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Vacancies at USAID worry development hands

Vacancies at USAID worry development hands

As the Obama administration nears completion of two major reviews on development policy, several top positions in the U.S. Agency for International Development remain vacant.

Development sources tell us that names for several senior USAID positions have been sent all the way up to the White House, but the White House has yet to act on them. Among the open slots are the positions of assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs (DCHA) and the director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

The OFDA slot seems especially important, since that person should be intimately involved in disaster responses and there are plenty of disasters that need responding to. The conventional wisdom regarding nomination delays — that the administration fears GOP Senate objections — doesn’t apply to the OFDA director job because it doesn’t require Senate confirmation. The slot has been vacant since January 2009.

Development NGOs are worried that USAID risks losing some of its ability to influence the ongoing reviews due to its lack of political senior staffing. Those reviews said to be nearing their final stages. The State Department was supposed to have released an interim report on its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) already, but it has been continually delayed and there is no reliable information on when it might surface.

The White House’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) is finished and sitting on Obama’s desk awaiting his review, we’re told by multiple sources. The Cable published a draft version of that document last month, to the chagrin of the White House, which had promised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that State could go first. We’re told that there have been several small but significant changes to the PSD-7, which the White House has never promised to publicly release.

"At a time when the U.S. government faces complex humanitarian and development challenges overseas, it is imperative that the administration expedite the appointment of experienced professionals to help USAID lead these efforts," wrote the leaders of Interaction, an alliance of development NGOs, in a letter to Obama Wednesday. "We believe USAID’s participation would be more significant if a majority of the vacancies could be filled in order to allow stronger USAID engagement before the completion of the QDDR. The shortage of high level staff at USAID could raise questions about the credibility of this process and its outcome."