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Regional Meeting: U.S. Foreign Assistance

Regional Meeting El Salvador: U.S. Foreign Assistance

Regional Meeting: The New Approach to U.S. Foreign Assistance

Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance & USAID Administrator
Regional Meeting with U.S. Government Leadership in the Field
San Salvador, El Salvador
November 13, 2006

[Ambassador Tobias held similar meetings in Bangkok on Nov. 1, 2006; in Cairo on Oct. 29, 2006; and in Pretoria on Oct 23, 2006.]

I want to begin by telling you how pleased I am to stand before you in this unique role as both our nation’s first Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and as the fourteenth Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

I’m sorry that the pace and demands of my new leadership role and the urgency we have needed to address the reform responsibilities that came with this role have not permitted me to spend as much time in the field as I would have liked so far during 2006. Anyone who knows me from my time as the Global AIDS Coordinator knows very well that my personal preference for where I spend my time can best be summed up as ABW – Anyplace But Washington! But I hope you will take it as a signal of my plan to communicate with you with as much regularity as possible that my first commitment after submitting the new FY2008 foreign assistance budget to OMB was to embark on this four-region trip to the field.

I am here today to talk to you about the major changes underway in reforming U.S. foreign assistance, and the institutional changes taking place within State and USAID to support that reform. I know this change has been fast-paced, and that many of you have felt like the field has not been appropriately engaged. I look forward to these two days, and our opportunity to listen to and exchange input with each other. I hope that at the end of these two days, you will be assured of my methodology and my intent, and be assured that the field has the most critical role to play in the success of these reforms.

This is an exciting time for foreign assistance, which has never had a higher profile than it does right now. There was once a time when outside of the State Department, USAID, and a few people on the Hill, not many others in the government appreciated the potential impact of foreign assistance.

But now, foreign assistance is a mainstream commitment of the United States Government, not only for all of the traditional reasons which still apply, but also because it has been elevated to a national priority as a core part of our national security strategy. There is little doubt that helping developing nations become peaceful, stable and economically self-sufficient is in the best interest of this nation’s security.

Commensurate with this priority, this Administration has made an enormous commitment, from the highest levels, to development and transformation. In fact, the total official development assistance (ODA) provided by the United States for 2005 came to $28.5 billion – a near tripling of ODA since President Bush took office. Our security assistance, as well, has seen significant increases over this time period.

But these vastly increased resources have also come with new responsibilities: to focus on performance, results, accountability, and ultimately, to define success as the ability of a nation to graduate from traditional development assistance and become a full partner in international peace and prosperity. The civilian and diplomatic corps have been asked to take on tremendous responsibility for achieving success, and we need ever greater resources to achieve it. But at the outset of this reform initiative, we were not organized for success.

If someone is sitting in a canoe pointed upstream in a river with the objective of simply staying in the same spot, it is necessary to paddle. Otherwise, the current will move the canoe backward, down the river. If that person wants to move forward, to make progress, they will have to paddle even harder. I think this river metaphor describes quite clearly the context in which we find ourselves now. If we simply stand still, clinging to the way we have always done it, that will not be an effective strategy, for the implementation of foreign assistance, or for the future of the civilian leadership in achieving our mission.

When the Secretary first asked me to take on this role, I conducted some analysis to understand better the challenges we face in the use of our foreign assistance resources. I wanted to understand our foreign assistance strategy, as indicated by where we are currently focusing our resources. My assumption was that in actual fact, and regardless of the rhetoric, our real strategy is not what we say, but what we actually do with our foreign assistance dollars. I found that the allocation of our resources has not always been entirely strategic nor fully consistent with what will be required to achieve our newly reassessed transformational diplomacy priorities.

It turns out that most of our foreign assistance has been focused on five critical——goals. These are:

* Sustaining critical security partnerships in the Middle East;
* Supporting traditional Eastern European partnerships;
* Countering narcotics in the Andean region;
* Fighting HIV/AIDS in critical countries; and
* Responding to humanitarian crises.

These goals, while of critical individual importance, can benefit from being realigned within a transformational diplomacy strategy.

While we may have been achieving great progress in some individual program areas, a more clearly coordinated, comprehensive, mutually supportive foreign assistance program will more likely sustain the gains of our investments in the long term.

I also found that the allocation of resources has been unrelated to recipient performance against the standards created for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. We have been, as I have often described, an equal opportunity donor – to good performers and poor performers alike. But, we must recognize the need to provide appropriate incentives for performance and reform.

I also found that our decentralized foreign assistance management systems often resulted in an uncoordinated approach to decision making about the allocation of resources, which did not maximize their strategic impact. Nearly every idea, presented individually, looked great on paper. But leadership in Washington and in the field has lacked the tools to assess the opportunity cost of doing one thing over another, leading to no effective way of making informed choices.

We have also not applied a set of comprehensive, shared goals to drive the allocation of our resources. Our foreign assistance management system was built from the bottom up—so that overall objectives were seen as the sum of adding up individual ideas and activities. The purposes for which funds were allocated differed from one agency to the next, from one office to the next, from one bureau to the next, from one mission to the next. United States foreign assistance has had too many agendas, and therefore an uncoordinated story to tell Congress, the American public, or citizens and host governments of the countries we seek to assist about what it was the United States was seeking to achieve with its foreign assistance dollars. Further, with resources spread a mile wide and an inch deep, potential impact has been greatly diminished.

Leadership needed a clearer way to see the full picture of how and whether all of our resources were working together in a coordinated and effective way to achieve shared goals. Under Secretary Rice's leadership, the United States seeks now to reform its organization, planning and implementation of foreign assistance in order to address these challenges.

The principles of foreign assistance reform are targeted to four objectives:

* Establishing a common strategy, and focusing resources on the attainment of the goal and objectives of that strategy.
* Integrating our planning, budgeting, programming, and results reporting at every level, so that we will always be able to make decisions on the basis of a full and coordinated picture of how our resources will work together.
* Improving the transparency of our foreign assistance resources; and
* Strengthening accountability for results that are – or are not – achieved with these resources.

These principles seek to strengthen the role of senior leadership in driving the allocation process rather than reacting to it.

Within the administration, it is my intent to focus Washington on setting strategic direction and priorities for the objectives we seek to achieve, and at the same time, get Washington out of the business of the planning and implementation of the programs to achieve those strategic priorities.

The field, with the best expertise on country circumstances, partners, and methodology, will have the leadership role to focus on developing plans for implementation – and implementing. And, we will strengthen accountability to ensure that foreign assistance resources are actually used for the achievement of strategic priorities, and used efficiently and effectively, and that we actually know what is working well and what is not.

One of the most important "lessons learned" by me over the course of my tenure at the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was the incredible impact the U.S. Government can have when it speaks with one voice.

Through that initiative, on a country level the fact that U.S. Government agencies addressing HIV/AIDS are speaking from the same page, implementing one strategy, and monitoring results in the same way, has vastly increased responsiveness from both government and nongovernmental partners, and therefore vastly increased effectiveness.

The path to that success was never about suppressing one U.S. Government agency over another, but about better aligning all of our efforts. And as a byproduct of that alignment, it has become much more difficult for anyone to divide and conquer among us by taking advantage of our own U.S. Government fragmentation to get out from under the need to perform.

As with that initiative, a fundamental purpose of this reform is, in the end, to better ensure that we are providing both the necessary tools and the right incentives for host governments to secure the conditions necessary for their citizens to achieve their full human potential.

As you know, we have developed a new strategic framework to focus foreign assistance policy, planning and oversight at the State Department and USAID on the Secretary’s overarching transformational diplomacy goal. Accordingly, you will see an overarching goal defined at the top of the new framework: "helping to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."

I’ve heard some raise concerns that the words "poverty alleviation" do not appear directly within the goal. Others have said that the goal itself sounds too focused directly on state governance, and therefore too political. For some, the goal as stated feeds the fear that "development assistance" is now being overtaken by foreign policy concerns – and therefore short-term goals will overtake our long-term development objectives.

I understand why people have these concerns. But I strongly disagree that these concerns are grounded in substance. In fact, in many ways, it is just the opposite. I would argue that our foreign policy is now recognizing what has been best practice in the development arena for at least a decade.

Among development professionals, best practice recognizes that empowering human potential and achieving such transformational development requires more than short-term charity – or even the long-term open-ended provision of services and funding. It requires a paradigm that is also focused on sustainability – and with that, a paradigm focused ultimately on local ownership.

While well-intended, some of what the international donor community has done historically, under the rubric of international development, has, too often, left few lasting traces beyond the immediate impact of short-term programs. The sad fact is that one cannot visit the developing world without seeing – often in a literal sense – the debris of past development assistance that did not also bring about lasting change – that did not put enough emphasis on the "development" part of development assistance.

To be sure, charity has its place, especially when it is charity in response to urgent emergencies. Yet it’s important to distinguish between that kind of charitable humanitarian assistance, and support for a nation’s development and transformation. Development must engender lasting economic, social, and political progress, through a transformation of institutions, economic structures, and human capacity, so that nations can sustain further economic and social progress on their own.

And the primary responsibility for ultimately achieving this transformation rests with the leadership and citizens of the developing nations themselves. I have a friend in Africa, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi. He is the leader of the Joint Clinical Research Center in his home country of Uganda. He’s one of the most inspiring, creative and effective leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS on the African continent.

Some time ago during my time as the United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Dr. Mugyenyi made a comment that really struck me. To paraphrase, he said that it is neither practical nor moral for the people of Africa to expect that the rest of the world will take care of Africa’s problems forever. He explained that it is not practical because it means their own destiny will be at the mercy of changing political priorities in nations far beyond their control. And it is not moral, he said, because the people of his continent have many of the tools they need to meet their own needs, and those they do not have they can and must develop. And that is the model we must all embrace. As we refocus our management and deployment of foreign assistance, we must always remember that it’s not about us; it’s about them.

It’s about empowering them, supporting their ideas, and providing the right tools—and appropriate incentives—to support their leadership and responsibility to sustain further progress on their own. This, I believe, is one of the key things that United States foreign assistance must be all about. A crucial element for success, of course, is the role of the host governments in the developing nations themselves.

It is no secret that many governments have demonstrated an inability—or worse, an unwillingness—to be accountable and respond to the needs of their citizens. The international system, including donors such as the United States, have thus stepped in to deliver those services, often by creating parallel systems of service delivery through international mechanisms, that do not build the capacity to transfer these efforts to locally owned systems. And too often, there seems to be no objective to bring that duplication to an end. Now parallel systems are sometimes an understandable response, and for a famine or a major flood or a global pandemic, it may be essential.

But the dominance and the permanence of donor-led responses has had the effect of creating too much dependency, of shifting the focus of responsibility from host governments to donor nations. We’ve too often created parallel systems of service delivery that have allowed reluctant governments to shirk their responsibility – and shifted citizens’ expectations from their own governments to the international donors.

But outsiders cannot, with sustainability, secure citizens’ health and safety, educate a critical mass, or create the conditions needed for economic growth – all of which are necessary for development, and all of which are the responsibilities of a nation’s own government. Citizens in these countries must understand that their governments are responsible, and that they must make demands of their governments, and reject excuses for failure.

This understanding of citizen empowerment and responsibility is a prerequisite for true democracy, and for transformation. The assistance and policies of the United States can and must play a vital and catalytic role in the establishment of a clear understanding about appropriate roles and responsibilities. That’s why this Strategic Framework for Foreign Assistance focuses on achieving a well-functioning and accountable state that responds to the needs of its people.

That’s also why the framework explicitly identifies end goals for U.S foreign assistance that focus on graduating countries from receiving traditional development assistance. There may always be a need, for some countries, in some times, to provide targeted assistance to help maintain partnerships, progress, and peace. But our development assistance must be focused on transformation.

The framework also seeks to bring to U.S. foreign assistance, focus on those objectives that are critical to achieving the transformational diplomacy goal. The framework explicitly identifies a comprehensive and long-term approach. It recognizes that nations cannot progress without peace, security, and stability. They cannot progress without just and democratic governance. They cannot progress without investments in the human capacity of their citizens. And they cannot progress without economic growth.

When we then add humanitarian assistance, these five areas are now the objectives of U.S. foreign assistance.

Along with this new strategic approach, we have implemented a leadership and management model that will help us achieve what this strategy intends. Because we all know that these are merely words on paper if we cannot mobilize our bureaucracies, in Washington and in the field, to implement effectively.

Through the creation of the role of Director of Foreign Assistance with the rank of Deputy Secretary of State, and then coupling that role with that of Administrator of USAID, we’ve created a new leadership approach that strengthens the role of the Secretary of State and other senior leadership at State and USAID in driving a strategic, budget, and program planning process rather than reacting to the process.

With input from the field, Washington will set the strategic direction, with integrated, coherent operational goals and priorities across agencies, determine budget allocations among countries, regions and Washington-based activities, and define indicators to measure performance toward these goals.

But again, we know that those in the field – much more so than any beltway insiders – are best placed to understand the specific country circumstances, best partners, and best avenues for change. This is why the next step in our reform process is so essential.

Over the next few months, the field will focus on developing integrated, coherent operational plans for the achievement of results, based on the strategic direction we’re providing from Washington. These Operational Plans are designed to link planned funding to planned activities, to planned results – and will answer five key questions.

First, for every dollar we are investing, who is our partner in putting this foreign assistance money to work?

Second, how much money is each partner getting to implement each program?

Third, what have they and we agreed they will do with the money that is being invested?

Fourth, what have we mutually agreed will be achieved as a result of that investment?

And finally, how does the achievement of those planned results relate to our overarching strategic objectives?

The Operational Plan is a tool that will strengthen accountability to ensure foreign assistance resources are used for the achievement of strategic priorities. It will collect consistent and accurate data on our foreign assistance funding and programs, and provide managers in the field and in Washington the information they need to effectively and efficiently monitor and promote program performance.

While this approach will require a lot of work on the front end, it will permit us to answer some of the most fundamental questions for which Congress and others are demanding answers, and for which we have little or no ability to provide a meaningful and timely response. Once in place, this approach will also allow the field to focus on implementation, as opposed to activities that are less productive, such as responding to repeated and sometimes inconsistent requests for information.

Just as important as our ability to respond to stakeholders, Operational Plans will enable us to better manage our programs toward results. For the first time, we will all have a full and comprehensive picture of country programs and all the resources brought to bear against the achievement of our objectives, which in turn will enable better decision making for the most effective use of funds.

We will have the information we need to assess our staffing structures, procurement systems, and other management issues that must be addressed to provide appropriate support to our foreign assistance programs.

And with common indicators to assess performance, we will be able to compare country progress, partner performance, and programs in a way that we have never before accomplished.

Over the last couple of months, my staff and I have met with many leaders in the development community and on the Hill. We have presented the framework and reform elements to multiple consortia of NGO groups, including InterAction, the Global Health Council, the Global Leadership Campaign, faith-based NGOs, environmental NGOs, education NGOs, labor NGOs, and gender equity NGOs. All told, we have conducted over 40 interactive meetings with NGO groups, and over 40 briefings on the Hill.

We have solicited input from these groups on the framework itself, on the indicators that we will use to measure our progress, as well as on our process for ensuring that our foreign assistance resources are integrated, coordinated, and comprehensively targeted to the achievement of the transformational diplomacy goal.

Throughout this process, I’ve been struck by the fact that, notwithstanding an incredibly fast-paced process which has in many cases limited our ability to communicate even more thoroughly with all interested parties, the principles of this reform have widespread support.

So much is changing. But, while we’re implementing all of this change, let’s not let anyone be misled into somehow thinking that all that came before reform was unstrategic, or ineffective. You know, I know, and the world needs to know, that United States foreign assistance has had tremendous impact. Here in Egypt, our security assistance has helped to keep the peace, and has supported a vital partnership in this region. Beyond that, we have had huge successes in the education, health, and economic sectors.

Worldwide, let’s consider the following:

* In 1950, 55% of the world population was living on $1 a day or less. Only 20% are so impoverished today.
* Life expectancy is longer, mostly because the United States Government has contributed greatly to innovative strategies that have helped to lower infant deaths from diarrheal disease.
* Whole diseases have been eradicated in countries and worldwide—polio and smallpox are among the diseases that have now been largely eradicated.
* People are eating more and better. In spite of the desperate hunger and malnutrition we see in places such as Darfur or North Korea, the share of people below nutritional adequacy has fallen from 57 to 7 percent since 1961.
* More boys and girls are in school. In 1950, there were about 100 million. Today, there are about 1 billion. This means that literacy and numeracy are no longer reserved for the elite.
* Democracies have flourished. In 1950, there were approximately 20 democracies out of the world’s 80 sovereign states. In 1974, about 40 of the world’s 150 countries could be called democratic. And today, according to Freedom House, the total number of democracies has tripled to about 120 democracies, or two thirds of the world’s 193 states.
* Most important of all, in the 1960s there were around 90 countries where development efforts were focused. Now, about 25 of those have graduated. And another 15 or so countries that are at or near middle-income-country level are close to graduation.

So despite the enormous challenges faced today by so many in the developing world, we should not forget that much has already been accomplished, thanks in large part to the dedicated work of the men and women of the United States Government.

As we move forward, I seek your partnership in securing the successes of the future. The challenges we face are not mine alone to "fix." They are ours to solve together. The time when only a handful of people recognized the value of development has passed. From world leaders to rock stars to elementary school children, people are aware as never before of the challenges facing the developing world – and the way those challenges affect not just those suffering, but the entire global economy and the security and prosperity we seek.

Some may choose to put their energies into resisting the changes that have brought development into the main stream of American foreign policy, and the consequences that have resulted. That is not a path that holds any interest for me. I hope it does not for you.

Rather, let us put our energies into finding new and more effective ways to work together in a thoughtful strategic way – not just with one another and the traditional development community – but with all of those who share our vision of development that brings about lasting change. If we do, the uncommon results we attain will be the enduring legacy of OUR time.

Thank you very much.


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