Why the US “whole of government” approach to development is a black hole

UPDATE by Bill: unconscious experiment on Twitter of sexiness vs wonkiness, see end of post. Aid Watch has frequently panned the administration’s declared strategy of “elevating development” to be “on par” with diplomacy and defense. For one, this rhetoric obscures the actual—and continuing--disparity in magnitude, power and influence between the so-called “3Ds.” For another, it implies that the objectives of each “D” tend to be aligned.

Todd Moss, at the Center for Global Development, writes that the administration’s speechifying on this subject is increasingly “ringing embarrassingly hollow,” as USAID doesn’t control its own budget, and the State Department is effectively running both US aid efforts in Haiti and the president’s new food security initiative.

But rather than attributing USAID’s weakness to the usual turf wars and inter-agency power grabs, Moss suggests another explanation:

What if the real problem is that the much-vaunted “whole-of-government” approach is fundamentally unworkable in the United States?

The idea behind whole-of-government seems sensible enough: lots of federal agencies have skills and resources and experience that can be brought to bear on complex problems. If we can get everyone in the same room and all in the same boat, then the USG effort can be greater than just lots of agencies all running around doing their own thing, right? This seems especially attractive in development policy, where the United States may be involved in helping foreign countries improve health, education, agriculture, transportation, democracy, security, financial regulation, and loads more. If we want to help entrepreneurs in Liberia, why not bring in USAID, the Treasury, the Commerce Department, the US Trade Representative, and the Small Business Administration? If we’re fighting HIV/AIDS in Uganda, let’s use the expertise of HHS, CDC, NIH, and the FDA, right? We’ve now got at least 26 agencies involved in foreign aid of one kind or another. But the room is starting to look a bit crowded now....

But in the United States—with its sprawling federal structure and huge agency staffs and budget—just getting everyone around one table is perhaps too much to ask. The interagency process in any country is a strain…[T]he process can become convoluted and bogged down when the scale is out of whack. Simply put: when you have too many people at the table, nothing gets done.

Read the whole post here.

UPDATE: 11:30 am Bill unconsciously ran an experiment on Twitter: (1) he posted a link to this blog on Twitter, and (2) he asked Twitter what was happening on Facebook such that he started receiving a bunch of messages from uncl*d l*dies saying "Hello :)" At this point the responses to (2) are outnumbering those to (1) by a 3:1 ratio. Please comment.