The Cable

New aid chief lays out plans to fix USAID

As the entire development community was trying to gauge the impact of the ascension of Rajiv Shah to the top position at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the nominee himself gave the most detailed look yet into his intellectual identity as he gets ready to step into the fray.

In a long list of detailed answers to questions submitted in advance of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony Tuesday, Shah weighed in on a number of substantive issues while deferring to the ongoing reviews at both State and the NSC when it came to matters related to the structure of USAID and its relationship with the State Department.

Shah will report to directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, he wrote in the answers, obtained by The Cable. But it's not yet determined if he will have control over the "F bureau" at State, 60 percent of which is staffed by USAID personnel, he said. That will be determined by State's ongoing Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and the NSC's Presidential Study Directive on Global Engagement (PSD-7).

Regardless, Shah wrote that he believes USAID needs the capacity to plan budgetary requirements and monitor and evaluate performance, a reference to the restoration of an intellectual brain trust inside the agency following the gutting of such capabilities under the Bush administration.

Insiders tell The Cable that the PSD will recommend that USAID once again have a policy-planning staff, but that actual control over funds will likely not be returned to the agency, remaining under the control of State, specifically in Lew's shop.

"It is critical that we rebuild all types of capacity at USAID, including policy expertise," Shah wrote to the committee. "I believe USAID must be able to inform policy decisions, develop strategies, and implement programs effectively and efficiently."

Shah said he believes the secretary of state should be the link to the Office of Management and Budget, with input from USAID. He did not comment on whether USAID should have a seat at the table at high-level meetings such as principals meetings, deputy meetings, and NSC meetings, deferring to the PSD and the QDDR.

Shah said he will cochair the QDDR and represent USAID in the PSD, if confirmed.

The PSD process is said to be well ahead of the QDDR in terms of progress. According to sources briefed on the status, the PSD will be near complete by the end of the year. The process was extended by a number of weeks to allow Shah time to get briefed up and then make his own contributions to the process, these sources said.

The QDDR, however, is not expected to be complete until summer or fall 2010. Interim results could be released early next year, but there is a sense that State is looking towards the formation of the fiscal 2012 budget rather than trying to focus on the fiscal 2011 budget, which is being developed now. Critics of that approach fear that State is too slow in forming its plans for reorganization, resulting in a risk that State will be relatively weaker than other government actors if battles over certain related issues can't wait until State gets the QDDR together.

At the start of Shah's confirmation hearing, committee Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, tried to pin down Shah on what he thought about how USAID should be linked to State, but Shah declined to weigh in.

"This is part of a larger struggle over the shape and direction of our country's global development efforts," Kerry said. "Our aid program is in need of a course correction."

Ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, asked Shah what could be done in the near term to fix USAID, which Lugar said has been suffering a long decline.

"I believe quite a lot can happen immediately," Shah said, stating that policy planning and other intellectual functions such as improving evaluation of programs can be improved sooner rather than later.

File photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Afghanistan, START, Iran, North Korea, Chelsea's nuptials

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Monday's press briefing by Department Spokesman (and OSCE representative nominee) Ian Kelly:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Monday to discuss Afghanistan, Asia, and climate change. Later Monday she went to New York to receive an award at the Amsterdam News Educational Fund 100th Anniversary Gala and she also received the Eisenhower Award from Business Executives for National Security.
  • Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg left for Athens Monday night to attend the OSCE foreign ministerial meeting. Clinton was supposed to go, but had to hang back because of Tuesday's rollout of the administration's new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy and her testimony before Congress on Wednesday and Thursday. Clinton will go to Brussels on Thursday afternoon for the NATO ministerial meeting.
  • Clinton spoke with 10 foreign ministers on Thanksgiving about Afghanistan, but Kelly would not confirm that she asked French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for 1,500 new French troops there.
  • Kelly said its now unlikely that State Department negotiators will be able to finish a follow on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia by the time it expires Dec. 5. "I think that what we're saying now is that we're hoping to get this draft agreement by the end of December. I don't want to raise expectations necessarily that we're going to be able to work out everything by this Saturday," he said.
  • The IAEA offer for Iran to have its uranium enriched outside of the country is "still on the table," Kelly said, despite that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that talks with Iran over the proposal were at a "dead end." "if we don't get a positive response, we're going to start shifting our focus over to the other track, the track of pressure," Kelly said, not specifically endorsing the conventionally wise end of the year deadline.
  • Kelly said he was not aware of statements by North Korea's leaders that they are planning to announce they will return to the Six Party Talks when Ambassador Stephen Bosworth goes to Pyongyang next week, despite reports in the Asian press.
  • Kelly declined to comment on the news that Chelsea Clinton is engaged to her long time boyfriend Marc Mazvinsky.