By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; A13
A high-level State Department review in the works for more than a year will call for the diplomatic service to give much greater priority to improving the U.S. civilian response to conflict, according to a sneak preview released this month.
The draft summary of the review, presented to congressional staffers, also would give the U.S. Agency for International Development a bigger role in running President Obama's two main foreign aid initiatives - health and agriculture.
The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's answer to the Pentagon's QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review). She has argued that the once-every-four-years process will help the State Department set priorities and justify its budget to Congress.
The year-long debate involving State Department and USAID officials has occurred as the White House has been conducting its own review of U.S. development policy. There has been some tension over whether State or the White House should coordinate the aid effort, according to officials involved in the process.
The final QDDR is expected in mid-December after going through the interagency process.
Development experts had mixed reactions to the version released this month.
Many praised its call for the State Department to embrace conflict prevention and response as a core mission. One sign of that intensified commitment would be the establishment of an undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, according to the summary.
Currently, the State Department has a coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, but that office has been underfunded and often marginalized, according to officials and analysts. The department has struggled to run civilian nation-building and peace-promotion operations to complement military efforts in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
The idea of the new office would be to prevent conflicts and to expand diplomatic efforts beyond foreign ministries to tribal elders and other key figures.
"This is an historically important statement," Oxfam America said in a news release. It applauded the review's call for more training for diplomats on conflict prevention, as well as strengthening programs to develop foreign security forces and judicial institutions.
More than 25 percent of State Department officers and 38 percent at USAID serve in the 30 countries rated highest-risk for conflict and instability, the review notes.
Aid organizations also hailed the review's conclusion that USAID should be in charge of the president's two major international development programs - Feed the Future, which helps small farmers, and the Global Health Initiative, which includes the massive U.S. effort to combat HIV/AIDS.
That would reverse a trend in which major aid programs - such as President George W. Bush's HIV/AIDS effort - were set up outside of USAID. Aid experts say that weakened the agency and further fragmented U.S. development efforts.
The review also called for tripling mid-level hires at USAID.
Aid groups criticized the review for not resolving a long-running debate over whether the State Department or USAID should ultimately be in charge of development. That involves both a battle over turf and a broader question of how closely they should work together.
Clinton has maintained that long-term development is a key part of diplomacy and is elevated by being more closely linked to the State Department.
The review assigns the State Department the lead in political and security conflicts, while putting USAID at the helm "in humanitarian crises caused by large-scale natural disasters" or disease.
"On the one hand, USAID is becoming a stronger, more capable agency. But on the other hand, this murky relationship, especially with regard to crises, between the State Department and USAID, persists and will continue to frustrate U.S. foreign policy efforts," said Norm Unger, of the Foreign Assistance Reform Project at the Brookings Institution.
The report calls for a number of shuffles at State. Energy would get higher priority, with establishment of a Bureau of International Energy Affairs.
A special coordinator would be created for sanctions and illicit finance.
Rumors had swirled over the past year that some offices from USAID would be moved over to State and vice versa. In the end, though, neither lost much.
"A middle ground has been the name of the game with what has come out in the QDDR so far," said one congressional staffer, who was not authorized to comment on the record.