- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
The international development community is breathing a yuge sigh of relief after President Donald Trump tapped a widely-respected veteran diplomat and former congressman, Mark Green, to helm the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Green, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania under George W. Bush and a four-term representative from Wisconsin, offers a much-needed lifeline to an embattled agency facing steep budget cuts and massive reorganization, former USAID officials and NGO experts tell Foreign Policy.
“[Green] gets what it takes to make foreign assistance work and why these programs are so vital to our national security and economic interests,” said Liz Schrayer, President and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a Washington-based network of NGO’s.
If the Senate approves his nomination, Green will have his work cut out for him. Morale at USAID is at a historic low thanks to an uncertain future, several former USAID and NGO officials told FP. The Trump administration proposed severe cuts to the agency, including zeroing out development assistance funds for scores of USAID field offices around the world, cutting 2,300 jobs, and slashing its overall budget by 26 percent. The Trump administration is even mulling folding the agency into the State Department, as FP first reported, sparking fierce criticism from Congress as well as aid experts.
USAID has vocal champions in Congress, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Congressional firewall could parry Trump’s steep proposed cuts to USAID, but it won’t stop the White House’s drive to reorganize and consolidate the agency.
That’s where Green’s nomination is welcome news. “I think [Green’s nomination] has boosted morale at USAID, just the fact that Trump named an administrator,” said David Hong of the One Acre Fund, a Kenya-based NGO that works with USAID. “Green can be a positive force to guide how those cuts are made and ensure they’re in the most strategic places.”
NGO and former USAID officials also say Green developed a good relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over recent months as his name was floated for the position. That’s crucial, as the State Department falls under the same budget authority as USAID — and if Trump gets his way, State could potentially subsume USAID entirely.
Tillerson welcomed Green’s announcement in a statement released Wednesday night. “Mark will help us prioritize where America’s future development investments will be spent so that we can ensure every tax dollar advances our country’s security and prosperity,” Tillerson said.
Green’s nomination isn’t likely to hit any big snags on the hill, several Congressional sources tell FP. But Democrats who are still wary of Trump’s plans for downsizing USAID may still drill Green on the question during his confirmation hearing.
“In the scheme of things, he does seem like the right kind of Republican to step into the job,” one senior Democratic Congressional staffer told FP. “The issue is what is the future of USAID? That’s what looming over all of this.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the One Acre Fund is based in Washington. It is based in Kenya.
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The United Republic of Tanzania