The Foreign Service Journal, November 2021

AFSA NEWS 86 NOVEMBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL We are there trying to encourage good governance and develop financial man- agement capacity. We are there supporting elections and civic discourse. We are there combating climate change, bolstering the rights of women, youth and other disadvantaged groups, enhancing maternal and child health, countering violent extremism, protecting endan- gered species, strengthen- ing labor capacity, building farming skills, partnering with the private sector, saving lives amid disasters, fighting tuberculosis/Ebola/malaria/ COVID-19, etc., enhancing trade and financial capaci- ties, combating corruption, advancing peace dialogues— and the list goes on. In doing these things, we are advancing the security of the United States even as we are bolstering partnerships and goodwill as we represent our country. As to “how,” there is a consensus that development should be country-led, and that USAID should partner with more local institutions, individuals and stakeholders. Indeed, FSOs and Foreign Service Nationals are among the biggest proponents of localization. If the agency provided them the necessary tools, human capital and legal and regulatory flexibilities, we would have greater impact. Local institutions under- standably don’t have the capacity to apply for, manage or report on large, bureau- cratic USAID projects, and we don’t want them becoming dependent on USAID as part of their business models. Smart USAID professionals have developed creative and useful partnering structures to build local capacity, but this takes time. Meanwhile, mis- sives from headquarters or other agencies “suggesting” specific partners complicate matters, as do blunt and often questionable recommenda- tions from locally connected individuals. FSOs and FSNs often find themselves pressured to make specific awards, undermining transparency and competition, and at times raising interagency tensions. And then there’s the reporting; we want local, nontraditional partners to report based on complex U.S. government standard indicators and produce suc- cess stories. These are not straightforward processes, and require FSOs and FSNs to invest in capacity build- ing and language lessons in “bureaucratese.”We risk alienating—or at least frus- trating—local partners, but we are bound by mandates and are ever mindful that we are stewards of American taxpayer funds. Factor in hard and soft earmarks, expiring funds, pipeline management pres- sures and lack of sufficient numbers of career FSOs in all backstops to manage more labor-intensive, locally led solutions, and you can see why the sensible and simple- sounding principle of localiza- tion is so elusive as a goal. One straightforward step for USAID to strengthen its local perspective and field- informed policy would be for the Administrator to appoint career Foreign Service offi- cers to leadership positions in Washington, akin to the State Department’s appointment of career FSOs to under secre- tary, assistant secretary and Director General positions. Unfortunately, as of this writing, no USAID FSOs have been nominated for Senate- confirmed positions. Indeed, none of the named heads of key bureaus and offices— including those related to management, policy, conflict prevention and the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management—are FSOs. To be clear, these are dedicated and thoughtful colleagues, but none has the extended experience, per- spective and insights gained through a field-driven Foreign Service career over years across USAID missions and embassies. I have also heard from field colleagues that USAID’s recent (and ongoing) “Reor- ganization” seems to have centralized decision-making in someWashington bureaus and offices, further removing the mission’s locally informed perspective from critical policy and resource decisions. Hopefully these situations can be addressed before USAID reaches 61! In the future, while I am confident that American gen- erosity and strategic vision will endure, I am less sanguine about USAID as an institution. You can read my previ- ous columns in this space on the institutional challenges plaguing the agency. These seem to worsen each year, as the powers-that-be focus on using USAID for short- term responses through employment workarounds at the expense of long-term development and building the career service. With apologies to the Beatles, “Will you still need AID?Will you still Feed me the Future…when I’m 64?” I hope so but this will take true vision and strong, focused leader- ship. In any event, the world is a better place thanks to USAID. Americans—and FSOs— should be proud that after 60 years we remain steadfastly committed to our mission in all its forms. Working for USAID in any capacity is a privilege, and a field-focused career as a Foreign Service officer is extraordinarily rewarding. None of us knows what the future will bring, par- ticularly at USAID—where change is not just the only constant but is constant. For the moment, I’ll simply end with, “Happy anniversary, USAID.” n USAID and its mission, codified in the Foreign Assistance Act, embody American goodness—American drive, leadership, acumen and strategic foresight.