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State Department pledges major reforms with new QDDR

State Department pledges major reforms with new QDDR

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which is meant to chart a way forward for the diplomatic corps to play a greater role in U.S. foreign policy in a world of shrinking budgets and resources.

"This is a sweeping effort that asks a simple question: How can we do better," Clinton said at a Wednesday morning town hall meeting in Foggy Bottom. The meeting was also attended by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, and Deputy USAID Administrator Donald Steinberg

"The QDDR is a blueprint for how we can make the State Department and USAID more nimble, more effective, and more accountable," she said. "Leading through civilian power saves lives and money."

Clinton described her plan to have State Department diplomats lead interagency efforts abroad, to rebuild the internal capacity of USAID, and to adjust to the changing dynamics of a world where power is increasingly dispersed among multiple actors.

But Clinton’s speech kept returning to the fact that her ambitious goals of reforming the State Department are facing a Congress that is skeptical of foreign aid funding and looking for ways to trim government spending.

"As you dig in to this report, you’ll see it’s driven by two overarching factors, first is president Obama’s focus on fiscal responsibility and efficiency throughout the federal government," Clinton said. "Through the QDDR, we have tried to minimize costs, maximize impacts, avoid overlap and duplication and focus on delivering results."

"Across our programs we are redefining success based on results achieved rather than dollars spent," she said. "This will help us make the case that bolstering U.S. civilian power is a wise investment for American taxpayers that will pay off by averting conflicts, opening markets, and reducing threats."

In a press conference after the town hall meeting, Slaughter acknowledged that while the goal of the QDDR is to find ways to do things more efficiently, some of the proposed initiatives will require additional funding.

Slaughter said that the organizational changes can be implemented without congressional authorization and that implementation will begin on Jan. 1. Certain specific items, such as new counterterrorism positions at State, will require congressional approval. She said that "well over 50 percent" of the initiatives in the report can be implemented without further authorizations.

Slaughter also explained that the State Department was prepared to make trade-offs if the new Congress balked at funding some of the QDDR’s new initiatives. But she said that it’s not known yet exactly where those trade-offs will come from.

Steinberg explained that the whole process was driven by the realization that State and USAID need to do better with their own fiscal management. "What we’re trying to do is say to Congress ‘We get it,’" he said.

"It’s all about implementation," said Gordon Adams, former head of national security budgeting for the Clinton White House. "As the Secretary said, the budget environment is tight.  So getting some of this funded is going to be hard, especially when the Republicans are gunning for foreign aid."

Paul O’Brien,  Oxfam America’s vice president of policy and advocacy, asked at the town hall meeting how Clinton planned to deal with the tension between long-term development goals and short-term diplomatic objectives. Clinton responded that that tension would remain but the State Department’s chief of mission would be empowered above all others.

"I don’ think there’s any way to resolve it. I don’t think it will disappear but there is a way to diminish it," she said. "But we’ve got to have somebody in each country that actually speaks for the entire government."

Two representatives from the American Foreign Service Association spoke at length about their objections to State and USAID going outside the traditional channels to hire mid-career Foreign Service officers to fill a gap in staffing. Clinton said she had no choice but to expand the search for mid-career officers outside the existing government pool.

"I just think you need to recognize… that we also have a job to do," she said. "So we’ll give every effort to find people, but at the end of the day I’m responsible for making decisions that are in the best interests of the USA and that’s what I intend to do."

The actual content of the QDDR tracked closely what was revealed in a draft presentation obtained by The Cable last month.

The document also proposes a host of new organizations to be established within the State Department. These include an office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environmental Affairs, which will include a new Bureau of International Energy Affairs; a Special Coordinator for Sanctions and Illicit Finance; and an Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, which would include a new Bureau for Crisis and Conflict Operations. The current Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) would be incorporated into this bureau.

USAID will immediately assume the leadership of Feed the Future, a program meant to combat hunger worldwide. The Global Health Initiative will also transition to USAID control by 2012.

The document also proposes to "Empower and hold accountable Chiefs of Mission as CEOs of multi-agency missions and engage them in high-level interagency decision-making in Washington."

The town hall meeting started with a moment of silence for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who passed away unexpectedly on Monday evening following two days of failed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta.

"We are dedicating this first QDDR to his memory," Clinton said.

You can find the executive summary of the QDDR here (PDF) and a fact sheet about it here (PDF). View the entire report here.