Reading the fine print of QDDR

By InterAction Policy Staff

InterAction congratulates the efforts of all the State Department and USAID professionals who collaborated in the release of the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  The QDDR outlines a new effort by the administration to make development a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy.  Specifically, chapter five of the report entitled “Working Smarter: Reforming Our Personnel, Procurement, and Planning Capabilities to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century”, notes that revising how both agencies plan, budget, and manage performance is a necessary step towards meeting almost every other recommendation in the QDDR.  This ambitious chapter also contains a number of reform initiatives aimed at “improving the integration and coordination of whole-of-government efforts.”  While there is much to applaud in the report, its shift towards a national security foundation for diplomacy and development raises significant concerns among development professionals. Over time, how this affects the planning and selection of development solutions at both State and USAID could result in an undercutting of the elevation of development which the QDDR asserts as one of its key goals.  Furthermore, how the reforms outlined in the report are implemented will determine whether humanitarian and development programs in the field are strengthened or weakened.

The first major area marked for reform is in personnel.  The QDDR lays out an explicit desire to “expand the knowledge base to support effective programming” at State and USAID.  InterAction is pleased to note the strong emphasis on rebuilding human capital and technical expertise at USAID.  In particular, we applaud the intent to expand specialized training opportunities for existing staff as well as enlarge the available pool of candidates with the training and expertise to address the priority issues in the field, such as gender mainstreaming, humanitarian assistance delivery, and scientific training.  This goal should reverse the negative staffing trend that has hollowed out USAID’s professional ranks in recent decades.  InterAction also supports the QDDR’s finding that “rebuilding and strengthening the workforce at State and USAID is essential to advancing American interests.” Additionally, the report places a new importance on recognizing and rewarding innovation in programming, characterized as “informed risk-taking”, which should encourage nimble and creative problem solving by agency staff rather than rote programming. 

The second major area for reform focuses on revamping the procurement systems at State and USAID. Chapter five notes the intent to “change the way we award, manage, and monitor contracts to ensure that inherently governmental functions are carried out by government personnel.”  This will be achieved through three central objectives designed to increase oversight and accountability measures; enhance competition between implementing partners for US government funding; broaden the partner base abroad; and build local capacity to sustain progress gained.  When paired with the aforementioned personnel reforms, the changes to procurement practices at both agencies could result in better development projects.  In particular, State and USAID intend to decrease or limit the use of large contracts, such as Indefinite Quantity Contracts and Leader with Associate awards, to U.S. based for-profit firms and NGOs.  Rather, a fresh emphasis will be placed on distributing smaller, fixed-price awards that are expected to allow for targeted programming amongst a more diverse group of organizations, including non-traditional partners. 

Furthermore, the QDDR notes a desire to increase the use of “reliable partner country systems and institutions that meet fiduciary standards” and will also be more responsive to local civil society.  USAID expects to achieve this through specialized financial and technical training with local entities.  In the long-term, reliable and accountable local systems should create the conditions for which development assistance is no longer needed.  However, as currently outlined, the training appears to focus on increasing the access that small organizations and local civil society currently have  to official U.S. resources. There must be an accompanying effort to assess and build the capacity of these organizations to achieve development goals.  As these new procurement reforms are being implemented, InterAction hopes that the U.S. government will acknowledge and recognize the valuable contribution that NGOs can continue to play in developing local capacity.  We also hope that the intended instruction for  local organizations about U.S. government funding opportunities and reporting will also focus on their long-term ability to meet the development needs of their communities.  Otherwise, State and USAID risk rerouting limited local staff resources away from service delivery and towards paper pushing to the detriment of vulnerable populations.

Lastly, the QDDR outlines new steps to further integrate State and USAID’s strategic planning and budgeting processes. With new mechanisms such as joint mission planning, pooled funding, and the potential creation of a unified Defense Department, State, and USAID national security budget, the QDDR plans to build on the existing system as well as increase efficiency and resource allocation. Of particular note is a graphic in chapter five (pictured below), which outlines the new strategic planning methodology.  InterAction notes that graphic omits the recent Presidential Policy Directive, which established the U.S. Global Development strategy.  While we can appreciate the political expediency of making this shift in a difficult budgetary environment, InterAction has deep concerns about how this may impact funding for poverty-based programs.  In an environment where diplomatic and development priorities are closely integrated, what safeguards are being put in place to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent where they will have the most impact in alleviating poverty long-term rather than meeting short-term political needs?  InterAction acknowledges that the tensions created will present a challenge for strategic planning in both agencies.  As such, we look forward to further and sustained engagement with the administration on how best to resolve the tension between longer-term development goals, and near term political and strategic challenges.


 Source: pg. 194 of Leading Through Civilian Power: The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review 2010.

We welcome Secretary Clinton’s plans to better coordinate U.S. diplomacy and development in order to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness. InterAction hopes that the reforms outlined in the QDDR are implemented in a manner that capitalizes on their synergies while respecting State and USAID’s distinct missions.