USAID's org chart, DFID's London bridge, and Hungary's crackdown: This week in development

The flag of Hungary. Photo by: Neil / CC BY

U.K. aid chief Penny Mordaunt seeks to align foreign aid with “the priorities of the people,” official development assistance stays flat in 2017, and Hungarians pave the way for an NGO and refugee crackdown. This week in development.

U.S. Agency for International Development leaders unveiled a new organizational chart, which calls for a number of substantial changes to the agency’s management of humanitarian crises, internal budgeting, and country policy planning. While the redesign effort has taken place under the shadow of deep budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, USAID’s leaders are adamant that the changes they are proposing are not aimed at scaling back. Among other changes, the new org chart — which will now be distributed for feedback and eventually sent to Congress — proposes to consolidate USAID’s humanitarian, conflict, and crisis-related activities under a new associate administrator for relief, resilience, and response. It also proposes to create a Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, which would combine the offices of Food for Peace and U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. USAID Administrator Mark Green clarified that the organizational changes only amount to about 20 percent of the overall transformation his team is undertaking — the other 80 percent relates to process and policy changes that are still underway.

On Thursday, U.S. senators questioned Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Pompeo vowed that he would work to fill the large number of high-level appointment gaps in U.S. foreign affairs agencies, and he appeared to reject a claim previously made by Tillerson that effective diplomacy would reduce the need for U.S. foreign affairs spending.

The committee that sets development assistance rules and tracks aid spending found that donor countries gave slightly less in 2017 than in 2016 — largely a result of less in-country spending on refugees. The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported on Monday that official development assistance declined by 0.6 percent in 2017, with DAC member countries spending on average 0.31 percent of their gross national income on aid, slightly down from 0.32 percent in 2016. That compares to a United Nations target calling for countries to dedicate 0.7 percent of GNI to development assistance. After meeting that benchmark for the first time in 2016, Germany, the world’s second largest bilateral donor, failed to meet it last year.

U.K. aid chief Penny Mordaunt announced plans for the Department for International Development to partner with the City of London in an effort to encourage private investment in emerging economies. Mordaunt, in a wide-ranging speech Thursday, explained that DFID will work with major financial firms “to bring down the barriers to trade and unlock investment for emerging markets in Africa and Asia.” She sought to position these plans as part of an effort to make U.K. foreign aid better reflect “the priorities of the people,” in a speech following months of bad press about U.K. development organizations. Mordaunt addressed directly the “Oxfam scandal,” involving allegations of sexual assault against former employees at the charity. “Our development offer must be something we can be really proud of. It must be something that can be clearly understood and supported — in spirit and in practice — by those who wish to contribute further to it through extra resources, or their expertise, or their time,” she said.

Voters in Hungary have handed a two-thirds “supermajority” to the party led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The party has vowed to further crack down on civil society groups it accuses of representing foreign interests and seeking to open Hungary’s borders to migrants and refugees. Orban and the Fidesz party have taken particular aim at the Open Society Foundations, founded and funded by Hungarian-American financier George Soros, and the nongovernmental organizations they support. A so-called “Stop Soros” legislative package is under consideration, which aims to place heavy restrictions on NGOs operating in the country — particularly those advocating on behalf of refugees. Devex traveled to Hungary for the election, and spoke with NGO leaders, who described an “existential” threat from this pending legislation, which many of them believe is a sincere policy goal of Orban’s, not just election rhetoric.

About the author

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    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.