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Coordinators Today, Reform Tomorrow June 30, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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CBO recently released its cost estimate of a Senate bill passed by the SFRC that would authorize $2 billion over the FY2010-2011 time period to support Haiti reconstruction.  This bill also creates a Senior Coordinator of the United States Government for Haiti.  This position would essentially be the USG’s point person for Haiti, tasked with advising and coordinating all U.S. government policies related to Haiti, in addition to working with the USAID Administrator to develop a multi-year assistance strategy.

Coordinator positions seem to be en vogue these days.  Policy-makers and the development community have become increasingly comfortable with appointing a single point-person for specific US foreign assistance efforts or issue areas.  The Global AIDS Coordinator, for example, is responsible for the oversight and coordination of all resources and international activities of the USG to combat a single disease.  The new Feed the Future initiative will soon have a global food security coordinator.  Senior officials were appointed for Iraq reconstruction coordination, and now, if enacted, a Haiti coordinator.[1]

These coordinator positions are significant because they reflect the challenges of interagency coordination, the enormity of some assistance efforts, and the need for greater accountability for large assistance programs that have been plagued by problems of effectiveness and efficiency in the past.

Answering the simple question, “Who’s in charge?” is important to senior officials and Congress no matter how capable the existing staff and organizations may be.  More important include: Why is it so hard to figure out who’s in charge?  What role do other officials such as the Administrator of USAID, the Director of Foreign Assistance, the regional or functional bureau assistant secretaries, the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, and the Feed the Future coordinators play when a new, Haiti-specific Coordinator is appointed?

Such Coordinator positions are fundamentally different than the special envoys and special representatives that give each administration the opportunity to appoint big names to challenging diplomatic and political problems.  Holbrooke, Mitchell, and Graition work to extend the authority and credibility of the White House to an external conflict or issue and highlight Presidential interest.  These individuals work across borders, deal with multiple countries and actors, in an effort to reach long-term political agreements and international donor support.

In contrast, the coordinators focus on internal U.S. government coordination, maneuvering through and coordinating the interagency jungle.  As it stands in the Senate bill, the Haiti position would be appointed by the President and report to the Secretary of State.  The coordinator would likely be the public spokesperson for the issue to the American public and Congress who want to see success in Haiti this time as well as the diplomatic lead for coordination with international organizations and bilateral donors. He or she would likely go to the NSC deputy committee meetings and have a strong voice within State.  However, the legislation gives no authority over resources and only input on the long-term development strategy tasked to the USAID Administrator.

At best, these kinds of positions address the immediate demands of an urgent and high profile endeavor and demonstrate seriousness of purpose and high-level commitment.  The reality is that the system is broken if it cannot absorb the pressures and more predictably refocus staffing and senior leadership to manage the operation.  But, Haiti can’t wait and Washington makes do, appointing someone to take charge and be accountable or to provide if nothing else a name and face at a witness table or podium.

The long-term challenge is that the management and implementation of international development programs is spread across the government with limited oversight by the Secretary of State.  There are 12 departments, 25 agencies and nearly 60 government offices involved in American foreign assistance programs.  Additional coordinators do not address the appropriateness of this diaspora or what to consider as part of the “development” rubric.

If the answer is that USAID must have a stronger role and greater capability, this raises a host of issues about areas not currently in USAID’s mandate or capability (e.g., programs providing technical assistance in law enforcement, borders, security sector, health, or agriculture).  If these should be performed by USAID instead of other federal departments, policymakers (and USAID itself) needs to totally re-think USAID capabilities, resources, personnel, training, authorities, and how to address the need for participation from experts of domestic-focused departments.

At the end of the day, short-term work arounds deal with the immediate but by creating the appearance of seriousness, they in fact mask the need to deal with the broader issue: Who should ultimately be responsible for the planning, management, and implementation of U.S. foreign assistance?

[1] The Secretary of State may already be considering appointing someone to take the reins from her Counselor who has served as her lead up to now, but who has other responsibilities.



1. Democracy and Society » Bureacracy - June 30, 2010

[…] The solution to too much bureaucracy is not more bureaucracy. […]

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