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Opinion: USAID needs full leadership team now

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

USAID cannot be the premier development agency everyone envisions without appointed and confirmed leaders at the helm of its regional and functional bureaus. Nor can it elevate development across the U.S. government — as Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have called for — without a full cadre of assistant administrators to inform major development policy reviews taking place right now and congressional efforts to rewrite foreign assistance legislation.

Efforts to define the U.S. strategy for effectively spending $7.5 billion in development assistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also missing input and insight from confirmed (and politically empowered) USAID leaders.

And other important decisions like whether USAID will lead the Feed the Future initiative that aims to reduce global hunger and spur agricultural investments may very well depend on whether Shah has staff in place throughout the rest of the agency in order to take on a major new administration priority.

Who’s to blame? Is Shah’s attention on the response to the Haiti earthquake and other interagency efforts? Are good candidates worried about USAID’s future and turning jobs down? Is the state department delaying or impeding the process? Is the White House vetting process impossible?

It is likely a combination of all of these, but whatever the reason, it calls into question the priority the Obama administration places on development.

Will Shah have a full management team in place by the end of the year? It’s doubtful. According to the current congressional calendar, which is subject to change, there are fewer than 20 working days left before the November elections. Even if the administration announced all nine remaining positions immediately — and they should — there is a very slim chance USAID would have its team in place before November or even by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, today’s global challenges won’t wait for Washington.

Sarah Jane Staats is the Director of Policy Outreach at the Center for Global Development