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Insight into the USAID and Government Procurement


Insight into the USAID and Government Procurement

Steven Koltai shares an article that explores the reasoning behind President Biden’s nominee for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) administrator.

When a new president taps a former U.N. ambassador, National Security Council member, and Pulitzer Prize winner to lead a battered, uncelebrated agency, something big is expected. With all due respect to her 18 predecessors, Samantha Power, President Biden’s nominee for USAID administrator, is by far the most high-profile executive to ever head America’s international development agency. 

What is going on? Biden has elevated the USAID position to the NSC, and his transition team says Power will “work with our partners to confront the biggest challenges of our time—including COVID-19, climate change, global poverty, and democratic backsliding.” That is an exciting mandate for an agency historically third fiddle to the Defense and State Departments. The problem is, under USAID’s current operating procedures, the prognosis for success is bleak. Biden needs Power to fix how the agency works, both to improve aid and to set an example for effective government.

I recently likened USAID to a rubber screwdriver. It is a tool that, despite earnest twisting by well-meaning people, too often can’t do the job. The blame, I believe, lies largely in the agency’s reliance on external contractors to execute its important work—or, rather, reliance on a procurement system so cumbersome that each year most of the agency’s roughly $20 billion budget flows to just a few “Beltway Bandits” who, by virtue of employing thousands of procurement specialists and project managers (and lawyers), are very good at winning contracts (and contesting them when they lose) but not nearly so good at actually doing the work.


Key points include:

  • The United States’ reputation for competence
  • Reentering all the deals and international organizations
  • USAID’s pandemic response

Read the full article, Small Enough to Change, Big Enough to Matter, on LinkedIn.