Ten months into his administration, President Obama has finally chosen a nominee to run the US Agency for International Development. The delay had prompted growing complaints from development specialists that the administration was failing to live up to its pledge to make global health and development a priority and a pillar of its foreign policy.
Obama today nominated Dr. Rajiv Shah, a 36-year-old former official with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Shah is a medical doctor and was confirmed by the Senate earlier this year for his current role as a senior official at the Agriculture Department dealing with food security, so he has already been vetted and should easily win approval for the USAID job.
Shah's nomination also formally puts an end to speculation that Obama would tap Dr. Paul Farmer, the global health pioneer and co-founder of Boston-based Partners in Health. Farmer was said to be a front-runner for the USAID position earlier this year, but his candidacy apparently became bogged down in the Obama Administration's onerous vetting procedures, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to howl publicly about how "ridiculous" the nominating process had become.
During the summer, Capitol Hill staffers said that Farmer was no longer under consideration, either because he had withdrawn from consideration or was ruled out for some reason. Farmer declined public comment all along, and pressed ahead with his many health and development projects in countries including Haiti and Rwanda, in addition to his work at Partners and as chairman of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
In August, former President Bill Clinton, who is the UN special envoy to Haiti, named Farmer his deputy envoy, recognizing Farmer's 25 years of work there building up the nation's health services.
A number of legislators have joined non-governmental organizations in calling on the administration to revitalize its aid strategy, and to give more prominence to development assistance as a core element of foreign policy, along with diplomacy and military muscle.
Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Boston-based Oxfam America, welcomed the appointment of Shah, citing his "solid experience in international agriculture and health."
Offenheiser said Shah will take over "at a crucial moment in history. For many years, USAID has been under-resourced and politically marginalized. But today’s international challenges – from the financial crisis to climate change -- make it more important than ever to rebuild USAID from a compliance agency for NGOs and contractors to what it once was: the world's most prestigious development agency."
“US development efforts have become diffuse and USAID’s development objectives unclear, with the Pentagon and more than 20 other federal agencies increasingly engaged in development activities," Offenheiser said in a statement. "There is a need to reassert the leadership role of USAID in managing US overseas development assistance, and strengthen its ability to deliver concrete results that will enhance USAID’s standing and credibility. Most importantly, there is a need for a national global development strategy to guide the US government's efforts to fight global poverty."
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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