Elephants in the Room

Confirm Mark Green as USAID Administrator

When President Donald Trump nominated Ambassador Mark Green to run USAID on Wednesday, it was the absolute best choice he could have made. Green brings deep experience in development and foreign affairs, moral clarity, and a belief in a strong U.S. role in the world. USAID is at a critical juncture as the administration considers ...

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12: Mark Green, former United States Ambassador to Tanzania, arrives at Trump Tower, January 12, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Trump continues to hold meetings Trump Tower. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12: Mark Green, former United States Ambassador to Tanzania, arrives at Trump Tower, January 12, 2017 in New York City. President-elect Trump continues to hold meetings Trump Tower. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump nominated Ambassador Mark Green to run USAID on Wednesday, it was the absolute best choice he could have made. Green brings deep experience in development and foreign affairs, moral clarity, and a belief in a strong U.S. role in the world. USAID is at a critical juncture as the administration considers a possible reorganization of our development and diplomacy apparatus. Green’s leadership will be critical and he should be confirmed promptly.  It would gravely harm U.S. development interests for any Democratic senator to hold his nomination hostage over broader issues with the Trump administration.

If confirmed, Green will be one of the most qualified and capable USAID administrators in history. Green’s engagement on foreign policy and development dates to his four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1999 to 2007. Subsequently, Mark served as the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, a member of the Millennium Challenge Corporations board of directors, and in a series of development leadership jobs.  Most recently, Green served as president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) where he has focused on promoting democracy and governance abroad.

The Trump administration has expressed an interest in changing the way the United States does business in the foreign-assistance space.  As I’ve written before, it is appropriate and necessary to review these systems. The key will be driving change that improves foreign assistance without breaking it. As a former politician with deep ties to development, Green is uniquely suited to managing this process, including rising political pressures.

If confirmed, Green will confront three key “inside the beltway” issues:

  • 2018 budget: The 2018 budget blueprint proposes a 31 percent cut to the budget for USAID and the State Department.  Funding cuts at this level are unlikely, but there will be pain. Green will need to make his voice heard in determining budget allocations to ensure that USAID is able meet its core mission while advancing U.S. security and prosperity.
  • Reorganization: One of the proposals floated by the Trump administration is to reorganize our various foreign-assistance agencies.  While some consolidation is appropriate, it is critical that USAID retains both independence and its unique capacities to deliver development programming.  I’ve made detailed suggestions on how this reorganization can be managed effectively.
  • Reform: Separate from changes to the organization chart, USAID should continue to pursue reforms that maximize the effectiveness of U.S. taxpayer dollars in terms of promoting U.S. interests and security abroad and delivering development impact.  Trade, investment, and private-sector engagement represent the future of development cooperation and USAID should be a global leader in new and innovative development programming that leverages these larger forces.

Green will also be faced with a series of “outside the beltway” challenges in his new role as USAID administrator.  A non-exhaustive list of challenges includes:

  • The global refugee crisis: We are currently facing the worst refugee crisis in history. This phenomenon has been fueled by conflict, draught, and famine but also by lack of economic and social opportunity. USAID will have a leading role in managing ongoing refugee flows, but also working to address the root causes that drive people to leave their homes.
  • Global pandemics: In an increasingly globalized world, pandemic diseases loom as one of the most serious threats we face today. Failing to address this risk has serious implication for homeland security, global economic growth, and the perception of U.S. global leadership.
  • Combating violent extremism: Kinetic capability is a necessary part of the answer to winning the fight against violent extremism. That said, development work will also be critical when it comes to providing a long-term solution. USAID will be critical for supporting stability, prosperity, and job creation in countries and regions facing violent extremism.
  • China as a credible soft power competitor: China has become an active player in the development space, and offers an increasingly legitimate challenge to U.S. soft power. The creation of the One Belt, One Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are two signature initiatives where China has sought to offer an alternative to U.S.-led institutions and development work. We need a reinvigorated USAID to respond to these new challenges.
  • The “Tale of Two Paths”: As emerging economies diverge towards either unambiguously positive or negative development outcomes we need to shift the way we engage. For those countries moving towards middle income status, with growing prosperity and capacity, the United States should offer a new form of cooperation based on trade, investment, educational, and science and technology. For those countries managing conflict and instability, we need to rethink the way that deliver our development assistance because the current approach isn’t working.

These are big challenges without easy answers, and if confirmed, Ambassador Mark Green will have a tough job ahead of him.We should all wish him luck.

Disclosure: I have known Ambassador Green professionally for years through my day job and involvement in the John Hay Initiative.

Photo credit: DREW ANGERER/Getty Images

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