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Opinion: USAID needs full leadership team now

USAID administrator Raj Shah can’t captain his ship without a crew.

Michelle Obama at USAID event
US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during a visit to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on May 5, 2010. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — More than a year-and-a-half after United States President Barack Obama was sworn into office, 12 management jobs at the U.S. Agency for International Development still require Senate confirmation.

To date, only one official — USAID Administrator Raj Shah — has been confirmed. While Shah has skilled and capable leaders in his front office and throughout the agency, several of whom have been doing yeoman’s work in acting positions, it is unconscionable that all remaining management seats remain unfilled 18 months into this administration. Shah cannot captain the USAID ship without a crew.

Obama’s campaign raised expectations that global development would be a national priority but it took a full 12 months before Shah was confirmed as head of the lead U.S. development agency.

How does this compare with past administrations? George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter all got their first USAID administrator out of the starting gate faster than Obama.

It has been eight months since Shah’s swearing in and an unprecedented number of management staff have been confirmed: zero. Just two nominees have had confirmation hearings and if they are confirmed this week, USAID might have new assistant administrators for Latin America and Asia before the Senate recess begins on Aug. 6.

That still leaves nine nominations, nine hearings and nine more confirmation votes before USAID will have a full management team in place.

Again, Shah’s front office has attracted high-level new hires that are working on restoring important USAID budget and policy capacities. But all the assistant administrators for the regional bureaus and functional areas like global health and management are missing in action. Even the acting assistant administrators have, in many cases, had to move on to new posts, having exceeded the allowable time in acting positions.