Former USAID Admin: Regulations are Problematic

August 18, 2010 By Hannah Kaye

 width=Are regulations and efficiency measurements ever counterproductive? According to former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, the answer is an emphatic yes. In the world of international development, misguided attempts at oversight are “now so intrusive that they have distorted, misdirected, and disfigured USAID’s development practice to such a degree that it is compromising U.S. national security objectives and challenging established principles of good development practice.”

Natsios certainly does not suggest that measuring program success or striving for effective use of resources is a waste of time. A critical piece of his argument, in fact, is the need for better monitoring and evaluation of development programs. In the current bureaucratic system, programs are judged by the criteria easiest to measure- not necessarily the criteria that will accurately reflect the success of a program. Particularly for development, which is inherently a long-term, capacity-building endeavor, metrics that judge short-term outputs directly contradict principles of lasting, impactful development.

Institution building takes time, can be difficult to measure, and depends on the engagement of people and organizations in a host country, all characteristics that oppose the type of program management imposed on USAID. Democracy and good governance, for example, are widely held in development theory to be the most important factor in development though they receive small fractions of the International Affairs Budget. A comprehensive study on USAID spending in this area showed that over twenty years USAID programs had a significant positive impact on democracy. The study also noted that these programs often take several years to “mature” and that the results often appear after the program and funding have ended. Measuring those results in the short term, and during program implementation, therefore, will not reflect the success of the program and will instead incentivize short-term, ineffective interventions that look good on paper.

Natsios provides an overview of the bureaucratic history and personalities that have contributed to the system, and offers a systematic breakdown of the issues inhibiting USAID’s ability to carry out its mission. If USAID is not able to function properly, he warns, the United States will not be able to achieve its foreign policy and national security goals, particularly in places where conflict threatens U.S. interests.

Photo Credit: luxomedia