Roundtable Interview With USAID Administrator Mark Green
MS NAUERT: Welcome, everybody. So this is going to be on the record. It’s a pleasure to introduce you to our new USAID administrator. We are in business, bringing plenty of people in onto the job and we’re thrilled to have him here. Many of you know him from his time as ambassador to Tanzania and his work with the International Republican Institute, and this is your, what, second week on the job, third week on the --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Second week.
MS NAUERT: Second.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And I checked, the badge still works, thank you. (Laughter.) That’s the litmus test. If the badge keeps working, it’s good.
MS NAUERT: We have a little time for Q&A and then we’ll wrap it up. And we’d just ask no tweeting or anything right now. We’ll just keep this embargoed until the end, please.
Sir, go right ahead.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Oh, and he’s a Wisconsin Badger.
QUESTION: And so am I.
QUESTION: I see the Packers shirt.
QUESTION: Yes, so am I.
QUESTION: I’m from there too.
QUESTION: I’m a Badger also. (Laughter.)
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: There we go. We’re slowly taking over. We try to keep it quiet. We don’t want anybody to catch on. And I know Paul Gigot, another Badger. In fact, he went – he’s a Squire, actually. He went to my high school.
QUESTION: Did you grow up in Wisconsin?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I did grow up in Wisconsin. I was actually – I was – so I have a South African father and an English mother, and how they ended up in Green Bay, I just – (laughter) --
QUESTION: Yeah, I was going to say --
QUESTION: Inquiring minds want to know.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: -- makes no sense whatsoever, makes no sense whatsoever. But yeah, I did grow up in Green Bay.
So, yeah, and it’s great to see all of you. I look forward to working with all of you. I plan to be as available as I can. I want to talk about the good things that we’re doing and hopefully we’ll be doing lots of those good things.
But basically, my philosophy and my approach at USAID is precisely what I’ve talked about before and is in my statement that I submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I believe philosophically the purpose of foreign assistance is to end the need for its existence. I believe in hand-up development. So the American taxpayers are extraordinarily generous people and we aim to mobilize compassion around the world. But I think the most important thing is to be truly compassionate, and that’s doing what we can to help our partners, allies, and friends to lead themselves, and so we look to build the capacity of our partners – host country partners, but also civil society and all those attributes that we all know are crucial for countries to rise. And that’s what we want to work on.
And so what that means is, over the long run, I’m asking the team at USAID to look at every program we’ve got, every investment we make, and measure ourselves by how we move a country closer to that day when they can take over these programs for themselves. There are places where that day is a long way off, but there are other places where it’s much closer. In any case, we want to work closely with our partners to get there.
In the area of humanitarian assistance, we will continue to stand with people when disaster strikes or a crisis emerges, but we’ll also ask others to do their part, and we’ll also look at ways, where we can, to help build the resilience of our host country partners so that they are better able to withstand future crises and future disasters.
So what that actually means in terms of putting things into practice: Right now, we’re taking a close look at how we have humanitarian assistance structured or housed at USAID. I want to sharpen that focus. I’ve been struck by how much of our energy and our resources these days are devoted to the crises that you all know about in the world. It’s truly extraordinary, the level of need that’s out there. We see real food insecurity in South Sudan, in Somalia, in northern Nigeria, in Yemen. Ethiopia’s facing drought again, and that’s creating tremendous humanitarian hardship and challenge.
Secondly, I want to look at the way that we distribute our funds, how we do procurement, to make sure that we are fostering competition and innovation among those who we partner with. We want their best ideas. We want their best proposals. So much of our assistance is really carried out through our partners, and so I think it’s important to look at that part of our operation.
Also, I want to ask our missions around the world to be looking at their host countries and trying to measure the capacity. If we’re trying to help build the capacity of countries to be able to lead themselves, I think it’s important that we measure how our investments are moving in that direction, and also the challenges that those countries face. In some cases, they’re policy challenges, and so we should be looking for ways to incentivize reform. And we recognize oftentimes that the barriers to growth in a country are policy barriers – how they treat intellectual properties, for example. So we want to take a look at those issues.
And also in the area of private sector engagement, I want to look for alignment of interest and shared interest with the private sector. One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in my lifetime has been how – the nature of the U.S. relationship with the developing world. So when USAID was created more than five decades ago, something like 80 percent of the funds that flowed from the U.S. to the developing world were ODA, official development assistance, and that’s now below 10 percent. So these days, so much of the relationship is based upon commerce. We’ve also got large-scale philanthropy entities like the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation; also, remittances. And so I want to make sure that we are aligned with those capital flows. Are there ways of tapping into private sector supply chains to be able to distribute, for example, medicines more effectively and get them out to where they need to be? And so it’s a – it’s a model in which we’re trying to tap into to the strength and vitality of the private sector – a partnership, but perhaps a new partnership model.
And I guess I’ll just close with this: I’ve been on the job something like seven days, so I have all the answers, of course. It’s been truly rewarding in these first days, as I’ve gotten to know more and more of my team, how dedicated these individuals are to the cause of lifting lives and building communities around the world. These are great, great people who have truly dedicated themselves to a noble calling. And so being able to help lead them is a remarkable honor, and I’m – so far I’m enjoying it very, very much. Come ask me in a few months, but right now I’m enjoying it very much.
So anyway, again, thanks to all of you for coming out. I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this for us. I have a question about Syria aid. I think under the last administration there was just so much money spent on – because there was like an effort to kind of show that you were spending money, that they created so many programs that weren’t really being implemented. It was just like they were throwing money at a ghost, if you will. Like, I’m not saying that there wasn’t some good work done, but I feel that there was this real perception by people in the humanitarian community and the Syrian community in particular that there was just money being kind of thrown at the wall and see what – to see what sticks. And I’m wondering if you’re going to take a close look at all that was done. I mean, there were like – a lot of, like, Gaziantep was built up, but I’m not sure how much that really helped.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, I can’t tell you I’m terribly knowledgeable on Syria. What I can tell you is that we’re going to examine every investment that’s made, every allocation that goes out, look at them carefully and sober-mindedly. Part of what I’m trying to do, and you can tell from my opening remarks, is I want to measure our investments by how they help countries grow and build their own capacity. It’s simple to measure inputs. I don’t think that’s terribly effective.
QUESTION: Yeah, I think there was a lot of inputs.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It isn’t how much money you’re – and it’s a natural thing. That’s how appropriations are measured. You measure by the money that goes in. And certainly, that’s a useful measure in a number of ways. I’m interested in trying to measure how we help a country progress. Are they one day closer to the time when they can lead themselves?
Now, humanitarian assistance is something a little bit different. Humanitarian assistance – again, a disaster strikes, a crisis emerges; first and foremost, we’ve got to mobilize. We have to mobilize and respond to alleviate human suffering and to make sure that we’re able to mobilize interventions to prevent further suffering. But we should also be looking, where appropriate, at fostering resilience. And again, that’s very, very difficult.
As I mentioned, I’m struck by how much of our time, attention, our thinking energy is now devoted to crisis right now. It really is extraordinary. The number of famines that are going on, it’s a remarkable, remarkable thing. But on top of that, how much of these humanitarian crises are manmade and they are in conflict or near conflict zones, which, as you can imagine, creates enormous logistical challenges and security challenges for our team and their partners.
It’s easy to measure inputs, but I’m far more interested in what we’re doing to try to move things along. I see – I look at development as a journey and a progression.
QUESTION: Can I ask, given the fact that a lot or most of the – virtually 100 percent of the scientific community believes that a lot if not all of the food and security and the non-conflict-related famines and disasters that you’ve talked about are either caused by or exacerbated by climate change. Do you accept that? What’s your – what’s your personal view --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Sure.
QUESTION: -- on this, and how do you see AID going forward on – because if you’re going to end the necessity for aid, you’re going to have to address that, or at least that’s what the overwhelming majority of people believe. And this administration has placed an – a low, if not no, priority on climate change. So where do you see USAID going forward?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I look at the task that we’re facing, and I look at my job through a development lens. And so what we will do is help countries take on the challenges that they identify. And where countries are identifying as their challenges to growth and capacity growth as being mitigating the impact of what they’re seeing on a changing climate, we’ll continue to work on those.
So, for example, in Indonesia I know – this was before my time, but in Indonesia I know that we’ve been working with the government there to tackle problems of landslides that are coming out of the heavy torrential rains. That’s something that we have been working on and will continue to work on.
So I look at all of these challenges through a development lens. I believe that’s what I am called upon to do. And where it is conservation, environmental remediation – whatever it may be – we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Right. But do you believe that a lot of this stuff is caused by or exacerbated by climate change --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, I --
QUESTION: -- and that that needs to be addressed if you’re going to have a long-term solution?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, again, we work with our partners on what they identify as their --
QUESTION: I’m – I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, that’s – that is the answer.
QUESTION: -- what’s your – what’s your view?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, that’s my view.
QUESTION: Do you rely on their experts --
QUESTION: Your – your view --
QUESTION: -- and not your own – not your own experts? You want their experts to identify climate change as an issue?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: No, no, no, no, no.
QUESTION: And you’re not going to actually tell them that climate change is an issue?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Just – just – what I’m saying is that the job of a development agency is to work to help countries grow and progress. We help them with the challenges that they identify, where those challenges that are identified. I mean, that’s how we do development work.
QUESTION: So you don’t identify challenges?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Excuse me?
QUESTION: You don’t identify challenges? You don’t --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: We work with them. We work with them. So we work with our partners around the world to help them rise. That’s what we do. That’s how the U.S. --
QUESTION: Most of those countries, though, it’s an existential issue for them, you would think.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Then we’ll work with them on it. Yeah.
QUESTION: But you’re not actually going to inform them that climate change is an issue for them?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: At USAID? Is that what you’re asking if the administrator is going to do?
QUESTION: You’re not going to have experts at USAID who will identify climate change --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Our experts will work with them to respond to the changing conditions that they see and the problems that are identified to help countries rise. We work closely with our partners to identify barriers to growth – they’re wide-ranging – and where they are the result of changing climate, we will continue to work with them on that.
QUESTION: Do you personally believe that these problems – some of these problems – a lot of them are caused by or exacerbated by climate change?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I believe the climate is changing and I believe it leads to impacts. We’ve seen it in the case of food security challenges. Feed the Future works with them on that.
QUESTION: Yeah. We’re talking about countries, like Elise mentioned, that face an – like the Maldives, right, which are --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: But again --
QUESTION: -- like an inch above sea level right now.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: -- what I’m telling you is what our tools – we feel --
QUESTION: Do you believe that – do you believe that rising sea levels are caused by climate change?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: What I’m telling you is that at USAID, we have tools to help countries to deal with the impacts that are identified from changing climate and changing conditions. That’s what we do.
QUESTION: Why do you think the climate’s changing?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I think there are a variety of reasons for it, but I think certainly man-made activities are making environmental conditions worse. And again, we certainly, as an agency now, work with governments and NGOs and civil society to take those challenges on.
QUESTION: Do you think --
MS NAUERT: Excuse me, one second, guys. Let me remind you that USAID is not a climate or an environment agency and --
QUESTION: No, we know that.
MS NAUERT: And let’s – let me also just remind you – I mean, you’re welcome to certainly ask whatever questions you would like, but we have our unwritten rules of sort of decorum and being polite and --
QUESTION: We are being polite.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Okay. I just --
QUESTION: But this is crucial to (inaudible).
MS NAUERT: Of course it is. I’m not saying it is not.
QUESTION: Okay. Sure.
QUESTION: It is.
MS NAUERT: It is. Let’s just take the temperature down a little bit. Okay.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: But I’m --
QUESTION: That’s the whole idea. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Could I ask you about resilience?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Excuse me? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear it.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.
QUESTION: You said a number of times that you feel it’s important to sort of work on resilience so that countries can deal with these crises better. That involves a lot of investment and aid and development work. And that seems sort of philosophically counter to the stance that we’ve heard from other officials in this administration. It requires bigtime investment on the part of the U.S. and other international partners to make sure that agriculture programs respond appropriately. And any – are there any numbers that – any number of ways you can approach resilience, but it is an investment.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It is. Yes.
QUESTION: So do you actually think that that’s something that this administration is going to give you the resources to pursue more?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, my views that I have laid out for you in terms of priorities are – I discussed them with the Secretary before I was nominated, I discussed them with the then President-elect Trump, and they’re certainly very comfortable. And I have received nothing but support for my approach.
QUESTION: Sir, could I switch gears a little bit? Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted overwhelmingly for the Taylor Force bill, which you know if it becomes law, it will withhold aid to the Palestinians. How will that impact your aid to the Palestinians and to the Palestinian Authority?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I can’t tell you right now. Obviously, it has not yet gone into force, but I’d be happy to give you more information and follow up with you. I’m afraid I can’t (inaudible).
QUESTION: Are you hearing from countries? In your first seven days in office, how much are you hearing from other countries concerned that U.S. aid to those countries is going to disappear or be seriously diminished?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, in my first seven days I haven’t heard quite that. What I have heard is I’ve heard from representatives of other aid agencies and other governments talking about the importance of USAID to them in partnership and addressing development challenges and humanitarian challenges. So – I mean, I think we all recognize the role is an important one. So at this point, that’s primarily what I’ve heard. Now, I haven’t yet gone to UNGA or any of the forums yet, but --
QUESTION: Will you be going? You’ll be going up there?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Tentatively planning. Again, my – I’m learning that my calendar is not my own. It keeps changing.
QUESTION: How much do you get involved – or do you have a deputy that does more about the budgets and stuff? And in just kind of the way the contract – like, over the years there’s been like a lot of issues with the contracting and waste, abuse, and fraud, and that programs aren’t – haven’t traditionally – I mean, we know – all know the mandate of USAID, but that the programs haven’t been traditionally geared towards that. It’s all about kind of cottage industries of contracts and – and building big programs without – more about inputs, as you said.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Right, right. Well, it’s something, as I mentioned, I plan to look at. Again, I want to make sure that we have a procurement system that fosters innovation and competition, that makes it easy for partners to put forward their best ideas and receive consideration. And so we’re looking at how we best do that. The procurement world is a complicated one, but we’re taking a look at it to make sure that it does foster innovation.
QUESTION: Part of the Secretary’s review of the building includes looking at mission statements. The USAID’s mission statement now includes promoting the development of resilient democratic societies. There’s been chatter about the word “democratic” being removed in some instances. What do you see as USAID’s role in promoting democracy? You’ve talked a lot about resilience, but I don’t think you’ve said the word “democratic societies.”
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So I’ll remove “resilience.” I usually talk about resilience more in a humanitarian setting, but when you take a look at what makes investment sustainable and what helps the country – helps countries rise, citizen-responsive government is part of that, is a key part of that. My immediate past job was in the democracy sector, so it’s pretty clear how I feel about the importance of democracy and citizen-responsive government, and so I think it’s a key part of long-term development. It’s crucial that countries and leaders are responsive to their citizens, that citizens – their needs – are at the center of their policies. And so, yeah, I think it’s important – certainly an important part of our work.
QUESTION: Would you want to see that language --
MS NAUERT: Guys, we got to get going.
QUESTION: -- stay in the mission statement?
MS NAUERT: Last question, last question.
QUESTION: Can I ask – can I ask --
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Would you want to see that language stay in USAID’s mission statement?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Oh, it’s – to be honest, it’s a moving target. I really can’t tell you what the latest version of the mission statement is because I know it’s something being discussed.
MS NAUERT: And Felicia, you know that that’s in draft.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Yeah.
MS NAUERT: That’s in --
QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up --
MS NAUERT: I know you’ve been away for a couple weeks, but --
QUESTION: I know.
QUESTION: -- on the budget, two – just two quick questions. One is how likely you think it is that the budget as proposed by the OMB and the cuts that it prescribes will go through, and then the second – this issue of Charlottesville is so in the news. Has the President’s comments – did his comments yesterday – have they led you to reconsider whether you should be in this administration?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: To be honest, I have not – I honestly haven’t paid much – I haven’t seen much – I’ve been focused – again, certainly, it’s very clear what my views are with respect to the importance of diversity and civil rights and democracy, and at USAID, as we just talked about, those are important principles that we’ll continue to put in play.
QUESTION: And on the budget?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: On the budget --
QUESTION: Do you think it’s likely those will – those cuts will be enacted?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I can’t – I’m not a prognosticator, so I can’t tell you. What I can tell you is that we’re doing our best to make clear what we see in terms of challenges and needs.
QUESTION: Is that a viable budget for you?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: To be honest, I have not seen all the numbers. I look at it as a directive to make sure (a) we’re as efficient and as effective as we can possibly be and also (b) that we are clear-eyed and communicating well about some of the challenges that we see. Again, I think it’s clear that there are lots of challenges.
MS NAUERT: Got to go, guys.
QUESTION: Thanks very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.