The Washington Post

Overseeing USAID’s humanitarian response in war-torn Syria

( Pat Adams/USAID)

The United Nations estimates that 6.5 million people have been displaced from their homes inside Syria, millions more have fled to neighboring countries and some 140,000 have been killed since the violent civil war began in 2011, creating a massive humanitarian crisis.

Alex Mahoney of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a veteran of handling complex emergencies in Sierra Leone, Angola, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, is overseeing a $848 million U.S. humanitarian response to help save Syrian lives and alleviate some of the terrible pain and suffering.

As head of a team with staff in Washington, Turkey and Jordon, Mahoney is working closely with key partners inside Syria, including agencies of the United Nations, international non-governmental groups and local Syrian organizations, to provide assistance to the victims of the brutal civil war.

“The conditions in Syria are extremely bad,” said Mahoney. “We think that the aid is making a life and death difference.”

Mahoney said the U.S. money is being used to provide medical care and supplies, food, blankets, funding for shelter and support for water, and sanitation and hygiene projects to help those affected by the crisis. In addition, he said there are programs to help the most vulnerable, including women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

Who is Alex Mahoney?

POSITION: Syria Response Manager, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development

RESIDENCE: Washington, D.C.

AGE: 47

EDUCATION: George Washington University, B.A., political science; M.A. in International Affairs

AWARDS: Superior Group Award, USAID Humanitarian Response Team, Lebanon, 2008; Superior Group Award, Central Asia Disaster Assistance Response Team, 2003; Meritorious Group Award, Iraq Response Management Team, 2003; and Superior Unit Citation, Kosovo Disaster Response Team, 2000

HOBBIES: Playing the guitar, bike riding and photography

On an average day, Mahoney said he spends time consulting with officials from more than two dozen organizations that are delivering the assistance, assessing its impact and planning for future efforts in the volatile and unpredictable environment.

“The crisis is so large and getting bigger,’ said Mahoney. “It is the most dangerous disaster I have ever worked on.”

Mahoney said the ability to reach people in need in the midst of the civil war is an unending challenge, but added that he believes it is important to maintain an optimistic outlook even in the face of the daunting circumstances.

“The key to that is to always remain focused on finding ways to help,’ he said.

Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), said Mahoney has maintained “a level of calm professionalism” despite the “high visibility of the Syrian aid program and the pressure that comes with such a massive crisis.”

“He is unflappable no matter what is thrown at him,” said Konyndyk. “His leadership is a model for his whole team.”

Mahoney joined USAID in 1997 and has been involved in aid programs across the globe involving war-torn nations and natural disasters.

For example, he has worked on such natural disasters as Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that had a devastating impact in Central America, the flooding in Mozambique in 2000 and the 2009 earthquake in Padang, Indonesia. Mahoney’s first experience as the leader of a USAID response management team came during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 175,000 people. In addition to his work with USAID, Mahoney previously was involved in international disaster responses with the American Red Cross.

Mahoney said he was inspired to work internationally from an early age, having spent his childhood in Iran before the fall of the Shah.

He also said watching a series of horrific crises of the early 1990s unfold, especially in Bosnia and Rwanda, furthered his desire to make a difference in the humanitarian field—and this was solidified by a year-long internship with the U.S. Committee for Refugees following graduate school.

“From as far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to work in international disaster relief and dedicate my life to something meaningful,” said Mahoney. “This work gives me the day-in and day-out satisfaction of knowing that I’m contributing to efforts that are saving lives and alleviating the suffering of others, and for that, I feel privileged.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Go to to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at



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