Obama Calls For White House Review of Global Development

President Obama signed a Presidential Study Directive (PSD) on Monday calling for a government-wide review of U.S. global development policy. According to White House staff, the president has asked National Security Adviser Jim Jones and National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers to lead the review. The review will include all U.S. government agencies involved in global development as well as Congress and constituents. Findings and recommendations from the review will be provided to the president in January. All of this is welcome news to many in the development community who have been tracking the growing momentum in Congress and the executive branch to strengthen U.S. global development efforts. And the directive signals that the White House is seriously thinking about how the U.S. engages with poor countries and promotes global development, including but not limited to stronger and smarter foreign aid.

While we wait to read the full details of the latest Presidential Study Directive (PSD) on global development (it’s not yet publicly available), we know that PSDs initiate reviews of policy procedures generally pertaining to national security and President Obama’s first PSD, Organizing for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, might serve as a good guide for what we can hope to see in the global development PSD. I’d like to see the global development PSD keep similar language calling for:

  1. A full, interagency review of how to reform the White House organization to create an integrated, effective and efficient approach, in this case to strengthen U.S. and global prosperity and security;
  2. Full participation from all the U.S. government agencies involved in global development (from State, to USAID, MCC, Treasury, Defense, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Agriculture, and many more) and a commitment to consult important stakeholders in Congress and among outside experts during the course of the review; and
  3. Consideration of the recommendations from numerous bipartisan and expert studies on the issues (from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network’s New Day New Way; the Center for Global Development’s White House and the World: An Global Development Agenda for the Next President; the Brookings/CSIS’s Security by Other Means report; and many others).

Unlike the first PSD on counterterrorism, I hope that the global development PSD will include the USAID administrator among the addressees (even better if we soon have a new USAID administrator appointee—those growing impatient are casting their votes for the next administrator here!). I also hope to see some language encouraging the review to address the full range of U.S. policies—from foreign aid, to trade, climate change, migration and more—that affect how the U.S. engages the rest of the world, including developing countries. I’m also eager to learn how the White House will engage the multilateral development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the review and potentially other development donors from the UK, Germany, France, Japan, and elsewhere.

The White House call for a presidential study directive on global development comes on the heels of announcements from both the executive and legislative branches aimed at strengthening U.S. global development efforts including:

  1. The Department of State has said it will undertake a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR);
  2. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act (H.R.2139) that calls on the administration to develop a national strategy for global development and now has 100 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors;
  3. Senate Relations Committee members Kerry (D-MA), Lugar (R-IN), Menendez (D-NJ), Corker (R-TN), Cardin (D-MD) and Risch (R-ID) introduced the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 (S.1524) that calls for strengthening the U.S. Agency for International Development and monitoring and evaluation of aid programs; and
  4. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Berman and his staff have begun the process of rewriting the outdated 1961 Foreign Assistance Act.

Together, these are welcome signals that the executive branch and Congress are committed to strengthening U.S. global development. The trick, as Sheila Herrling at the Center for Global Development points out, is going to be figuring out how to put them all together so that you end up with a smart, coordinated U.S. strategy for confronting poverty, inequality, conflict and disease that threaten prosperity and security globally and at home.

-Sarah Jane Staats