Assessing the USAID Transformation Agenda

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On November 5th, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Project on Prosperity and Development hosted a program examining the reforms that have taken place at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2016. The event offered useful insight to ISOA members who work with – or are writing proposals – for USAID business.

A recording of the full CSIS event can be viewed here:
https://www.csis.org/events/journey-self-reform-assessing-usaid-transformation-agenda

CSIS is a Washington, DC think tank that covers many issues relevant to the Stability Operations industry. This program was moderated by Erol Yayboke, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at CSIS. Members may recognize Mr. Yayboke since he served on the Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR) panel at ISOA’s 2018 Summit. The panel also included Jason Bair, the Director of International Affairs and Trade with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); Chris Milligan, Counselor for USAID; Lori Groves Rowley, Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center; Jenny Russell, the Senior Director of Development Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children; and Conor Savoy, the Executive Director of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN).

Mr. Bair shared GAO’s recommendations and assessment of USAID’s transformation agenda. USAID now defines its core assistance role as supporting developing countries on their ‘journey to self-reliance.’ Notably, USAID is changing its focus from providing USAID-designed guidance, and instead seeks to “empowering host country governments and our partners to achieve locally-sustained results, helping countries mobilize public and private revenues, strengthening local capacities, and accelerating enterprise-driven development.” In short, USAID wants the countries it supports to have a greater ownership of their projects.

The GAO report was a strong endorsement of USAID’s move to outcome-oriented performance measurements. USAID had begun significant reforms eight years ago, even before the current administration arrived in 2017, and these reforms were reaffirmed and accelerated under USAID’s current Administrator, Mark Green.

ISOA Members should note that USAID wants measurable data-driven results from its programs. Every country that USAID works with has a ‘Country Roadmap’ developed in collaboration to ensure the Agency programs and partners are all working towards the same unified goals as defined by the country itself. This is a change from ‘sector improvements’ of the past which may or may not have been helpful in a larger development program.

USAID had a record year in numbers of small businesses contracted, and is looking to expand its private sector partners, as well as to help promote existing subcontractors to the prime contractor level. The Agency is also seeking to expand its partner base, encouraging private firms and NGOs who have not worked with the Agency in the past to bid on future projects. The current administration is especially keen to see greater private sector engagement, which is good news for the Stability Operations Industry.

It is also important to note that in the current global situation, some 80% of USAID’s humanitarian assistance is conflict related, a fact that bolsters the value of the Industry’s enormous capabilities to the Agency.

During the question and answer period there were sharp questions about reduction and recent policy constraints on funding, while the audience offered general support for the ongoing USAID reforms. The value of the Country Road Maps was reemphasized and those Maps should be consulted for organizations seeking to break into USAID contracting. These roadmaps are intended to help partners to better coordinate their own projects with the larger plans. There was some discussion about improving the procurement process, an across the board issue in the U.S. government.

So while there have been some budget cuts, the evolution of USAID does offer new opportunities for capable companies interested in breaking into the USAID market. For organizations already working with USAID, the internal reforms seem to have near universal support from practitioners inside and outside the agency.