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When President Barack Obama launched a new U.S. global development policy last year to world leaders assembled at the United Nations, he said, “Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business.” He also stated that supporting development cannot be the work of governments alone, noting that “foundations, the private sector and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are making historic commitments that have redefined what’s possible.” This is well supported by the fact that the vast majority of resource flows from the United States to developing countries now come directly from private individuals, organizations and companies rather than from the U.S. government.
Having recognized this dramatic shift, and in an effort to nurture greater policy coherence across the broad range of U.S. government agencies and instruments now engaged in promoting global development in various ways, in September 2010 the White House issued a presidential policy directive on global development announcing that it was creating the U.S. Global Development Council. The directive stipulated that this council would be “comprised of leading members of the philanthropic sector, private sector, academia, and civil society, to provide high-level input relevant to the work of United States Government agencies.” However, no further details about the council were provided when the directive was released, nor have there been any subsequent statements from the administration clarifying how the council will function and when it might be up and running. This paper therefore spells out some of the key considerations that should be addressed as the council moves from concept to reality.
Advisory boards and councils designed to guide the government in its work are legion in Washington. They range from the high profile and influential, such as the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee and the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, to the obscure, such as the Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries and the Flue Cured Tobacco Advisory Council. Advisory boards and councils can effectively steer the work of government in constructive ways, or they can serve as a delaying tactic to feign political concern in the absence of meaningful action. We offer these ideas and recommendations to spur a policy dialogue to enable the U.S. Global Development Council to emerge as an influential and steadily effective entity rather than one that fades into irrelevance and inaction.
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Noam Unger is a fellow and the policy director of the Foreign Assistance Reform Project at the Brookings Institution. John Norris is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress.