- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Friday to expand the role of foreign aid in U.S. diplomacy, but she also signaled major changes at the government’s main aid agency that employees said could reduce their say in making decisions.

Mrs. Clinton and her incoming deputy for management, Jacob Lew, have been critical of the current structure of U.S. development programs. Still, she visited the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on her second day in office to show support for its mission.

“I wanted to come here today with a very simple message,” she told employees. “I believe in development, and I believe with all my heart that it truly is an equal partner, along with defense and diplomacy, in the furtherance of America’s national security.”

She also promised to bring some programs that have “migrated” to the Pentagon back under civilian control.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton, whose catch-phrase during her Senate confirmation hearing was “smart power,” made it clear that things at USAID will not remain the same for much longer.

“We are going to have to streamline our operations,” she said in reference to foreign aid programs at various government agencies. “Smart power requires smart people. We’ve got the smart people. We just need the smart procedures that will enable the smart people to do the work that we expect you to do.”

An individual in the aid community, who asked not to be named, said that Mrs. Clinton may not appoint a new USAID administrator for as long as a year to give herself time to reorganize the bureaucracy.

In the meantime, Kent Hill, the agency’s assistant administrator for global health who introduced the secretary on Friday, is acting administrator.

Some USAID employees said they were concerned about the secretary’s “streamlining” plans, because that could completely silence the modest voice the agency currently has in decisions about its budget and policies.

“USAID has been reduced to an implementing agency,” said one official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject. “We should have a policy voice at the table, and we’ve been put in the background.”

The official referred to the Bush administration’s decision to bring much of the foreign aid decision making under the State Department and to give the USAID administrator the rank of deputy secretary of state, along with an office at the department.

“Development people have unique expertise, and diplomatic people have a different way of looking at things,” the USAID official said. “We are afraid that foreign aid is being politicized by buying favors from other countries.”

Although agency employees were thrilled by Mrs. Clinton’s visit and “understand her passion for development,” there are some indications that she might create a “supermanagement office” in charge of foreign aid at Foggy Bottom, he said.

“I don’t think we know where she will take the agency, and that’s a huge question,” he added. “We don’t want to be one more step away from table.”

Andrew Natsios, a former USAID administrator who now teaches at Georgetown University, said he did not know what Mrs. Clinton’s plans are, but that independence was essential for the agency to be effective.

“The more it is drawn to the State Department, the more it is destroyed as an institution,” he said. “Any time a foreign aid program is integrated into an institution that does diplomacy, it means the program will meet shorter-term diplomatic requirements” rather than long-term development goals.

Mr. Lew, during his confirmation hearing Thursday, said there “has been some progress” in streamlining foreign aid operations, but more must be done. “We’ll have to make some judgments about the organizational structure,” he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mrs. Clinton said Friday she was aware of the “very vigorous debate within the development community about how we should be organized, what form that organization should take, where in the government we should be situated. …

“Having served for eight years in the Senate, the last thing we want is a never-ending debate about process. What we need to figure out how to set forth a clear path using what we already have, and finding what else additionally we need in terms of authorities and resources,” she said.

She also urged employees to provide their ideas on how the process could work better.

“I welcome debate, and I’m respectful of dissent, and then I expect everybody, once we’ve made a decision, to work as hard as you can to get the job done,” she said.

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