The Foreign Service Journal, September 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2021 55 The Future of USAID–Three Scenarios USAID is in a constant state of self-development. Whether it’s Transformation with a cap- ital “T,” establishing new mis- sions or senior development adviser posts, or onboarding fantastic new FSOs, the one constant is change. Unfortunately, the one thing that hasn’t particularly changed is the size of USAID’s career Foreign Service. It’s been steady at around 1,700 the past couple of years (and down from previous ones!) even as our global mission and role within the National Security Council continue to expand. Meanwhile, the Civil Service expanded from 1,311 in October 2018 to 1,553 in February 2021. Many factors contribute to this sad steady-state, though finding anyone who doesn’t think USAID needs to hire more career FSOs is difficult. As we wait for our new leadership ranks—including positions in the new “two dep- uty administrators”model— to fill, I’ve been contemplating scenarios for the future. The first scenario is “Business as Usual” —which is not good enough. USAID is still digging out from the 2017 hiring freeze. Even as we onboard dynamic new FSOs, it takes time to build experi- ence and know-how. In the interim, USAID continues to fill staffing gaps through noncareer hir- ing workarounds—Foreign Service limited appointments, personal service contracts and institutional service contracts. As I’ve written previously, long-standing ad hoc staffing practices have created a complex mess that speaks poorly of good governance practices and distracts from mission focus. We manage to keep up with attrition of FSOs and muddle along. And yet, we still have an awesome agency, an awesome mission and awesome colleagues. But in this scenario we remain overstretched, and our field skills and perspec- tives remain underappreci- ated. We continue to lose authorities and functions (think Millenium Challenge Corporation, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Development Credit Authority, Development Finance Corporation, etc.) and likely will lose our regular seat at the National Secu- rity Council table in future administrations. I then dream of an “Agency Renaissance.” With a highly effective and con- nected Administrator, the agency embraces the oppor- tunity to rebuild and empower (EmPower?) the Foreign Service, doubling the number of career FSOs through com- petitive, merit-based intake. In this scenario, USAID expands its field missions, deploying FSOs to OECD country capitals, multilateral organizations including the United Nations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to crossover positions at State, Treasury, Commerce and Agriculture, along with details to the Hill. The administration works with Congress to rebalance career-to-noncareer ratios of employees inWashing- ton, D.C., and FSOs are well integrated into USAID’s transition and humanitarian work, serving all along the relief-recovery-reconstruction continuum. USAID regains authorities and lost functions and takes the lead in preparing a new presidential policy directive on development. We affirm our role at the NSC. Our workforce is primarily career public servants, bolstered by a strong but small cadre of contractors in Washington and incredible Foreign Ser- vice National colleagues in the field. We create a “roster” of potential FSO hires that we regularly draw from to main- tain if not expand our ranks. Lastly, I think of the scenario I call “Well, It Was a Good 60 Years.” We don’t seize the current opportunity to strengthen operations and secure resources, and soon budgets begin to tighten. USAID does not receive the necessary bureaucratic authorities or human and financial resources to deliver. Long-overdue internal reforms are kicked down the road—again. Think-tanks publish papers lamenting the fragmented U.S. foreign assis- tance landscape and lack of oversight, occasioned by the paucity of USAID’s Foreign Service cadre. The agency erodes in form, if not name, with functions and people melded in whole or in part into MCC, DFC or State, perhaps creat- ing a “development career track” within State (echoes of AusAID and the U.K.’s Department for International Development). The history books treat USAID kindly even as Devel- opment loses its capital “D” and is permanently replaced by the nebulous and near- sighted “foreign assistance.” Experience and history suggest that any outcome will triangulate among these three (and other!) scenarios. Right now, it’s particularly hard to prognosticate. We have a confirmed Administrator and a flow of political appointees, but not a lot of confirmed leadership. USAID and State are collabo- rating on their quadrennial Joint Strategic Plan under the rubric of a still-interim National Security Strategy. Still, as the NSS affirms, “we must also demonstrate clearly to the American people that leading the world isn’t an investment we make to feel good about ourselves. It’s how we ensure the Ameri- can people are able to live in peace, security and prosper- ity. It’s in our undeniable self-interest.” And so, I posit, is renewing and revitalizing USAID. n USAID VP VOICE | BY JASON SINGER AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 712-5267