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Waiting for Godot: QDDR Report Preview April 28, 2010

Posted by Laura A. Hall in Analysis.
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By: Laura A. Hall

Let’s go.

We can’t.

Why not?

Were waiting for Godot.

– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

All of official Washington is waiting for various policy documents to emerge from development, documents that promise to inject new energy into foreign policy debates.  Many philosophical, organizational, and leadership questions appear to have been placed into these reviews or be dependent on their outcomes.  Given the delays in releasing these reviews, some may feel they are waiting for some unknown Godot who will not arrive.  Fortunately, unlike the absurdist play, these deliberations will have a definitive end.

A new National Security Strategy and the results of internal deliberations on a development strategy (under PSD-7) are key strategic documents that will define the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign policy.  Visions require capabilities to underpin them. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) launched by Secretary Clinton is intended to outline the required capabilities within USAID and State.

The ambitious QDDR project is a welcome process that has a chance of helping State define itself and its mission clearly enough that it can make a credible case for the necessary resources.   (Photo: Secretary Clinton announcing the QDDR.) One concern is that the heavily staffed and resourced Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) has already been released, has been used to support a growing defense budget, and may – by its sheer weight – affect the policy discussion rather than be guided by it.  The QDDR process has prompted tea-leaf-reading, parlor games, Congressional salvos, and advocacy/think-tank proposals as bureaucrats and staffers look for indications of who’s up or down or what office is to be “reorganized.”

The interest is a welcome sign of the consensus around the need for greater civilian capabilities.  But the key reveal when the final report is issued this fall will be how much Secretary Clinton is ready to take on to build State and USAID into institutions that can confront 21st century challenges and opportunities and that can regain their leadership roles in the increasingly Defense-driven policy process.  Most importantly, it will indicate whether she will be able to justify and secure the necessary resources to do so.

The QDDR outcomes are also an important internal signal.  The process ultimately must result in some example being made, some bureaucratic pain and reward meted out, for it to be taken seriously.  There must be priorities set, winners and losers announced, and real change made – and within this budget cycle – for it to be worth the effort.  Secretary Clinton must demonstrate to the bureaucracy that she is willing to make tough decisions.  Otherwise, the natural inertia will take over and overwhelm the effort to infuse serious management analysis into the system.

As the QDDR process is getting down to brass tacks in phase two, it is starting to get to the real issues and the real debates that were never far below the surface.  Our focus in BFAD is on the guts of policy making and implementation and thus we hope the process is addressing the following issues.


Will the QDDR define 21st century diplomatic and development roles?  What are the key mission areas that will dominate in the future?  How should State and USAID be prepared to deal with transnational threats, globalization, the emergence of strong regional actors?  Will there be a clear statement of the roles and responsibilities of State and USAID that is more pointed than simply identifying two areas of comparative advantage in “diplomacy” and “development?”  The QDDR must deal with the differences between those who believe development is a means to achieve foreign policy objectives and those who believe it is an end in itself.  It should provide a framework for policy making that accounts for both perspectives and settles the role of USAID in foreign policy.  Failure to do so would make it difficult to define what capabilities State and USAID need to have to effectively engage in policy making.

Structures and Organization:

How far will the QDDR go in changing structures?  How will it deal with the overlaps in responsibilities in State and USAID? Between the refugee and protection work of PRM and DRL at State and the primary mandate for humanitarian response in DCHA at USAID?  Between conflict mitigation and transition within CMM, OMA, and OTI at USAID and coordination of conflict prevention and stabilization by S/CRS at State?  The report should make a distinction between the responsibilities of policy, management, and implementation and clearly determine whether and how State will retain operational responsibilities for delivery of assistance.

Will the QDDR address the future of stabilization and reconstruction operations management and the civilian response corps?   Will it support the primacy of leadership of the Secretary of State?  Will it affirm the basics of the S/CRS approach and build on it or will it suggest other arrangements for accomplishing the same missions?  This most visible symbol of organizational challenges of 21st century requirements must receive some stamp of the SecState Clinton era; continuing not to make decisions is tantamount to reverting to previous, inadequate approaches.


How will the QDDR address the future of the Director of Foreign Assistance?  Will it retain lessons learned and improve the effort to tie resources to goals?  Will it continue to place State in a lead role as the dual-hatting of the deputy Secretary implies?  Will the QDDR increase the coherence of resources planning by considering assistance and operations funding decisions together?  The complaints about “F” are legion; many are simply bureaucratic sour grapes.  However, there is a need to ensure that USAID has the capabilities to provide the engine of development planning and to address the need for field level engagement as well as Washington policy guidance within an agile system.

Will the QDDR finally develop some form of strategic planning that is useful to policy makers and guides budgets?  How will the QDDR put resources planning in the service of policy, strategy, and planning?  Budget is policy, it is often said.  This is true not only because resources are where implementation is manifested, but because the budget process is the most rigorous and formal and often the only enforced planning done.   Budget processes must support policy by being a supporting part of decision making, strategy development, and planning, not attempting to make up for the inadequacies of those processes.


Will the QDDR adequately address the growth of international programs in primarily-domestic departments/agencies and indicate how that should be managed from both a policy and an implementation perspective?  How will the QDDR grapple with the militarization of assistance?  The diaspora of assistance funding, authorities, and capabilities has diluted State and USAID roles as well as limited coherent oversight.  Simply pointing to overarching statutory authorities of the Secretary or references to “concurrence of the Secretary” will not ensure the capabilities to back up those authorities with policy oversight and planning functions.

Resources (Financial and Human):

The greater question is whether  the QDDR will successfully  justify real resource increases for all the requirements or hedge against likely political indifference.  Ultimately, those who argue State and USAID are underfunded need better ammunition with which to make their case.  Unlike DoD, State and USAID are hesitant to name the requirements and be clear about what will not be accomplished without the necessary resources.  The requirements for success include not just front-line positions but also: a real training float; capabilities for analysis, management, and planning; systems, personnel, and institutions to provide exercises and training; deployable cadres supported by sufficient logistics, security, and operations support; and flexible personnel and funding authorities.


These internal processes have provided opportunities for career and political officials to make their marks and to push for changes after the inevitable period of inertia during a transition.  The main characters in Godot also get a chance to relieve their boredom and do something.  “Let us not waste our time in idle discourse!  Let us do something, while we have the chance! …  Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!” But they justify their inaction as careful deliberation and revert to waiting.  “It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons, we are no less a credit to our species. The QDDR doesn’t have to play out the same way.  Deliberation will soon give way to implementation and that is where the Administration’s efforts should be judged.  

“We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste… In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!”


1. Marcia Wong - April 28, 2010

Thanks for sharing this, Laura. Well framed discussion of the myriad of challenging issues this QDDR process should/should address in a meaningful way.

2. Erik Godot - April 29, 2010

Laura, you highlight both the tremendous opportunity of this review and the complexity of asking hard questions like this amidst other “reviews” and strategy formulations (even if they are late out of the gates…) and do it well. Thanks for illuminating some of the necessary “indicators” of a serious QDDR – outcomes and change will be important to assessing the final score board of this review.

3. David Greenlee - May 8, 2010

David: have you seen this discussion?


4. Continuity in Development Policy, but Implementation is Key « Budget Insight - September 23, 2010

[…] tussles over development policy leadership and how it factors into foreign policy.  The PSD and QDDR leaderships were reportedly at loggerheads for months.  USAID and State remain suspicious of one […]

5. Continuity in Development Policy, but Implementation is Key « The Will and the Wallet - September 23, 2010

[…] tussles over development policy leadership and how it factors into foreign policy.  The PSD and QDDR leaderships were reportedly at loggerheads for months.  USAID and State remain suspicious of one […]

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