By Chris O’Donnell, December 12, 2018

Celebrating Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, I spent the day accompanying a Gold Star family, The Pittman’s from Mendocino County California, whose son Jesse, a Navy Seal was killed in Afghanistan when the Chinook helicopter that carried him and 29 other American troops was shot down. The Pittman’s quietly revealed, “we are heartbroken, but proud he lost it, in fighting for a just cause.” Realizing I worked in US foreign assistance they asked, “what is your cause in Afghanistan?” Without a Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) going on 17 years, I struggled to provide a response, relevant and worthy of Jesse’s sacrifice–tying together the USAID Afghanistan program of 168 activities and $30.0 million obligated in FY18.

Afghanistan is not the only country without a CDCS; USAID has programs in 117 countries, 65  with an expired or missing CDCS, across regions and priority countries. In Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Regional Development Mission for Asia. In Latin America:  Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Mexico and Peru. In the Middle East: Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Syria, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen. In Europe and Eurasia: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine. In Africa, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia.

Of 9 regional missions covering 42 countries, 3 CDCS’ are expired or missing: South Africa Regional Mission, Regional Development Mission for Asia and Regional Mission Fiji. Across 2 US administrations, the number of current CDCS’ has been trending downward: 8 expired in 2016, 9 expired in 2017, 15 expired in 2018, with 15 expiring this year.

The requirement for a mission CDCS is addressed in the 2019 Congressional Budget Justification, Consolidated Appropriations Act 2018 and the Code of Federal Regulations. USAID’s Automated Directive System Chapter 201, Program Cycle Operational Policy, states the CDCS lays the groundwork for subsequent decision-making, from project design to budget negotiations. The CDCS process takes into consideration competing priorities, development challenges in country, US foreign policy priorities and constraints, and helps a mission to choose: the most relevant, focused and effective way of working.

Promoting the principles of aid effectiveness, including partner country ownership—USAID announced in August 2018, to realign and reorient its policies, strategies and program practices to improve how it supports each country on the Journey to Self-Reliance or a country’s ability to plan, finance and implement solutions to address its own development challenges. It further mentions this is good for our partners around the world, our nation’s security, and the American taxpayer.

Advancing a country’s Journey to Self-Reliance, USAID published 113 road maps for low- and middle-income countries as classified by the World Bank, omitting USAID programs in Croatia, Hungary, India and Turkey and including 24 countries with no US foreign assistance funding including: Bolivia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea and Russia. Road maps provide travel options to a destination: the familiar, the scenic or the most direct route –the option Americans expect expending taxpayer dollars.

ADS Chapter 201 further states the CDCS must include an explanation how the strategy will be implemented, details of projects or activities and associated financial and human resource requirements. While a determination of CDCS’ focus & effectiveness can vary, a comparison of  CDCS planned activities and budget versus funds obligated and number of funded activities  offer insight:

  • Somalia CDCS planned 5 activities with an FY18 budget of $177 million and obligated $191 million for 51 activities.
  • Niger CDCS planned 22 activities with an FY18 budget of $1.6 million and obligated $41 million for 60 activities.
  • Indonesia CDCS planned 164 activities with an FY18 budget of $89 million and obligated $31 million for 82 activities.
  • Honduras CDCS planned 52 activities with an FY18 budget of $68 million and obligated $27 million for 61 activities.
  • Georgia CDCS planned 121 activities with an FY18 budget of $34 million and obligated $39 million for 65 activities.

A second aspect of CDCS’ focus and effectiveness, is the geographic and sector roles and responsibilities of bilateral and regional missions. No less than nine country and regional missions have overlapping roles and responsibilities. For example, the Regional Development Mission for Asia CDCS states, it will focus on the Lower Mekong Region—Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam with some activities leveraging Thailand, but recent solicitations request proposals for Asia (48 countries), duplicating Asia region solicitations posted by the India, Indonesia and Nepal missions. The West Africa Regional (WAR) Mission CDCS states Guinea has responsibility for Sierra Leone, but Guinea CDCS does not mention this role. Moreover, the WAR CDCS states Senegal has responsibility for programs in Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania and regional programs in Burkina Faso and Niger, which the Senegal CDCS does not mention. A modest management investment can easily resolve duplication of field roles and reduce confusion of USAID staff and implementing partners.

Earlier this year there was some encouraging signs that would have modestly reversed the downward CDCS trend. At a USAID reform event in June at the Society for International Development, a USAID representative mentioned 6 CDCS’ were under development. However, since that announcement, there have been no new CDCS’ posted and 15 more expired.

The success of US foreign assistance depends on partnerships–shared responsibility and risk–of over 10,000 implementers. A CDCS–relevant, focused and effective—can be the tool USAID uses to communicate its commitment to partnerships and diversifying partners and Americans, like the Pittman’s who want their son remembered and the cause he served.



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