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Kerry and Lugar: GAO Study on Workforce Gaps at USAID Reaffirms Urgent Need to Reform Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report emphasizing the need for comprehensive strategic planning to meet workforce needs at USAID, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Ranking Member Dick Lugar (R-IN), who authored the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009 to help address USAID’s gaps in capacity, today issued the following statements:

“The strength of USAID lies with its people, officers who are on the frontlines building schools, delivering health programs, and distributing food. But over the past decade, we have undermined our foreign service corps by not providing the agency with the resources to expand personnel so they can meet the demands of USAID programming. This GAO report underscores these workforce gaps and reaffirms the urgent need for critical changes, which Senator Lugar and I addressed in last year’s Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act. The Foreign Relations Committee will continue our push for reform,” said Chairman Kerry.

“I am hopeful this report will give momentum not only to our legislation, but also to Dr. Shah’s attempts to reform the agency by recreating a policy planning shop and revitalizing a unit dedicated to evaluating and analyzing programs and projects,” Ranking Member Lugar said.

Following is a summary of the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, which was introduced in July 2009 and passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 2009.


Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009


Build Policy and Strategy Capacity:


  • Reestablish a Bureau of Policy and Strategic Planning in USAID.  Currently, USAID has very limited policy and strategic planning capacity.  The last Administration closed down the policy bureau and relegated USAID as a program implementer instead of a policy actor.  This bill begins to restore thinking, strategic decision-making, and policy innovation to the Agency.  It will also add a second deputy Administrator for management and operations, and an Assistant Administrator to oversee the policy bureau.
  • Strengthen and coordinate U.S. foreign aid in the field.  The bill makes the USAID mission director responsible for coordinating all U.S. development and humanitarian assistance efforts in a given country, under guidance of the Chief of Mission.  It also urges the Agency to fundamentally reconsider the role, responsibility, structure, and function of USAID missions in the 21st century.

Increase Accountability:


  • Establish a Council on Research and Evaluation of Foreign Assistance.  As we look to double U.S. foreign assistance programs by 2015, we need a better way to evaluate which development programs work, which have minimal impact, and what factors determine success or failure.  Our current system is unable to provide this analysis.  This evaluation group would be based in the executive branch, but it would operate independently under the auspices of an interagency board.  Its mandate is to objectively evaluate the impact and results of all development and foreign aid programs undertaken by the U.S. Government.  The group would have a second division focused on innovation research that would be an incubator for cutting-edge development projects and would be modeled after the Defense Department’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
  • Reestablish “lessons learned” center in USAID.  The bill reestablishes a “lessons learned” center so that we can better understand what projects work, which projects fail, and how to design future programs for maximum impact. 
  • Transparency.  The bill establishes important transparency standards so that taxpayers have a clearer understanding of where their money is going, what projects are being funded, and what outcomes are resulting.

Personnel and Human Resources:


  • Establish a human resources and personnel strategy for USAID.  This bill jump-starts the rebuilding process by mandating a comprehensive review of all aspects of human resources, establishing a high-level task force to advise on critical personnel issues, and directing GAO to assess the new personnel strategy.
  • Rebuild expertise: rotations and training.  The bill requires personnel to undertake interagency and international rotations to bring a cross-disciplinary focus to USAID.  It encourages external training and education opportunities, and it provides new flexibilities in the operating expenses account so that Foreign Service officers and civil servants can better monitor programs and advise missions on development issues.