The Cable

USAID getting staffed up -- finally

More than a year and a half into Barack Obama's administration, the leadership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is taking shape, with another top official named this week.

President Obama announced his intention to nominate Nancy Lindborg to be assistant administrator for USAID's Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau. Lindborg is currently the president of Mercy Corps, a global relief and development NGO. She also serves as co-president of the board of directors for the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign. From 2000 to 2004, she was chair of the management committee of the Sphere Project, an international initiative to improve the effectiveness and accountability of NGOs, the White House said in its release.

Development community leaders praised the selection, saying that Lindborg's experience in disaster and humanitarian relief should allow her to play a big role in responding to events like the Haiti earthquake and the floods in Pakistan, though she has less experience in democracy promotion.

The choice is also bolstering confidence around town that USAID is willing and able to play a large role in setting development policy.

"If people really want USAID to assert itself on aid, they need people like this," one development community leader said. "In Haiti, everything was run or shadow-run by State.  Getting someone like Lindborg who's willing to basically take a demotion to do this job is a good sign."

Meanwhile, two other assistant secretary nominees for USAID also moved forward in the confirmation process this week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nominations of Mark Feierstein and Nisha Desai Biswal to be assistant administrators for Latin America and Asia, respectively.

One notable vacancy at USAID is the slot for director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). That might be a tough one to fill before State releases its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The report, which is expected to be released in September, will reveal whether OFDA will reclaim its previous influence before the Bush administration gutted it or continue to be subservient to the State Department's Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance, known as the F Bureau.

UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon, the White House announced President Obama's intent to nominate Donald K. Steinberg as deputy administrator of USAID. From the release:

Donald K. Steinberg is currently Deputy President for Policy at the International Crisis Group.  During three decades of U.S. diplomatic service, Mr. Steinberg served as Ambassador to Angola, Director of the State Department and USAID's Joint Policy Council, Special Representative of the President for Humanitarian Demining, Special Haiti Coordinator, Deputy White House Press Secretary, and Special Assistant for African Affairs to President Clinton on the National Security Council.

That brings the total number of top USAID leadership appointments announced to 5 out of the 12 jobs at the organization that require confirmation by the Senate. Of those 5, only one USAID leader has been confirmed... administrator Rajiv Shah.

The Cable

State Department budget could benefit after Lew moves to White House

Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew's departure from Foggy Bottom was initially seen as a loss for the State Department, but in his next role as White House budget director, he could be in an even better position to help State get the increased funding he believes it needs.

Lew was nominated formally today to be President Obama's next director of the Office of Management and Budget, replacing Peter Orzsag, who has already departed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reluctant to let Lew go, given his crucial role in managing State's resources. But if he gets confirmed, the department could benefit by getting a budget request next year that reflects its need for billions more to operate in new and dangerous areas, funding that Lew himself said today he thinks is necessary, especially as State takes over operations in  Iraq from the military.

"We've been very clear... that the request we made for this year [for Iraq] represents just a part of the year's programming, so there will be substantial increases in the operating program costs going forward," Lew told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Thursday.

"Frankly, we can't send a civilian into Mosul without recognizing the security requirements that are there...  On some level, it's a question of ‘Do you undertake the mission or don't you undertake the mission?,' and I think we've gotten approval to undertake quite a large mission."

The State Department budget is notoriously difficult to defend on Capitol Hill. Most lawmakers put their domestic priorities first anyway, and in this atmosphere of severe fiscal strain and a bipartisan push to cut deficits, foreign ops and foreign aid are under the microscope like never before. Already, the Senate Budget Committee has tried to take $4 billion away from State's fiscal 2011 request. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently set allocations that included giving foreign ops $2.4 billion less than what the White House wanted.

But even that White House request doesn't fully reflect the department's needs for the coming year, Lew said.

 "The challenge is not just to see an increase of civilian spending, but to see that in the context of military spending," Lew said. "Military spending for this year in Iraq will be going down $15 billion. We need to look at the whole of what the U.S. government effort in Iraq is costing."

Lew was speaking in his capacity as State's budget guru, not as the next White House budget czar, so skeptics will say that Lew's commitment to expanding the department's resources might wane once he gets to the Old Executive Building.

But one area where Lew is signaling he will support Foggy Bottom is through supplemental "emergency" requests for funding for Iraq, which are easier to defend because they don't have to be paid for.

Lew said the approach that the administration used this year, folding some Iraq costs into the regular budget and using supplemental requests for others, is likely to continue next year as the military moves out and State takes on responsibility for its own logistics, communications, and security.

Even so, the State Department may have to scale back its original plans for several "embassy branches" around Iraq, due to the limitations of available resources. "We can't spread ourselves so thin that we don't have the capacity to do the job," Lew said.