Plan International USA congratulates Ambassador Samantha Power on her confirmation as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Highly qualified to lead USAID, Power was approved by the Senate today with strong bipartisan support, after receiving the unanimous endorsement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.
Plan applauds her vision for the future of USAID and concurs with President Biden’s assessment that as Administrator she “will be a powerful force for lifting up the vulnerable, ushering in a new era of human progress and development.”
In her confirmation hearing on March 23, Power said, “I’ve seen that the most effective development is driven by those on the ground with local knowledge and expertise. And I’ve seen the power of individual dignity as a driver of world events.”
Plan shares that vision of development, as well as Power’s vision of USAID tackling major global topics like COVID-19, climate change and humanitarian crises, including the desperate conditions forcing people to migrate from Central America. Overall, Plan is optimistic about USAID’s future under her leadership.
“Ambassador Power’s experience and expertise are what the job calls for, especially now,” Plan International USA President & CEO Dr. Tessie San Martin said. “Her stature will help restore USAID’s role as a leader in international development and integrate development as an essential piece of U.S. foreign assistance.”
Power served in the Obama White House for eight years. She was part of the National Security Council as a special assistant to the president from 2009-13 and was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013-17. With this substantial history of White House-level policymaking, she will be one of the most high-profile USAID Administrators in recent memory.
This can already be seen in President Biden’s decision that, as USAID Administrator, Power will have a permanent seat on the National Security Council, elevating the critical role that development and humanitarian work play in achieving U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives. Such a move has long been advocated for by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network that Plan co-chairs.
In addition, Power will lead an agency that has been strengthened by years of bipartisan aid effectiveness reforms, with a recent reorganization that was widely supported by USAID’s career staff and the development community. USAID has also increased its use of evidence for program effectiveness and improved its procurement and program design processes through co-creation. Co-creation has allowed USAID to benefit more from local knowledge, analyzing development problems with more insight and designing interventions better suited to lasting impact.
At the same time, however, Power inherits a USAID that Congress does not always perceive as the lead U.S. development agency. Congress channels billions in U.S. foreign assistance funding to competing U.S. government and multilateral development initiatives. Congress has not endorsed the reunification of USAID’s policy and budget functions. Instead, it heavily restricts USAID’s budget prerogatives, with earmarks amounting to well over 100% of its budget, thus leaving few strategic decisions in the hands of the Administrator or USAID’s mission directors. Therefore, a key challenge for Power will be to convince the new chairs of the congressional subcommittees that approve the foreign aid budget to treat USAID as the lead development agency in the U.S., with the requisite strategic decision-making and budget authority. Already, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Barbara Lee have shown openness to these considerations.
Another challenge Power will face in her new role is returning USAID to its role as an international leader on gender equality. The repeal of the Mexico City Policy is a good start, but even the Department of State’s own study found that four years without funding for family planning and women’s health measures created gaps in coverage and a domino effect for other family and health issues.
Similarly, Power will need to revoke and replace USAID’s 2020 Gender Equality and Female Empowerment strategy, which was released in haste and represents a major regression from USAID’s 2012 strategy of the same name. Plan and our partners in the global gender equality community look forward to working with Power and the gender development experts at USAID to update the strategy in a way that builds on the progress made toward global gender equality since 2012.