Meeting the Moment: Recap of Ambassador Power’s Confirmation Hearing and Her Vision for USAID

March 23, 2021 By Zach Cohen

Ambassador Samantha Power appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today for her confirmation hearing to be the next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  If confirmed, she would be the first USAID Administrator to serve as a member of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, signaling the Administration’s elevation of global development in its foreign policy agenda.

“The fates of the American people are connected to health infrastructure, economic prosperity, the curbing of extremism and radicalization internationally, and so programming that USAID does…is incredibly important for our security.”

Samantha Power,
Nominee for USAID Administrator
In her testimony, Ambassador Power praised USAID’s work and spoke to her commitment to leveraging the agency’s toolkit to address today’s global challenges, stating “development is critical to America’s ability to tackle the toughest problems of our time – economic, humanitarian and geopolitical.” She emphasized four interconnected challenges that would drive her work at USAID – the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, rising conflict and state fragility, and democratic backsliding – noting that “our development efforts and our diplomatic efforts have to be resourced and prioritized, alongside of course our essential defense efforts.

Ambassador Power stressed that USAID’s work around the world advances American security, arguing that “the fates of the American people are connected to health infrastructure, economic prosperity, the curbing of extremism and radicalization internationally, and so programming that USAID does…is incredibly important for our security.”

Below is a roundup of quotes from Ambassador Power’s testimony on the importance of development and foreign assistance in meeting today’s most pressing challenges and advancing U.S. global leadership:

  • On COVID-19: “Because it will be some time before everyone is vaccinated in the world, and in the developing world, it’s really important not to lose sight of the diagnostic and the treatment support that we can offer…I also think there’s no question that the humanitarian toll, when it comes to severe malnutrition is going to be substantial – and USAID, of course, brings great assets when it comes to meeting humanitarian emergencies and supporting organizations like the World Food Program….To look at the pandemic both as the vaccination challenge, as a treatment challenge – but then not to lose sight of the fact that measles and TB and polio treatments and vaccines, all of those have lagged behind, and nor to lose sight of the need to ensure that this is the last pandemic that does this kind of damage, and to be building again in the infrastructure that these countries need to be able to fend for themselves in the future.”
  • On Multilateral Coordination and Burden Sharing: “I think the United States is at its most powerful, effective and efficient when it leverages the support that it offers international institutions or the resources that it dedicates to combating global challenges, when it leverages that to get others to do more.”
  • On Countering the Influence of the CCP: “I think increasing coordination between the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the DFC, USAID and the range of other development actors is one answer. I think recognizing our comparative advantages – we actually believe in local self-reliance, that is what we are working toward. We want countries not to be dependent on international assistance. So, the investments we make are in their ability to have agency and to dictate their own affairs. This is very different than the China model.”
  • On Democracy and Human Rights: “There is a contest in this world occurring now between two models, a democratic model and an authoritarian model. The trends were not pretty before COVID struck, and as you know, they are getting worse in terms of human rights recessions, even in established democracies around the world. I think that there would be no question to any of the wonderful USAID staff as to the level of priority that I give democracy and human rights, my whole career has been in that field.”
  • On the Northern Triangle: “When it comes to a place like the Northern Triangle…it’s critical to look at the different drivers of migration, which range from physical personal insecurity and gang violence and corruption, to the lack of economic opportunity, and USAID again I think has a really important role to play in mitigating humanitarian suffering, but also looking upstream at why people are leaving their homes in the first place.”

Bipartisan Support for Global Development

During the hearing, Republican and Democratic Senators expressed their strong support for America’s civilian tools and the role of USAID in meeting global challenges and supporting our partners overseas – reflecting a bipartisan consensus on the importance of elevating development and diplomacy to address global challenges in reports from think tanks across the political spectrum in USGLC’s 2021 Report on Reports: A Roadmap for U.S. Global Leadership.
  • Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ): “In his inaugural address President Biden said that we will lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. The work that dedicated professionals of USAID do exemplifies that example, supporting people around the world to advance democratic and citizen responsive governance, to help ensure fair treatment and access to opportunity for vulnerable minorities, and provide lifesaving relief on behalf of the American people.”
  • Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID): “In order to accomplish the goals of our nation, we need a development agency that reflects the challenges of the 21st century and is staffed and resourced to be strategic, efficient, effective and accountable.”
  • Senator Chris Coons (D-DE): “I also think it’s critical we continue to explain to the average American, how the work of USAID overseas helps keep us safer and more healthy and more prosperous – and tragically COVID-19 is an opportunity for us to remind folks exactly how vaccinating the rest of the world is critical to preventing new variants from breaking out in from harming all of us.”
  • Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN): “As you know, to the extent that women flourish in a nation, their economies flourish, their democracies flourish, and we tend to see more stability.”


Challenges for the Future

If confirmed, Ambassador Power will arrive at the agency at a particularly challenging moment. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has set back decades of progress in tackling hunger and poverty, and forced displacement around the world is at its highest level since World War II. And that’s not to mention the many other priorities that Senators discussed during the hearing – from bolstering anti-corruption efforts, to addressing humanitarian crises in Yemen and Ethiopia, to supporting innovative technologies to help countries prepare for natural disasters. In the face of these challenges, Ambassador Power committed to working with Congress to make our foreign assistance as effective and accountable as possible, “as together we chart a course that meets the needs of the current moment.”

You can find more information about Ambassador Power’s positions, as well as other administration nominees and appointees on these issues in USGLC’s Global Plum Book.