High hopes for USAID’s chief across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY CAROL MORELLO carol.morello@wash­post.com

The blown-up pho­to­graph in Mark Green’s of­fice, still wait­ing to be hung, sym­bol­izes ev­ery­thing the new ad­min­is­tra­tor of the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment be­lieves for­eign de­vel­op­ment aid should strive for.

Taken al­most a decade ago, when Green was U.S. am­bas­sador to Tan­za­nia, it shows a beam­ing woman with arms up­raised. In her hand she clutches a cer­tifi­cate of recog­ni­tion for fin­ish­ing a U.S.-funded train­ing course on how tax­pay­ers can ag­i­tate for re­spon­sive lo­cal bud­gets. She had ac­cepted it on bended knee, then leapt to her feet and screamed in joy.

“It dawned on me that she had never been em­pow­ered be­fore,” said Green, who has kept the photo ever since. “This was the first time any­one had asked for her opin­ion. That sum­ma­rizes my phi­los­o­phy on de­vel­op­ment aid. We want to help peo­ple like this great lady do for them­selves. She star­tled me and blew me away, and I re­al­ized I had learned more from her in that mo­ment than a lot of other things.”

How much of a role the United States will main­tain in pro­grams such as the one in Tan­za­nia is now largely in Green’s hands. The for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Wis­con­sin, who most re­cently headed the In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute, started work Mon­day as USAID ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Green ar­rives as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­poses lop­ping off al­most a third of the bud­get of the State De­part­ment and al­most 40 per­cent from USAID, a $10 bil­lion cut, to $15.4 bil­lion. Al­though Congress will prob­a­bly not go along with such deep re­duc­tions, USAID’s fund­ing level is al­most cer­tain to drop. And some in the White House ques­tion whether the agency should be merged into the State De­part­ment, even though the two have dif­fer­ent pur­poses.

Across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, a lot of hopes ride on Green’s shoul­ders. Aid or­ga­ni­za­tions are re­lieved to have some­one at the ta­ble who un­der­stands the pur­pose of for­eign as­sis­tance. Bud­get hawks are pleased to see the aid watched over by some­one who de­mands re­sults and ef­fi­ciency. Green, who has worked in de­vel­op­ment aid for three decades, has a rep­u­ta­tion for both.

“I be­lieve the pur­pose of for­eign as­sis­tance should be end­ing its need to ex­ist,” he told em­ploy­ees on his first day. “Each of our pro­grams should look for­ward to the day when we can end it. And around the world we should mea­sure our work by how far each in­vest­ment moves us closer to that day.”

That is a phi­los­o­phy Green says he spelled out when he met with Pres­i­dent Trump in New York be­fore the in­au­gu­ra­tion, and since then in sev­eral meet­ings Green has had with Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son.

“Ob­vi­ously, the fact that I’m here to me is a clear sign that the White House and the sec­re­tary are sup­port­ive of the ap­proaches that I want to bring to as­sis­tance,” Green said.

His big­gest chal­lenge, though, may be in ar­gu­ing for for­eign aid within the ad­min­is­tra­tion — com­pared with on Capi­tol Hill, where sup­port for de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance is broad and bi­par­ti­san. He ac­knowl­edged that cuts will be needed and that aid deemed in­ef­fi­cient or in­ef­fec­tive may not sur­vive.

“We have to find ways to do more with less,” he said. “We’re liv­ing in a time of lim­ited re­sources. Part of the man­date, to me, is to make sure that we’re do­ing just that.”

If re­sources are lim­ited, the needs are near his­toric highs. Four famines are emerg­ing in Africa and the Mid­dle East. A record 65 mil­lion peo­ple have been up­rooted by poverty, drought and war.

Un­der the “Amer­ica first” model em­braced by the White House, more than two dozen coun­tries re­ceiv­ing eco­nomic and de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance would be dropped from the bud­get and the rest di­rected not to na­tions most in need but those deemed most crit­i­cal to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity. De­vel­op­ment aid ad­vo­cates ar­gue that their work con­trib­utes to na­tional se­cu­rity, in the form of more sta­ble and pros­per­ous coun­tries years or even decades in the fu­ture — a time span that can rob de­vel­op­ment projects of ur­gency at the mo­ment of bud­get de­ci­sions.

Green thinks tech­nol­ogy will help. He of­ten cites the im­pov­er­ished vil­lage in Kenya where he and his wife, Sue, spent a year teach­ing school in 1987. To­day, the vil­lagers do their bank­ing on smart­phones, open­ing new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

He wants to work more closely with the mil­i­tary in cri­sis zones, and reach out­side the gov­ern­ment to en­gage with aid groups and pri­vate busi­nesses to fig­ure out more cost-ef­fi­cient ways to de­liver as­sis­tance. But, ul­ti­mately, Green will have to make dif­fi­cult choices.

Though he did not name spe­cific pro­grams that might lose gov­ern­ment fund­ing, Green said he will pri­or­i­tize those that help a coun­try build its abil­ity to cope and progress in the fu­ture.

“The as­sur­ances I got when I spoke with the sec­re­tary was that there are no pre­con­ceived no­tions,” Green said. “He’s not go­ing into this, and I’m not com­ing into it, with a cooked plan. We feel good about the process that’s un­der­way, lay­ing out ideas for ef­fec­tive­ness, ef­fi­cien­cies and align­ment.

“I think it’s go­ing to end up in a good place.”

To bud­get hawks and aid groups alike, Green may be the right pick

“I be­lieve the pur­pose of for­eign as­sis­tance should be end­ing its need to ex­ist.” Mark Green, new ad­min­is­tra­tor of the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

For­mer GOP con­gress­man Mark Green of Wis­con­sin in his of­fice at the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment. The for­mer am­bas­sador to Tan­za­nia has spent decades work­ing in for­eign aid.

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