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USAID Director Keeps an Eye on Long-Term Recovery

"When foreign policy is a contact sport, AID is much less popular. It's seen as soft power, which means we're using assistance programs and brains instead of our muscle," said Georgetown University's Chester A. Crocker, an assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Reagan administration.

Yet Natsios has the political clout and experience to make the case, say former USAID officials and humanitarian groups.

In Profile

Andrew S. Natsios

Title: Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Georgetown University; master's degree in public administration, Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Age: 55.

Family: Married; three children.

Career highlights: Special humanitarian coordinator for Sudan; assistant administrator, Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance, 1991 to January 1993; director, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, 1989 to 1991; chief executive, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority; secretary for administration and finance, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; vice president, World Vision U.S.; member, Massachusetts House, 1975 to 1987; chairman, Massachusetts Republican State Committee.

Pastimes: Fishing, writing, and cooking Italian and Greek cuisine.

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A no-nonsense Republican who campaigned for George H.W. Bush during his unsuccessful 1980 bid for the presidency, Natsios was in the Massachusetts legislature from 1975 to 1987 and chairman of the state GOP. When Bush was elected in 1988, Natsios was appointed to the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and later to USAID's Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance.

After Bush's reelection defeat, Natsios joined World Vision, a Christian nonprofit organization. Natsios has long been a close colleague and friend of White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., another former Massachusetts legislator. Card was best man at Natsios's wedding.

"Andrew Natsios personifies a compassionate conservative . . .," Card said in a written statement. "He's an expert at mitigating the challenges of humanitarian crises while at the same time being frugal with the taxpayers' dollars."

Natsios has a long record of taking strong stands -- even when controversial. At World Vision, he argued vehemently for food aid to ease the impact of the famine in North Korea, where an estimated 10 percent of the population faced starvation -- a position not popular among conservatives. He often talked about being "obsessed" with famine, an issue with which he identifies personally. A great-uncle starved to death in Greece in the 1940s when food aid did not reach him.

Just weeks after he took the top USAID office in 2001, however, AIDS advocates called for Natsios's dismissal when he suggested that African HIV and AIDS patients could not be relied on to take a cocktail of medicines two or three times a day because of their inability to adhere precisely to treatment times.

In some African regions, "people do not know what watches or clocks are," he said in congressional testimony. "They use the sun. These drugs have to be administered in certain sequences, at certain times during the day. You say, take it at 10 o'clock, they say, 'What do you mean, 10 o'clock?' "

Natsios weathered the storm and, reflecting administration policy, has given priority to funding for programs to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS over treatment programs, citing complications from local conflicts, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to doctors or health care.

Natsios was an Army reservist for 23 years, including duty in Kuwait during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and is passionate about the dynamics of the crises he deals with. He waxes eloquently on the tragedy in Sudan's Darfur region, where more than 1 million have been displaced by the Janjaweed militiamen, and makes no bones about his anger over Sudanese officials who have failed to fulfill a commitment to rein them in.

Natsios is now trying to give greater emphasis to programs fostering democracy and good governance. "If you don't have good governance that generates the rule of law and controls corruption and gives people a voice and accountability -- ideally democracy -- then it's very hard to get development," said Stanford University's Larry Diamond, who worked on a report about reorienting U.S. aid around democracy issues. "He understands the relationship between development and democracy."

The hard part for Natsios is yet to come, warns J. Brian Atwood, director of USAID during the Clinton administration and now dean of the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. "The worst challenge of all is knowing that suffering continues after it's no longer on the front page and having to find ways to ensure people aren't still living in tents and donors are still generous with their resources. People will be suffering for many, many months. And typically we don't have an attention span that lasts as long as a crisis does."

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