency for International Development for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by: REUTERS / Cheryl Ravelo

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green will testify at the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday in a hearing that will likely offer a window into the status of the agency’s ongoing reorganization.

Many of the changes Green and his team hope to make require approval from lawmakers. The agency laid out its request in a series of congressional notifications last summer. The notifications, which Devex obtained, provide an in-depth look at the reasons behind Green’s proposed changes, what the agency’s leaders expect will be required to make them happen, and the specific problems each of the proposals are intended to fix.

Exclusive: USAID chief unveils major organizational shakeup

USAID Administrator Mark Green has proposed a major restructuring of the agency, including changes to humanitarian assistance, technological innovation, and how the agency manages its budget and policy.

Congress approved the first of them — a plan to merge its two humanitarian assistance offices into a single bureau — in late January. According to the notification, that merger could help USAID overcome the “arbitrary distinction” between food aid and nonfood emergency aid, which “impedes a fully integrated and effective response to the challenges [the agency faces].”

The U.S. government is the only major humanitarian donor that makes a distinction between food and nonfood assistance, according to the document. The result is that USAID currently delivers its emergency relief resources and support through two different entities — the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Food for Peace. This is despite the fact that most U.S. program funding goes to the same set of countries and emergencies.

“Operating as two distinct organizational units to address a common set of humanitarian issues is inherently inefficient as it requires two sets of management and support structures with separate policies, processes, systems, tools and staffs,” the notification reads.

It also creates an unhelpful barrier to delivering complementary forms of assistance, such as food and health interventions, as Jeremy Konyndyk, former head of OFDA, noted on Twitter.

Current organizational chart for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Under the new plan, OFDA and Food for Peace would merge into a consolidated bureau for humanitarian assistance, which would, according to USAID, “enhance the provision of the full-spectrum of humanitarian-assistance activities to include prevention, mitigation, and disaster risk-reduction, to enable communities to recover from, and respond to, emergencies on their own, and over time reduce the need for expensive humanitarian assistance, particularly in areas of recurrent crises.”

Proposed organizational chart for the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

The idea of the merger is not new. Under the previous administration, USAID commissioned a study from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to explore the idea and found that it could lead to reduced duplication and cost savings.

Konyndyk, who led OFDA during the Obama administration, applauded Congress’ approval of the plan, noting that the competing structures made previous efforts at coordination difficult.

“Historically this distinction led to weaker programming. During my time at AID, we tried to do integrated food/non-food grants during the Ethiopia drought of 2016, and found ourselves tied up in months of red tape due to different systems and grant requirements,” he wrote on Twitter.

According to the document, the new humanitarian bureau could be in place within six to nine months after the notification clears.

Congressional hearings this week — and those that scrutinize President Donald Trump’s budget request when the White House releases it — will likely offer more insight into whether lawmakers are on board with the full suite of USAID’s requested changes or not.

Other changes proposed in the congressional notifications include consolidating the agency’s agriculture, resilience, water, and nutrition programs; pulling together the variety of offices that deal with conflict and stabilization; aligning budget and strategy responsibilities; and cutting down on the number of people who report directly to the USAID administrator.

As lawmakers consider USAID’s proposals, they are also awaiting more information about the Trump administration’s foreign assistance review. The White House has kept the review process closely under wraps so far, but some have worried that elements of it might conflict with USAID’s own goals and principles.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.