Provocative Question: To Eliminate Redundancy, Should We Move USAID from DOS to DOD?

In this era of perceived relative austerity in U.S. public budgeting, there is much discussion about (1) cutting “foreign aid” and (2) addressing redundancy in federal spending. One obvious area of redundancy in terms, at least, of conceptual capacity and planning, is in the foreign assistance area where the lead agency is said to be the State Department in some cases, and in others USAID as a partially independent but intertwined organization funded through the State Department. At the same time, the Department of Defense, as part of military doctrine, aspires to maintain a parallel capacity to conduct reconstruction and development functions–and is often the “go to” agency for aspects of humanitarian/disaster relief in places like Indonesia, Haiti and New Orleans.

The basic doctrine is that the military services need to be ready to step in where civilian capacity is insufficient or simply fails (as in dealing with the situation when the Coalition Provisional Authority closed up shop in Iraq in 2004).

Redundancy has costs and benefits–there is a positive value to having “excess” capacity in terms of risk mitigation. On the other hand, there may be some downside from difficulties in coordination, moral hazard associated with having someone else available to “bail out” failure, etc. On balance, I think it is a net positive to have redundant development/assistance capacity. This is a bit like the much discussed and debated “extra engine” for the military Joint Strike Fighter program–there is some reduction in risk to have two engines in development at the same time to do the same thing. The question is one of efficiency and affordability.

In an era of cuts to assistance, it probably is not efficient enough to warrant duplicate capacity with the U.S. government.  Thus we should chose which basket to put our eggs into.

Personally, I am well persuaded that the national security triad (or “three-legged stool”) of Defense, Development and Diplomacy would be most efficiently and effectively handled through having USAID or a similiar agency operate as an independent “step sister” agency, rather than as a branch off one of the other legs of the stool. If that is not politically feasible, or there is not political will or courage to try it, and we are tasked with eliminating redundancy to maximize effectiveness with more limited dollars, we need to ask whether to continue with the current structure and try to eliminate funding for development within DOD and perhaps shift some of the savings to the DOS complex, or to simply consolidate the work in DOD.

At present we are more than two years into the Obama Administration and there is still no nominee for USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa.  In the meantime, AFRICOM has extensive support from USAID as described by testimony to Congress last summer by a USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator about national security and interagency collaboration:

The Africa Command, or AFRICOM, provides another example of where strong interagency partnership from its inception has advanced U.S. national security interests. Beginning in 2007, USAID staff in Africa was engaged in helping DOD plan U.S. Africa Command. As AFRICOM developed from a concept similar to the SOUTHCOM model to an independent command, USAID was engaged with counterparts in the Defense Department at every step in the process. AFRICOM was intended to bring together U.S. military assets devoted to Africa’s security in one unified command, but the mandate and operation of the command were the subject of lively interagency debate prior to its establishment. Our first senior development advisor, assigned to the European Command, or EUCOM, in 2007, was actively involved in the process. Other USAID officers, including senior career and political leadership, helped General Ward and his staff to define AFRICOM’s mandate, coordination mechanisms, and civilian roles in the Command, as well as shaping the Command to focus on its central priority of building the capacity of African military institutions. This resulted in the establishment of a USAID senior development advisor position at the command as well as detailing two USAID representatives to the command, one to direct the Programs Division and the other to manage their Humanitarian and Civic Assistance programs and funds. Subsequently, a representative of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance was assigned to the command.

As AFRICOM has stood up and developed its relationships with interagency partners, and senior Command officials have sought to forge strong ties with USAID. Developing capable and rightly-structured militaries in Africa is absolutely essential for Africa’s development and stability and AFRICOM plays an important role in enhancing the capacity of Africa’s military. We support and emphasize this crucial core function of AFRICOM in the interagency and in discussions in Stuttgart. At the same time, there are other areas where USAID and AFRICOM work closely and effectively together.

AFRICOM leadership has pressed for significant participation and officer exchanges with USAID, in general, for more positions than our small agency can provide. USAID officers in AFRICOM — at the level of the Commander, the Plans and Program Directorate, and Disaster Response unit — have both helped “shape” this new Command and improved the Command’s civil affairs and humanitarian programs and their intended audience, and interagency collaboration in strategic, conflict-prone areas, and in disaster response.

Perhaps the best example of USAID’s effect upon the Command has been where AFRICOM’s office overseeing funding for development projects or what the military refers to as “humanitarian assistance,” our representative has repeatedly proven the value of having a development advisor in this position. That officer has reshaped the provision of AFRICOM humanitarian assistance to be more effective and sustainable based on AFRICOM’s expertise in this area. Most recently, her efforts were recognized when she won a “dissent” award from the American Foreign Service Association for her contribution to the dialogue about the Defense Department’s proposed programs in the area of women’s health. USAID also actively participates in logistics cooperation training which illustrates a cohesive approach to coordination at all levels.

Realistically, isn’t it more feasible politically to consolidate the functions in DOD rather than DOS to maintain bi-partisan support for funding?  Isn’t the reality that the DOD function is the stronger bureaucratic player and will find ways to continue its own programs and capacity regardless? For instance, would a key appointment in a military combatant command such as AFRICOM remain unfilled for over two years?

Is it the case, cosmetics of “hard power” and “soft power” aside, that Development has more overlap with Defense than with Diplomacy anyway if it can’t stand on its own?

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach

One thought on “Provocative Question: To Eliminate Redundancy, Should We Move USAID from DOS to DOD?

  1. Pingback: US Military may be uniquely situated to help in ebola crisis | AfriCommons Blog

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