An American DFID?

by | Feb 9, 2009

One debate that will run and run in the coming months is on the whether, why and how of reforming US foreign assistance – a theme that Barack Obama riffed on frequently during the course of the Presidential campaign.

Over at the Center for Global Development, Sheila Herrling has just posted a Q&A on reforming the antiquated 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which created USAID in the first place. As Herrling observes, the Act has only been overhauled fully on one occasion – and that was back in 1985. So what should reform achieve?  According to Herrling, a new act should:

– clearly outline the objectives and priorities of U.S. foreign assistance programs;

– consolidate decision making and implementation functions into a single independent institutional entity;

– specify the roles and responsibilities of other government agencies where appropriate;

– clarify the coordination of oversight responsibilities and functions; adjust regulatory requirements to fit the reality of implementing assistance programs; and

– discourage to the highest degree possible political and bureaucratic constraints (such as earmarks and presidential initiatives).

However, the really big question lurking in the background is whether USAID should be hived off and made into a separate department, a la DFID in the UK: expect plenty of speculation and debate about this over the course of the spring.  Me, I’m not holding my breath – for two formidable obstacles stand between here and USDFID.

One: the fact that Obama can’t just create a new department with a stroke of the pen.  In the US, machinery of government changes of that magnitude need Congressional approval (many would argue that the only reason the Department for Homeland Security came into being was the determined campaign run by the 9/11 families for just this outcome).

Two: the even more challenging hurdle of one Ms Hillary Clinton.  Hillary made plenty clear as soon as she arrived at State that she sees development as one of the core pillars of foreign policy.  It’s very unlikely that she’d see such a significant part of her empire slip through her fingers…


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

More from Global Dashboard

Our COVID Future: The Long Crisis Scenarios

Our COVID Future: The Long Crisis Scenarios

Created in partnership with: COVID-19 marks a turning point in the 21st century.​ Levels of uncertainty are off the chart, making predictions impossible. ​But if we can create plausible stories about different futures, we create a...

Protecting our Critical Global Infrastructure

Protecting our Critical Global Infrastructure

Earlier this week, we published Shooting the Rapids – COVID-19 and the Long Crisis of Globalisation. In the final section, we present a plan for collective action at the global level with four elements:  Firefight better – getting the emergency response...