Obama is “changing the way we do business” on development

Obama is “changing the way we do business” on development

President Obama will unveil his administration’s new overarching strategy on global development Wednesday in a speech at the United Nations.

"Today, I am announcing our new U.S. Global Development Policy — the first of its kind by an American administration," Obama will say, according to prepared remarks.  "It’s rooted in America’s enduring commitment to the dignity and potential of every human being. And it outlines our new approach and the new thinking that will guide our overall development efforts."

The president’s speech will place global development in the context of his National Security Strategy released in May, which emphasizes the interconnected relationship of security, economics, trade, and health.

"My national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative," Obama will say. "We’ve reengaged with multilateral development institutions. And we’re rebuilding the United States Agency for International Development as the world’s premier development agency. In short, we’re making sure that the United States will be a global leader in international development in the 21st century."

The White House was busy laying the groundwork in advance of the president’s speech, touting the highlights of what it calls the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD). A fact sheet provided to reporters laid out the basic ideas of the U.S. strategy, which includes a focus on sustainable outcomes, placing a premium on economic growth, using technological advances to their maximum advantage, being more selective about where to focus efforts, and holding all projects accountable for results.

The White House will not release the full text of this initiative, which was previously known as the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7).

On some specific items of contention, the White House has decided that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will not have a permanent seat on the National Security Council, as many in the development community wanted. However, he will be invited to attend its meetings when issues affecting his work are being discussed.

An executive-level Development Policy Committee will be created to oversee all interagency development policy efforts, as was outlined in a leaked copy of a previous draft of the new policy. There will also be a mandated once-every-four-years review of global development strategy, which will be sent to the president.

Obama announced the new policy during the U.N.’s conference on the Millennium Development Goals. "The real significance here is the fact that the President chose to unveil this at the U.N. and in the context of the MDGs," said Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation. "[I]t shows how closely the administration wants to work with the U.N. and U.N. agencies in implementing them."

Development community leaders reacted to the new policy with cautious optimism and a hope that implementation would go as planned.

"President Obama has delivered a big victory for the world’s poor, our national interests, and the movement to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective," said George Ingram, a former senior official at USAID and current co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.  "Now the tough task of implementation begins, and we are ready to work with the Administration to ensure that key reform principles are applied and codified in law, because that is the real way to make this policy one of the President’s great legacies."

Deputy National Security Advisor for international economics Michael Froman, in a Friday conference call with reporters, defended the White House’s decision not to release the entire PPD. "It’s general policy that we can release a detailed summary of it, but as I understand it the policy is not to release the PPD themselves," he said.

Development community leaders were nonetheless disappointed.

"We understand that NSC documents like this aren’t normally released in full, but there are pitfalls in this approach," said Greg Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America.  "The Administration should make sure that enough gets out to not only provide the American people with a clear rationale for the new approach, but also make sure that our partners around the world understand how we plan to change the way we work with them."

On a Thursday conference call with development community leaders to preview the release, one senior administration official mentioned your humble Cable guy while requesting anonymity and asking the participants to hold the information close.

"I know that with this group it’s a little unusual to do calls on background and embargoed… not that I think anybody on this line has ever talked to Josh Rogin," the official said.