Tag: USAID administrator


by on Oct.21, 2009, under Politics

A few days ago I complained about Obama’s slowness in nominating, and included the vacant USAID Administrator post as an example. Tonight I attended a speech by Andrew Natsios, USAID Administrator from 2001 to 2005. He claimed that the White House has in fact offered the Administrator job to ten different people and been turned down.

To explain why that might be, we need to go back to the last few years of the Bush administration, when Condoleezza Rice decided it would be a good idea to bring USAID into the State Department house. The agency’s ability to make its own policy and draw up its own budgets was subordinated to State Department officials, a change called the “F Process Reforms” or simply “F.”

USAID people hate this. Natsios, a longtime USAID hand, is among them. As an example of the damage wrought by F, he mentioned Norman Borlaug, the agronomist (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) considered the father of the Green Revolution, who died about a month ago. Work on new varieties of seeds of the kind Borlaug did is still going on at the various centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). After F, Natsios claimed, State Department budget-makers drastically cut USAID’s contribution to CGIAR, because they didn’t see any short-term benefit to it.

So far, the Obama administration has made no move to reverse this Bush-era bureaucratic shift.

Anyway, the real reason there’s no USAID Administrator, said Natsios, is that no one wants to be the titular head of an agency (and take all the flak that comes of that) and yet have no real budget-making or policy-setting power. So USAID is in a Catch-22: with no cabinet-level voice to stand up for it, it cannot really resist its gradual subordination to the State Department. Naturally the people at the State Department see no reason why they shouldn’t absorb USAID—not because they are bad people but because they are invested in diplomacy, not development. That’s as it should be. Yet no one with real credibility to lay on the line will want to take the Administrator job unless that subordination is reversed.

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No Excuse

by on Oct.17, 2009, under Politics

This Washington Post article caused a minor blogospheric stir yesterday:

During his first nine months in office, Obama has won confirmation in the Democratic-controlled Senate for just three of his 23 nominations for federal judgeships, largely because Republicans have used anonymous holds and filibuster threats to slow the proceedings to a crawl.

Some Republicans contend that the White House has hurt itself by its slow pace in sending over nominations for Senate consideration. President George W. Bush sent 95 names to the Senate in the same period that Obama has forwarded 23.

You can’t control what you can’t control. Senate Republicans are gonna do what they’re gonna do. But there’s really no earthly reason for Obama to have sent over only 23 nominations when, as we learn a few paragraphs later, there are currently 90 vacancies in the federal courts.

If it were only the courts I’d be inclined not to worry about it. But this inexplicable delay in nominations affects every part of the Obama administration. For example:

Obama has filled just 15 of the 93 U.S. Attorney posts, with another 12 recommendations awaiting review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and three awaiting confirmation by the Senate.

So a total of 30 nominations for 93 jobs. As far as I know, Obama still hasn’t nominated a USAID administrator since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee complained about the vacancy three or four weeks ago. There’s been no nomination of an Inspector General for EPA.

Yes, Senate Republicans are putting an unprecedented number of holds on every subcabinet post under the sun for obvious ideological reasons. But the hold is a courtesy. If Senate Democrats believe that courtesy is being abused, they have more than enough power to do something about it, they needn’t just whine.

More importantly, it’s still no excuse for not nominating after this much time. The regulatory decisions of federal agencies can make huge differences in people’s lives much faster than new laws. Obama’s already sacrificed nearly a year’s worth of such policymaking for no good reason.

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