Who Do You Want to See Lead USAID?

ModernizeAid asks: Who do you want to be the next administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development?

Nancy Birdsall, founding president of the Center for Global Development, leads a distinguished list of names in the online poll by the reform coalition also known as Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, drumming up not only interest but, most of all, urgency to finally establish leadership at the aid agency.

Trailing Birdsall in the poll as of Aug. 27 are Gayle Smith, Colin Powell, Bill Gates, Chuck Hagel and Ric Barton.

It is a long list that also includes Richard L. Armitage, Lael Brainard, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Nils Daulaire, Stu Eizenstat, Alonzo Fulgham, Helena Gayle, Lee Hamilton, Carol Lancaster, Dick McCall, George Rupp, Emmy B. Simmons, Aaron Williams and Robert Zoellick.

Rumored front-runner Paul Farmer was recently appointed United Nations deputy special envoy to Haiti, making the search for a USAID leader more intense, if not frustrating. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exclaimed so herself.

Eight months into President Barack Obama's term, the aid agency remains leaderless and a long way from the modern development agency he envisions.

That it is a crucial position cannot be overstated - Obama vowed to double foreign assistance to $50 billion. How a severely understaffed, mandate-burdened agency operating worldwide effectively can manage this is one of the burning concerns in reforming USAID - and choosing its new administrator.

ModernizeAid said the next leader of USAID should have the following: the best understanding of development and poverty; the profile and gravitas to drum up political support for development issues in the highest echelons of the bureaucracy; the managerial skills to rebuild a badly neglected agency; and the right mix of all these to stand as the leading voice in government for foreign assistance reform.

Brian Atwood, who headed the agency under Bill Clinton, said in a report by the National Public Radio that besides the administrator, about a dozen other positions need to be filled for the agency to reach optimum performance.

"It's a mess," said Atwood. "It's not fair to the taxpayer, but I think more importantly, it's not fair to the poor of the world that we're not doing our bit."

About the author

  • Josefa Cagoco

    Sef Cagoco served as one of Devex's international development correspondent from mid-2008 to mid-2009. Her writing focused on social entrepreneurship and multilateral agencies such as the U.N. and Asian Development Bank. She previously worked as senior reporter for the national daily BusinessWorld and a production journalist for the Financial Times.