Memo: Next Administration Needs a Government-Wide Development Strategy

Wilson Center scholars advise the next U.S. president to bring the nation's international development efforts into sharper focus

Oct 22, 2008

The next president will face a set of important international challenges, starting with the current global financial crisis. But the administration will also have to address other major problems including U.S. jobs and economic growth, energy supply, climate change, food security, global health threats, institution-building and governance, and global poverty. Development promotion, as part of an integrated strategic plan, is an important part of the solution to these issues.

Wilson Center senior scholar John Sewell and Karin Bencala with the Center's Environmental Change and Security Program have written an open letter, A Memo to the Next President: Promoting American Interests Through Smarter, More Strategic Global Policies, to the presidential candidates that addresses this need. The paper benefited greatly from the discussions with a group of experts and policy scholars with long experience in dealing with the role of development in American foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the current system is dysfunctional, Sewell and Bencala write. Development capacities are spread throughout the executive branch—across 12 government departments, 25 government agencies, and almost 60 government offices—and, in some cases, are in the private sector. No one person or office is charged with priority-setting, planning, budgeting, implementation, or evaluation. To be truly effective, Congress must be deeply involved in policy formulation and priority-setting.

Organizational changes ultimately will be needed, but the first step toward effectively tackling these challenges is to create an overall strategy to meet the country's goals and priorities. The first priority should be the appointment of a high level, respected individual on the President's staff to develop, in consultation with key members of Congress, a government-wide strategy to promote U.S. interests abroad. This person would be charged with developing an overall strategy, implementing it, and monitoring its progress. Organizational design should be driven by the substance of that strategy.

Read the memo (pdf).

The content of the paper is solely the responsibility of the authors. The paper itself, however, does not necessarily reflect the views of every member of the group. It also does not reflect the views of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars or of its Board or Council.

Praise for A Memo to the Next U.S. President:

Aspen Institute's Global Interdependence Initiative/ Chasing the Flame: "There are transition team memos aplenty floating around Washington right now, but few try to synthesize many related agenda items at once. Even fewer do so in four succinct pages, like this one (pdf), by John Sewell and Karin Bencala at the Woodrow Wilson Center. This memo doesn't try to tackle all the organizational challenges inherent in its subject matter -- "Smarter, More Strategic and Integrated Global Policies to Promote American Interests" -- it just gives the president-to-be a little nudge in the right direction, recommending the immediate appointment of a respected coordinator of strategy at the White House and reminding the reader why all of this global issues talk means something, particularly during a time of economic crisis.

Sewell's memo was informed by ongoing discussion among a group of former senior policy makers (see the pdf above for the list) who help round the paper out. Reading through it, I didn't get caught up trying to differentiate between 'hard' and 'soft' foreign policy priorities; they're just priorities. Let's hope the transition team, whoever that may be, gets a chance to read it."

Center for Global Development: "[T]he Woodrow Wilson Center in its just-released Memo to the Next President calls for promoting U.S. interests through smarter, more strategic global policies. Its chief recommendation is the immediate appointment of a high-level individual in the White House to develop, in consultation with key members of Congress, a government-wide strategy to promote U.S. interests abroad. It punts on the question of organization and structure of operations but is an important contribution to the growing consensus for prioritizing global engagement, development and foreign assistance."

Connect U.S. Fund: "The next Administration will be faced with a set of important international challenges, including U.S. jobs and economic growth, energy supply, climate change, food security, global health threats, institution-building and governance, and global poverty. Development promotion, as part of an integrated strategic plan, is an important part of the solution to all these issues. New policies and programs will be needed; the sooner they are put into place, the lower the cost of dealing with them will be in the long run.

Unfortunately, the current system is dysfunctional. Existing development capacities are spread throughout the executive branch and, in some cases, are in the private sector. No one person or office is charged with priority-setting, planning, budgeting, implementation, or evaluation.

The central recommendation of this paper from the Woodrow Wilson Center is the immediate appointment of a high level, respected individual on the President's staff to develop, in consultation with key members of Congress, a government-wide strategy to promote U.S. interests abroad. This person would be charged with developing an overall strategy, implementing it, and monitoring its progress. At some point, organizational questions will need to be addressed, but the first step toward effectively tackling these challenges is to create an overall strategy that sets goals and priorities."

Stimson Center: "This paper, which Dr. Gordon Adams contributed to, highlights the global strategic challenges facing the United States: energy supply, climate change, food security, global health threats, institution-building and governance,and global poverty to name a few. The paper is blunt about is assessment of U.S. capabilities to confront these challenges."

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