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Capacity for Change: Reforming U.S. Assistance Efforts in Poor and Fragile Countries

Authors: Noam Unger, The Brookings Institution, and Margaret L. Taylor, International Affairs Fellow, 2009-2010
Contributor: Frederick Barton, Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 7, 2010
Center for Strategic and International Studies


From the Executive Summary

The U.S. government is in the midst of a serious review of how to engage more effectively with developing countries. A significant part of this reflection entails debates about how best to reform foreign aid, and there is a stunningly broad consensus that improvement is needed across the board. New legislation has recently been introduced in the U.S. Congress. The White House, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other federal agencies are fully involved in this issue through Presidential Study Directive-7 on U.S. global development policy (PSD 7) and the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). The presidential study is poised to look at the full range of U.S. agencies and policy tools that affect development, including trade and international finance along with multilateral and bilateral aid. Meanwhile, the QDDR seeks to assess the capacities and requirements of the Department of State and USAID to confront a new generation of global challenges. Finally, with respect to key questions about foreign assistance and the elevation of development as a strong pillar of U.S. foreign policy, new presidential decisions and policies are expected from the Barack Obama administration in the spring of 2010.

As both a backdrop and an impetus for this high degree of attention to U.S. efforts in poor and fragile countries, in recent years the U.S. military has expanded its responsibilities in countries and regions plagued by poverty and instability. National security leaders-including the president, the secretaries of state and defense, and the head of USAID-have emphasized the need for strengthened civilian capacity to address the challenges of poor and fragile nations. This report is offered in light of this moment of potential reform.

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