04.20.10

Statement On FY 2011 Budget Request for Operations and Programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development

State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Hearing

Dr. Shah, welcome to this subcommittee.  We are here to discuss your budget request for fiscal year 2011.

I – and I believe I speak for others here – sincerely appreciate that a person of your intellect and enthusiasm has taken on this job.

That said, I do not envy you.  USAID is an agency in urgent need of reform and it is a formidable task.

I think every member of this subcommittee supports USAID’s mission in one way or another, but many of us have become increasingly concerned with its performance.  This is a critical time for the agency and its future.

That is not to diminish in any way the many extraordinary USAID staff, or to ignore the important – often life saving –work which they and USAID’s implementing partners are doing to help improve the lives of people in the world’s poorest countries.  There are many, many examples of this.

And we do provide billions of dollars for USAID’s operations and programs annually, so it stands to reason that much of it is being used to positive effect.

But that is not good enough, because USAID is not living up to its potential, or to what U.S. taxpayers and this subcommittee have reason to expect.

Like many government bureaucracies, USAID suffers from a culture of arrogance; that it knows best.  Too often, USAID seems more comfortable dealing with the elites of foreign countries, than the people who have no voice.

There is a disturbing detachment between some USAID employees at Missions overseas who spend much of their time in comfortable offices behind imposing security barriers, living in relative high style – and the impoverished people they are there to help.

I have nothing against suitable working and living conditions – we provide the funds for that.  But it concerns me the way USAID has become something of an ivory tower – distant from the trenches, writing big checks for big contractors and high-priced consultants, and churning out self-serving reports filled with bureaucratic jargon.

There are many USAID staff – often former Peace Corps volunteers – who would love to spend their time out in the field, doing hands-on work implementing or overseeing programs.  But this has become the exception rather than the rule.

I also often hear the frustration of wonderful, creative people who want to help and have so much to offer, only to run into a closed door – or a closed mind – at USAID.  They face a labyrinth of reporting requirements that are often petty and burdensome.

So this is where you come in.

USAID needs to change its culture, and change the way it does business, if it wants the kind of money you are asking for. 

I will have questions about specific aspects of your fiscal year 2011 budget request.  But while the members of this subcommittee are among the strongest supporters of USAID’s mission, that is not the same as blindly supporting USAID itself.

We want nothing more than for you to succeed.

This is your chance to tell us, in plain English, what you are going to do to bring about the kind of change I am talking about – within USAID – and how we can help you do it.

Then we can talk about how USAID can help the rest of the world.

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