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  • Writer's pictureBrenda Pearson

USAID First 100 Days: Build Back Better America's International Development & Humanitarian Response

This paper is prepared for the Biden-Harris Transition Team and addresses key priority actions for the first 100 days of the Administration. The authors are: Brenda L. Pearson, Patrick Fn’Piere, Sarah W. Farnsworth, RoseMarie Depp, Anne Simmons-Benton, Caroll Vasquez, Bill Krause, Lew Toulmin, Deirdre White, Betty Wilkinson, Linda Crawford and Enrique Riog, on behalf of the International Development Professionals for the Biden HarrisPresidential 2020 Transition Team.

There are three parts to this roadmap: 1) Presidential Actions; 2) USAID Administrator Actions; and 3) Practical Advice for New Appointees. The key elements are highlighted below:

Nominate experienced and diverse USAID leadership immediately along with appointments at DOD and DOS.

Clarify USAID’s leadership role in the interagency process as the US coordinator for international development, humanitarian and disaster assistance.

Launch a communication strategy that signals domestically and internationally, a rejuvenated USAID.

Convene a high level exploratory group to work with Congressional staff to review and evaluate the USAID’s outdated legislative authorities, executive orders, presidential policy directives.

Address staffing retention, recruitment. Adopt diversity and inclusion policies with clear human resource guidelines.

Convene an intra-agency working group with the Office of Management and Budget to advance new procurement processes to unburden USAID programming and identify budgeting priorities.

Convene an interagency AID Commission (AIDCom) led by the USAID Administrator

Appoint a high-level ICT task force and adapt recommendations.

Adopt recommended guiding principles for transition staff and appointees.

As part of the Administration’s overall efforts to re-establish US international partnerships, the Biden-Harris Administration should immediately signal its intent to restore the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a sought after and valued development partner led by respected, visionary leaders who reflect American democratic values. Through bold executive policies, reviews of legislative authorities, Human Resources, procurement processes, and strategic communications, the Biden-Harris Administration can stand up a renewed and strengthened Agency to respond to global challenges with clear responsibilities. With a nominated and confirmed Administrator in January 2021, the Biden-Harris Agenda for USAID can be actively implemented within the first 100 days of the Administration.

Part 1: Presidential Actions in the First 100 Days beginning immediately after the Election Results are Confirmed

Built on more than 75 years of experience, USAID is the single US Government institution that holds the greatest knowledge about development, humanitarian, and disaster response assistance. Nevertheless, it is a weakened institution due to a number of compounding factors that can be addressed through decisive early actions of the new Administration. The opportunity to build a rejuvenated aid development agency that is unencumbered by decades of outdated legislation and authorities and short-term fixes should not be ignored. Given the imperatives for greater global cooperation to address challenges ranging from accelerating climate change, emerging pandemic diseases and new forms ofauthoritarianism, many preconceptions about the world and expected trajectories of transparent governance, economic growth and prosperity need to be re-calibrated to meet the 21st Century and beyond.


· Commit to the strategic importance of a three-pronged security strategy comprising Diplomacy, Defense and Development –the Three Ds.

· Clarify the inter-agency lines of authority and responsibilities for leadership in accomplishing U.S. development and humanitarian assistance goals.

· State unequivocally and establish USAID as the lead federal coordinator of development, humanitarian aid, and international disaster response by re-writing and distributing a new Presidential Policy Directive on International Development, Humanitarian and Disaster Assistance. (See Why it Matters 1)

· Rescind the outdated Clinton Era Presidential Memo on lead federal coordinator role for the former Office for US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) now the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). (See Why it Matters 1)

· Make early decisions regarding potential realignment of budget requests for the development and aid Agencies (USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, US Development Finance Corporation).

· Establish the framework for on-going work and reform by appointing an intra-agency and multi-party AID Commission (AIDCom) to negotiate the agenda for rebuilding the Agency’s development and humanitarian assistance leadership within the context of America’s overarching foreign policy goals which stretch beyond the 100 Day short-term.

· The terms of reference for the AidCom should be produced within the first 60 Days after November 3 and include joint-fact finding, interest-based negotiations, and policy mediation to reach consensus on the essential elements of the “foreign policy rebuild.”

· Instruct AidCom to explore the elevation of USAID and the Administrator to a cabinet level position within the new Congressional authorizing language for the Agency.

· Empower the USAID Administrator to direct AIDCom to ensure oversight, coordination and information sharing among the numerous departments and agencies who have financial and policy interests in US international development, humanitarian and disaster programming and implementation. AIDCom represents a unified whole-of-government approach to address inconsistencies in authorizing and appropriation legislation.

· Identify and analyze the posts in international development agencies beyond USAID (e.g. World Bank, Asian Development Bank, WHO, UN agencies, etc.) 60 days after November 3 with the goal of guaranteeing that such nominees reflect the new Administration’s values and agenda and will work closely with the USAID Administrator to advance US development objectives in partnership with key international organizations and affirm a shared global agenda.


· Deploy experienced USAID former staff to serve on the Transition/Landing Team as Biden-Harris Administration representatives to the Agency in November the day after the election results are confirmed. Use experienced advisors early on a temporary basis to begin the consultative process with the career staff.

· During the Transition Period (November—January) prepare a list of all key positions to be filled (or where the US has influence on filling) within USAID and related institutions (including MCC, USTDA, WB, UN agencies, etc.), and develop lists of appropriate candidates.

· Prepare a memo from the Acting Administrator to the USAID Inspector General, to be delivered January 21, 2021, directing that an agency-wide review be immediately undertaken of the recent Administration’s actions for their legality, and for any evidence of corruption, favoritism, nepotism or other issues.

· Request immediately in November the day the election results are confirmed the freezing of all conversions of the past Administration’s appointees to career positions and request an accounting of all appointees who have converted to career positions to review.

· Immediately identify and prepare to appoint a current non-Administration senior career officer to be acting Administrator upon Inauguration Day until the USAID Administrator nominee is confirmed.

· Nominate concurrently your Administration’s National Security Team, including a strong, credible and experienced USAID Administrator together with your Secretaries of State and Defense. Set the goal of confirming all three nominees within thirty days of the inauguration. Emphasize in the announcement that the team is united and charged with effective integration of the 3Ds.

· Appoint the Administrator of USAID to a permanent seat on the National Security Council Principals Committee; the Deputy Administrator to the Deputies Committee and the relevant Assistant Administrators to the currently termed PPCs.

· Identify and prepare the full cadre of nominations for USAID’s Assistant Administrators, to the 11 Senate-confirmed presidential appointments within USAID[1] within sixty days.

· Accept resignations of all Trump Administration Appointees effective January 20, 2021. Any requested exceptions should be referred by HCTM/HR to the Transition Team for review.


· Address the opportunity and timing for new authorizing legislation for U.S. foreign assistance.

· Engage the US Congress in obtaining a commitment, the principles and a timeline for an overhaul of USAID authorizing legislation that firmly anchors it with the authorities needed for innovativeleadership in solving the most urgent non-military threats beginning within 30 days of election results. (See Why it Matters 2)

Why it Matters

1. Draft a new Presidential Policy Directive for International Development and Humanitarian, Disaster Response, replacing the Obama era PPD-6 and the Clinton Presidential Memo.

Over the years the number of agencies and departments involved in development and humanitarian assistance and disaster response has expanded exponentially to +56, and many of them are not consistently present on the ground in the countries of engagement. There are an increasing number of actors involved in development work oversees including the Department of State, Defense, Treasury, Peace Corps, FEMA, and newer development agencies, including Millennium Challenge Corporation and U.S. Development Finance Corporation that require coordination if we are to achieve maximum value for our combined efforts. By rewriting and updating the Presidential Policy Directive and rescinding the Clinton Era Presidential Memo, incorporating the language in a re-drafted and promulgated PPD, it will bring clarity to the whole of the Agency and to the interagency regarding the full coordination and leadership role that USAID possesses.

2. New Authorizing language for USAID

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 now with all its associated amendments and additional legislation was premised on a bi-polar geopolitical competition, which no longer holds true. The relatively new agencies: Millennium Challenge Corporation and Development Finance Corporation enjoy more expansive authorization powers than USAID; it is time for an overarching review of the various legislative instruments and eliminating redundancies. A legislative overhaul would allow USAID to obtain additional or different authorities more suited to the 21st Century. It offers a productive way to engage other departments and agencies to identify their unique niche in development and humanitarian and disaster response.

3. Procurement Reform

Procurement processes consume tremendous amounts of effort and time by the professional staff. It can be streamlined with deliberate study and some innovation.

These cumbersome processes have long hampered USAID’s ability to provide timely and agility. To deliver effectively the complex technical services, products and ideas to address the challenges of the development, USAID needs better and more flexible procurement process. Closely linked to this challenge is the complex ways in which USAID acquires the human capital it requires to manage and deliver solutions for the complex and ever-changing needs.

4. AIDCom Working Group Proposed Questions to Explore

These questions are illustrative of those for consideration by the working group:

Legislative: USAID is encumbered with outdated political imperatives and congressional priorities that limit its ability to develop and implement meaningful development objectives tailored to each country’s needs. What are the necessary key changes to USAID authorizing language?

Partnerships: What is the role of the U.S. government with respect to multilateral financial institutions, UN agencies, and other bilateral donors regarding our work? What is the best allocation of resources to avoid duplication?

What role do you see for USAID in the international development construct?

What type of international role can best leverage USAID’s deep expertise in global climate change?

Field: How can and should USAID streamline the efficiency of its work in the field given the highly significant costs and current bureaucratic and staffing constraints?

Programming: What should be the programming priorities in the first year?

What’s in and what’s out? Should USAID engage as a leader or play a supportive role in Democracy Promotion, Health, Pandemic Preparedness, Education, Economic Development?

Should large-scale investments such as infrastructure and electrification be within USAID’s mandate or passed to other donors and financiers?

Define success in the near and long term.

Interagency Relationships: How could USAID better communicate and coordinate with DOD, State and other US Departments and Agencies that also are operating in host countries?

What priorities should define USAID’s relationships with MCC and DFC?

Budget: How should USAID lead and coordinate budget submissions by other Departments and Agencies including State, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Peace Corps, USDFC and MCC other agencies with foreign affairs budgets to address international development, humanitarian and disaster programming?

What are the budget priorities, given the new USDFC and MCC budget foci?

What are the budget priorities given current resources? What would be the priorities if resources were increased?

Procurement: Which major procurement processes need to be overhauled and in which sequence?

Staffing: What are the staffing priorities, and what is the ratio of internal or external management of programs?

5. Accentuating Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to enhance and improve USAID’s re-set.

The US is a world leader in Information and communications technologies (ICTs), and has a great competitive advantage in this area, compared to many donors. This competitive advantage has not yet been leveraged fully by USAID and other related agencies. The first USAID agency-wide “Digital Strategy” plan was only developed a few months ago, in mid-summer 2020. Every USAID project manager should be required to think creatively about how to use ICTs, and to budget an appropriate, substantial amount for ICTs. Part 2: First 100 Days of a Confirmed USAID Administrator

USAID is faced with the challenge of rebuilding its relationships with bilateral allies and multilateral institutions. Many preconceptions about the world and expected trajectories of transparent governance, economic growth and prosperity need to be re-calibrated to address challenges in the 21st Century and beyond. USAID is not nimble nor flexible enough currently to rapidly respond to the multiple challenges ahead: climate change and the multiple shocks to clean water resources, food security, disease patterns and the increased mass population migrations; resurgence of nationalism and authoritarianism that degrades respect for human rights and liberties; growing complexity and ferocity of natural disasters along with emerging pandemic diseases.


· AidCom working groups comprised of internal and external experts should examine the critical sets of decisions facing USAID and charge each group with a rapid review of learning generated by USAID’s past partnerships with governments, private sector, not-for-profit organizations and civil society. Direct the working groups to present their findings in a series of white papers to share the critical thinking and learnings around governance (political, economic, and security), technology, health, education, energy, financial services, and climate change.

· Direct the working groups to analyze and make recommendations to resolve/decide before the end of the first 100 Days to allow some, but not necessarily all, decisions to be announced on Day101.

· Form an internal working group with OMB engagement to review, evaluate and recommend changes to USAID’s procurement regulations and processes within the first 100 days. Instruct it to collaborate with OMB, the IG and Congress. (See Why It Matters 4)

· Review USAID’s Information and communications technologies (ICTs) within first 60 days and implement the recently drafted USAID Digital Strategy recommendations. (See Why It Matters 5)

· Immediately review and evaluate current budgeting practices within 45 days of election results confirmed in advance of Congressional negotiations for development programs that may need longer-term resources, longer-term approaches, and more multi-layer transparency in order to be truly effective.

o USAID and other government agencies were shifted from multi-year to single year appropriations, which negatively impacted projects worldwide due to unpredictable funding pipelines.

· Within thirty days develop a new framework for how USAID will re-engage with its local partners, and new tools that amplify critical choices and results over processes and details.


· On day one after confirmation, demonstrate your commitment to proactively working with the Chief Human Capital Talent Management (HCTM) Officer to enforce the Administration's stated objective to make the USAID workforce reflect American values and who we are as a nation. The new political leadership team should publicly commit to a service that reflects inclusive American values by hiring the best professionals regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

· Conduct a rapid workforce survey (prepared during transition) and disseminate to staff to elicit input on the most pressing issues and current state of morale.

· Integrate staff feedback for increasing diversity, equality, and inclusion in USAID hiring and retention practices.

· Within thirty days, publicly announce the highest priority hiring needs.

· Review USAID recruitment practices and qualifications to determine what improvements are needed to retain the superior talent needed for field-based analyses. Ensure the requirements related academic degrees and subject matter expertise are balanced appropriately with other qualifications needed to respond and manage development challenges, including the ability to understand culture, social norms, and local languages that contribute to the effectiveness of USAID staff stationed abroad.

· Work collaboratively with the Agency Director of EEO to examine the current standards used for determining progress in achieving a diverse workforce as well as the key constraints in recruitment and retention.

· Discontinue the precedent of allowing staff appointed with the Administratively Determined (AD) authority to supervise or oversee the work of Senate-confirmed Bureau leadership e.g. Assistant to the Administrator positions.

· Address human resources retention, recruitment and staff morale.

· Address the recent ‘militarization’ of USAID through the hiring of defense department personnel to fill positions. Development and humanitarian professionals hold unique skills that are not analogous to military service.


At the direction of the President, the Administrator should Chair the intra-agency and multi-party working group to affirm the agenda for rebuilding the Agency’s development and humanitarian assistance leadership within the context of America’s overarching foreign policy goals which stretch beyond the 100 Days.

Confer and consult with key Congressional leaders to create the demand for new authorizing legislation by explaining how it will improve overall financial and programmatic coordination and address conflicting and overlapping current authorities.

Part 3: Practical Advice for New Appointees

Integrate best practices. Know that systemic changes take time and there is a temptation to launch bold new strategies, themes, and programming in order to define a new course. Establish a timeline and framework for the most important things to help move things along and ensure that work is not derailed.

Build reform efforts on institutional knowledge. Newly arriving political appointees should find the balance between moving quickly and moving smartly by integrating established “best practices” in respective institutions while implementing new objectives and procedures.

Ensure that decision making processes are fundamentally inclusive of the political leaders, the career experts and outside help as appropriate. Inclusive participation of these stakeholders is more likely to lead to successful implementation of sustainable change.

Consult, Listen and Learn. USAID has a byzantine and complicated procurement system of complex mechanisms and funding sources. Before making any programming or funding decisions, understand the framework, how it works, does not work and seek out staff who are knowledgeable on the issue. Come to an understanding of what exists, what works and does not work.

Value diversity of opinions. Address staffing recruitment, retention and morale. It is critical to reach out to staff who are not part of the transition team to solicit input regarding policy as well as work challenges. Ask for their thoughts on key stumbling blocks to improving USAID’s processes and relationships. Do not assume that career staff are unaware of the agency’s problems and potential solutions.

Encourage a culture of forward thinking, innovation, self-criticism and patient listening to all of the client groups. Require frequent external consultations, reviews and commentary, moving from a “Yes sir” approach to a more nuanced and culturally sensitive approach.

Ask the big question: Does this program meet new challenges, or does it need a reset? What has it accomplished? The USAID rebuild requires a new framework for what it does and what it does not do, what its partner agencies do and how all of them fit together. Avoid the details, accept that others have studied the problem, ask questions of the staff and trust the subject matter experts and professional staff. Before starting something new, identify what might already be on-going and merit your attention and support.

Develop and execute a strategic communications strategy. Broadly communicate the new Administration’s intent, vision, finding, and directions to the broadest possible audience.

[1] Currently, USAID uses the eleven PAS authorized positions to appoint the Administrator; Deputy Administrator; Assistant Administrator, Asia and Near East; Assistant Administrator, Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance; Assistant Administrator, Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade; Assistant Administrator, Europe and Eurasia; Assistant Administrator, Global Health; Assistant Administrator, Latin America and Caribbean; Assistant Administrator, Legislative and Public Affairs; Assistant Administrator, Policy and Program Coordination; Assistant Administrator, Sub-Saharan Africa; and the Inspector General.

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