jump to navigation

PSD-7: At a Glance May 10, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
Tags: ,

The recently leaked Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) is a key strategic document outlining US development strategy with the explicit goal of “elevating development as a key pillar of US foreign policy.”  This still-in-the-works review gives us a glimpse into how the National Security Council plans to provide guidance on the complex questions regarding the future of US development policy, strategy, and planning.

The short text explains the need for development and answers an essential philosophical question.  Fundamentally, Washington views development as a tool of US foreign engagement, one of many components of how the US engages with the world.  The PSD makes clear that development, while essential, will remain secondary to strategic and foreign policy goals.  The PSD does state that the QDDR will make certain US diplomatic efforts are informed by development goals but it does not explain how this will be ensured.

However, real issues and lack of consensus concerning the structure and organization and resources associated with development remain unaddressed.  The draft does not articulate a clear “Obama” development strategy that will be recognizable compared to other Administrations.  Simply elevating the rhetoric about development is not enough; such words are only made real if they are supported by coherent organizations, processes, authorities, and resources.  The fact that this paper is still in draft is heartening and the final should attempt to answer some basics.

Organization and Structure:

The State/USAID relationship remains conflicted.    As is the case now, the Administrator will continue to report to the Secretary of State and will be included in NSC meetings, but only “when appropriate”.  Those holding out for a department of development are undoubtedly disappointed.

Additionally, the PSD does not address the ongoing debate about the role and scope of the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance and if USAID’s budget and planning functions should be rebuilt and have any independence from State.

Planning Processes: Reports and commissions and reviews, Oh my!

In order to establish coherence in US development strategy, the PSD recommends establishing a US Global Development Strategy and creating an interagency Development Policy Committee to coordinate development policy across the Executive Branch.

These recommendations highlight the fact that effective integration and coordination of all US foreign assistance programs remains illusive.  Long-term strategic development planning is surely needed and presumably, a Global Development Strategy would set development priorities and tradeoffs, assessing the strategies, capabilities, and resources needed to fulfill those requirements.

It is unclear, however, what the timeframe for such a strategy would be and how it would affect the annual planning processes and resource allocation.  And, even this year’s QDR was unable to truly set priorities.  A development strategy should fit under a real international affairs strategy and a true national security strategy but the pieces are being developed in a disjointed way.

An interagency Development Policy Committee to coordinate development policy across the various departments and agencies seems warranted and indeed one was established in late 2007 to organize US development policy for a series of international development conferences in 2008.[1] It was able to coordinate on major policy level activities such as messaging on development and some new initiatives but it did not attempt to develop country plans, set priorities, or make decisions as a plenary body.

Any such interagency body has as much authority as its chairs can give it; the agenda should be carefully scoped to setting general guidelines and tasking out work on specific initiatives and events.   Who would chair the group?  Would it include all departments and independent agencies engaged in development?   Would it integrate trade and development policy?

Moreover, the management and implementation of international development programs is spread across the government.  There are 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices involved in American foreign assistance programs.  The PSD does not grapple with the appropriateness of this diaspora or what to consider as part of the “development” rubric.  It does not suggest whether programs providing technical assistance in law enforcement, borders, security sector, health, or agriculture should be overseen by USAID or whether they should be performed by USAID instead of the domestic oriented departments.

Strategic Planning: Divide, Conquer, and Sustain?

The PSD takes a huge step in the right direction by encouraging priority setting.  The PSD states that the US will focus its efforts on selected countries and regions and by concentrating efforts of a smaller number of sectors and offsetting.  It suggests that non-priorities are best addressed by other bilateral and multilateral donors.  But, the PSD paper provides no hint at the methodology behind how these decisions would be made.   The PSD did specifically mention the areas of global health, food security, democratic governance, support for competitive and open markets as areas where the US has a competitive advantage.

The PSD also places great emphasis on ‘sustainable development’, using metrics, evaluations, and outcomes in order to ‘do’ development better.  Assessing impact is important but it does raise questions of USAID capacity for oversight.  How will the Administration ensure that USAID has the capabilities and resources to oversee such measurements, especially since USAID has essentially become a contract management shop?   Building this capacity may require investing in USAID greater authorities for planning and budget management so that the staff have responsibilities across the range of program design and assessment.

Authorities and Resources:

The PSD states that the Administration will seek greater flexibilities with regard to funding and specifically mentions a reduction in earmarks and the ability to reallocate funds.  Congress, however, has been reluctant in the past to give State/USAID unallocated funds mostly out of fear of potential waste, aid ineffectiveness, and program duplication.

Congressional interest in foreign aid has frequently been focused on specific favored countries or specific sectors of interest like education rather than on goals, outcomes, and purposes.    As Congress works to draft a new Foreign Assistance Act, the Administration must determine its position on new accounts and purposes or it will be handed a bucket of pet rocks.


The intramural battles over organization and authorities have distracted Washington from even more critical questions like why the US values development as an underpinning of US national security strategy and why values like human development matter as much as our narrow security interests.  The case can and must be made clearly in this era of fiscal constraint in which overseas aid is a ripe target for newly arrived budget hawks.

[1] Led by the USAID Administrator and Director of Foreign Assistance Henrietta Fore, it drew participants from all relevant entities including crucially USTR and other actors that are often left out of conversations about the Function 150 budget.



1. bor madeni - June 22, 2010

nice article, thank

2. Why does everyone hate USAID? « Budget Insight - August 16, 2010

[…] its role ought to be with regard to DoD as well as the State Department. Unfortunately, the interim Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) did not tackle these issues, and it is unclear how much the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development […]

3. The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Welcome 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 […]

4. 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 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: