Briefing on the 2015 QDDR Report

Special Briefing
Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt and Special Representative Tom Perriello
Washington, DC
April 28, 2015

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR LENHARDT: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it. I want to begin by thanking Secretary Kerry, whose tireless efforts on behalf of our country are truly laudable and whose vision of a smarter, more effective approach to diplomacy and development will pay great dividends in the decades to come. Thank you as well to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom and Special Representative Perriello for their commitment to shaping this critical initiative.

Five years ago, the first QDDR provided the strategic foundation to elevate development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy. With direction from the QDDR, USAID implemented a suite of ambitious reforms that have literally changed the way we do business. Since 2010, we have selectively reduced our program areas by more than a third, focusing our work where we will have the greatest impact. All of our major programs are now independently evaluated, and those evaluations are available right now on an iPhone application. And I think some of you have probably looked at some of those evaluations. This is an unprecedented level of transparency. And last year, we launched the groundbreaking U.S. Global Development Lab, which began as a recommendation of the first QDDR. Five years later, these reforms are the foundation of a new way of doing business, one grounded in the harnessing of innovation, local solutions, and public-private partnerships to deliver real results.

This approach has empowered us to be – drive extraordinary progress across the globe. In one year alone, the Feed the Future program helped 7 million farmers boost their harvests with new technologies and improve nutrition for more than 12 million children. Power Africa has already mobilized $20 billion in private sector commitments and encouraged fragile countries to make critical reforms. And thanks to a groundbreaking investment in child and maternal survival, we are on track to save the lives of up to 15 million children and nearly 600,000 women by the year 2020.

But just as the first QDR has helped us lift millions of the world’s most vulnerable people from a devastating cycle of hunger, disease and extreme poverty, it has also helped us transform our agency from within. Guided by the QDR’s recommendations, we rebuilt our policy and budget bureaus to make results-driven, evidence-based investments; strengthen talent management, including hiring more than 1,100 new staff; and revamped our operations to conduct more rigorous performance evaluations and monitoring.

In each area of reform, we set aspirational goals that have established a common language for success, challenged our partners, and pushed us to be more innovative and creative. Today, as a result of these efforts, we are able to respond to some of the world’s most pressing challenges – from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, to the present crisis in Nepal – with greater speed, flexibility, and effectiveness than ever before. And at the same time, we are able to lay the foundation for open, resilient, and democratic societies, empowering all citizens to realize their potential and withstand unpredictable shocks to their community.

But while the first QDDR was a strong start, we know a lot of work remains to be done to realize President Obama’s call to lead the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. That’s why it is so important that the new QDDR reaffirms development’s role as a critical pillar of our national security and foreign policy. With this emphasis on inclusive economic growth and good governance, this QDDR will focus our collective efforts and energy on emerging global priorities from preventing and countering violent extremism to addressing climate change, and on emerging opportunities from big data to climate-smart seeds.

It also focuses on risk management, ensuring that our heroic development professionals have the tools they need to have to do the job, and have the kind of knowledge and support, knowing that the lives that they improve and save on a daily basis is something that we can all be proud of, and certainly, that they are part of making history for the entire world. Simply put, the new QDDR will enable us to take advantage of this unique moment in history, one where new tools, technologies and partnerships are defining and redefining what’s possible. And in doing so, it will empower us to unlock unprecedented opportunities in the world’s toughest environments, helping us to tackle the greatest challenges of our time.

As we step forward to answer the President’s call with new renewed energy and focus, the QDDR will play a critical role in helping us give every individual, everywhere, a fair shot at a life of dignity, opportunity, and freedom.

I thank you very much for your kind attention. It is now my privilege, and my honor, moreover, to introduce my colleague and good friend, Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom. Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you so much, Al, and thank you all for being here. As the Secretary made clear in his remarks, the 2015 QDDR represents the culmination of a year of hard work by Tom and his team, and today we want to thank them along with everyone at State and at USAID who contributed to this report.

Secretary Kerry reviewed a few of the recommendations that are made in the report to enhance our internal operation, so that we can work better, smarter, and more safely and efficiently to meet emerging foreign policy challenges. But I just want to highlight a few more.

First, we’re building department-wide knowledge management tools, including a new hub for analytics and strategy that will leverage data to uncover trends and inform policy making. We will strengthen information sharing and collaboration to better integrate strategic and budget planning with program management, execution, and performance monitoring and evaluation. We will encourage innovation and programmatic risk taking. We will find ways to ensure that we take care of our team members after they return from isolated tours in the world’s most dangerous places. We will explore leave without pay options to give our staff flexibility that’s often missing during a career spent outside of America’s borders. And we’ll redouble our efforts to promote diversity in our staff.

Today’s release of the QDDR marks the end of one phase and the beginning of another. The State Department and USAID now turn to implementation and institutionalizing the QDDR’s recommendations. Institutional change is always challenging, and we know that we have hard work ahead of us. The QDDR reaches nearly every corner of the State Department and USAID, and implementing its recommendations will require sustained leadership across the board. Both State and USAID’s leaders are committed to ensuring that our organizations drive these reforms and priorities forward. We’ll also look to the men and women of State and USAID to provide their insights on how to ensure that the QDDR’s recommendations are impactful and fully implemented. Over the next month, we’ll hold a series of discussions across State and AID to dig deeper into the key themes in the report, and we’ll engage with our chief of missions and mission directors to glean their expertise from the field as well.

The QDDR has charted a course, and now it’s our job to follow it with tangible action to ensure that our diplomatic and development efforts are in prime position to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Thank you very much, and I think we’re going to take a few questions if you have them.

MR RATHKE: So the first question to Lesley Wroughton of Reuters.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. I was interested in this issue of – you talked about these emerging foreign policy challenges and specifically the issue of tackling extremism in local situations on the ground. How is that going to affect the way the development programs are initiated and structured? Obviously, you focus on jobs and economic upliftment, women and girls and stuff like that – but exactly how do you aim to practically challenge – take this on?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE PERRIELLO: Sure. So I think there were a couple of things that emerged from this conversation – our conversations particularly in the field where the diplomatic and development corps were much in the same place, and one of those was the need and ability to get out and engage, as the Secretary spoke to. I think that there is a sense of a premium on personal and direct engagement. And we do understand that that happens in areas of complex risk, but I think what is core to people is that they chose to serve and they chose to serve to make a difference, whether one believes – wants to drive that through the development space or the diplomatic space.

The second has actually been a coming together on the importance of data and diagnostics, that we really can do a better job of learning best practices in these areas. So just today, actually, there were individuals from both institutions looking at models of constraints to growth and trying to reach agreement and understanding. So I think in these areas what we’re seeing is a much better dialogue and integration of these areas. Obviously, there are places where the independence of those two things is very important in terms of what’s in the lead. We didn’t really address in this particular report any dramatic changes to that because we do believe that that conversation’s going well.

The other things both sides I think have focused on as important is the issue of addressing at least some attention to the side of prevention and not just confronting, whether that’s in a disaster situation where we must be able to respond quickly, as we do, or our need to be able to confront violent extremism. We need to be able to respond to those things, but we also want to focus on the issues, the root causes, of which good governance was certainly one that came up over and over again – both the issue of competent governance, of infrastructure and human infrastructure – sorry, infrastructure and human capital investments, and also the issue of addressing corruption as a root cause.

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: I would just add that I think a big stream of work that the White House, the State Department, USAID, the Defense Department, and others have been looking at is preventing or countering violent extremism. We had a summit; there was a lot of work done here. In our work in putting the QDDR together, that was a theme we obviously have highlighted and focused on. And part of what you see in the report and part of the work going forward is figuring out how to bring our various tools and capacities together to better engage in that work.

So I think part of the answer to your question is that some of the work ahead is figuring out how we advance those strategies. There’s already a great deal of work going on, and we highlight some of that in the QDDR. But I think we also see it as an area we need to grow across our agencies and figure out how to be better prepared to respond, counter, prevent, et cetera.

QUESTION: So would it be – is it looking at specific regions? And I mean, obviously, there’s been this long debate about how poverty breeds – can breed this kind of issue. How do you see moving forward trying to integrate these kinds of programs without kind of interfering in the development aspect of?

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: So let me ask – answer that as well. But I will just say that in terms of looking at particular regions, we know there are particular regions that are sort of more prone or more apt to this, either fragile or failing states or this – the seeds or the circumstances contribute to that. So obviously, we focused a lot on those regions.

What we’ve also seen, though, is that this is sort of borderless, countryless, and we’re looking at a broader policy approach. But let me ask Al to engage in the development question.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR LENHARDT: I think part of that is also about economic empowerment, and it’s offering an alternative voice to some of the dialogue from the extremists and showing where actions match words and doing actual development, improving lives, saving lives. And so it’s about ensuring that we don’t give the extremists all the opportunity to tell what is essentially untruth, and so development gets in and shows real work and it encourages people. And I saw it firsthand as the ambassador to Tanzania, how we were able to change that narrative to a positive one, so much so that the people of Tanzania became very favorably impressed and moved away from extremism and more towards certainly a favorable view of what we were doing.

MR RATHKE: We have time for just a couple more, if we have any further. Laura from CNN.

QUESTION: Sure, I have kind of a two-part question. The first is – and this is something that the Secretary kind of hit on, but it seems like this report is a lot – or this review is a lot narrower in scope than the 2010 review. It’s – it gets less into the weeds of making a lot of kind of broad reform prescriptions than that one did. Is there a particular reason for this?

And then the second part of the question is there’s a lot of big challenges that are high on the radar today that weren’t really an issue back in 2010, and as immediately coming to mind ISIS, the situation in Ukraine. What’s the challenge of putting together a review like this when it’s such a dynamic, changing environment?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE PERRIELLO: Sure. So on the first, I think that we have tried to be quite focused in this report, in part because the last QDDR did such a comprehensive capability review and did some quite significant reforms around the building, including on the structures you mentioned, standing up whole bureaus and families, and we’re continuing to see how those develop and the successes and impacts. What we saw from that was an ability by looking ahead to see the fact that issues like cyber and the new energy economy were going to be – and smarter forms of economic sanctions were going to be a greater part of our diplomatic toolbox, that these were areas where State wanted to increase its capacity. So in the Secretary looking at the decision whether to do a second QDDR, I think what he saw was that having been a useful exercise that was already paying dividends in how we engage in some of these crises as well as opportunities today.

In this case, I think for a variety of reasons we wanted to try to have a more focused document in a few areas, fill in some of the gaps that had developed either from new dynamics on the ground or otherwise. And I think when talking to our defense colleagues about previous Quadrennial Defense Reviews, that had often been a pattern there as well of going broader and then going more narrow in that process. So I think that was a healthy discourse, and I think we were able to note some progress in those areas and in some cases want to continue to see how those things develop.

In terms of the new dynamics, I think one of the nice things about doing a quadrennial review is that we know in an institution like this and in a world like this, there is going to be a very strong magnetic pull to whatever is A1 above the fold. And that is because you are going to face existential threats and you are going to need your most senior leadership on that. It was almost a form of luxury, though it hasn’t necessarily always felt that way, to be in an office where you’re not looking at the crisis of the day but instead trying to connect the dots across these crises and say, “What can we learn from these dynamics that we see? What can we get better at in responding to this?”

And I think that’s part of what we’ve tried to focus on in the report is looking at some of those things that are a little bit more over the horizon. So I think this goes back to the last question in a way, which is that it’s interesting in the USAID mission statement that you get back to the importance of resilient, democratic communities. So again, extreme poverty – you have people who need to get fed today. We have folks we need to reach today. But we also need to look at those capabilities, and a lot of that does get into the just seismic shifts in the technological, information, and knowledge environment and how we embrace that complex risk in ways that we see not just for the government, but humanitarian groups and others are facing very different threat risks than we have seen before. We know the mission comes first and we will need to operate in those environments. We want to manage to it, but we also want to make sure our folks are getting out and able to embrace that. So I think those are the sorts of things we’re seeing.

Another thing that does connect across a number of these that certainly features in the report is this issue the Secretary talked about, about power existing in networks. The idea of diffuse power from an organization that historically has been hierarchical is a transition that I think began with Secretary Powell, and perhaps before, and has been a work in progress. And we saw this QDDR as speaking to rather than making a break from very important reform efforts that came before.

Now more than ever you can’t just talk ministry to ministry; you have to be out talking to the CEOs, talking to the mayors, talking to the faith leaders, as was mentioned. And that’s certainly been a growing theme and growing capabilities to do that here. And certainly when you see what non-state actors can do on the negative side – but also on the positive side, where citizen movements and others are addressing issues like corruption – again, something that came up throughout the report. It came up as a rights and accountability issue; it comes up as a development, inclusive economic growth issue, as a PVE issue. Here’s something we’re seeing across those – how do we work across silos to do that? And again, I think that was something that we tried to address.

MR RATHKE: Roz, Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Hi. You talked a moment ago about not having to worry about the crisis that’s above the fold. But certainly one thing that the State Department and USAID and, in fact, all of the federal agencies have to worry about is sequestration. Congress doesn’t seem to be inclined to want to spend money pretty much on anything, except on the Pentagon. Did you have to consider the political reality while looking at what was done in the last five years and how these two agencies reorganize and capitalize on some of these new things, such as big data and seeds, and keep an eye on the bottom line? Because the folks on Capitol Hill are going to want to know, well, how is this saving the taxpayer money.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE PERRIELLO: Right. So we certainly want, in any strategic review, I think, to both work within the realities you see but not be so constrained by them that you don’t ask the question of what one would do if more resources were available. We did not want to put out a document that simply said if we only had more money, look at all the great things we would do, nor did we want to put out a document that said we’re going to do a bunch of things that we don’t actually have the resources to do. And some of that was about making priorities and writing a more narrow report to focus on the areas we thought were of greatest need and priority. And we think areas around agility, around knowledge management, about ways that get us out to engage more are really playing into the comparative advantage for both State and AID and how they manage things.

Political reality is something I know a little bit about, so we certainly had that somewhere in mind. And I understand the difficulties Congress has in answering to the taxpayers for what’s done here. And I think both State and AID are taking seriously the idea that they want to show greater accountability. Acting Administrator Lenhardt spoke to the transparency issue that under his leadership and Raj’s leadership has really been a tremendous move in that direction.

Diplomacy is harder to quantify, honestly. But I think that’s not a reason not to do it, and I think you see bureaus and others, through this strategic planning process growing, doing an increasing job of being able to say hey, we’re going to put this plan forward, we’re going to hold ourselves accountable for it in a world that may change those dynamics very quickly.

So I think I would not be speaking out of turn to say that more resources in our – more investments in our diplomatic space would be extremely valuable for our security and for our prosperity. But we also want to be able to operate in the world that we have and we will continue that.

One of the other things I’ll just note about the process – we did have a good discourse with the Hill. And obviously we want to spread a lot of times there with folks, hearing their concerns, sharing our findings. We know there are going to be ongoing processes there. We want this to feed in and be a partnership. And as the Secretary has said, particularly on these very important questions of risk, this is something where all of those who’ve been elected by the American people to represent them appear as decision makers, need to be part of that conversation. The issues of risk management but also risk tolerance in a civilian space is something we very much want to be a dialogue with the Hill.

QUESTION: And could I have a quick follow-up? During the next several weeks when the QDDR is rolled out to chiefs of mission and their staff, to people in the various policy departments here at State, are you prepared for pushback from people who might say, “You know what? The way we did X --” let’s say getting early nutrition to mothers and children in especially hard-hit areas, “-- we don’t want to change the way we’ve been doing that because it’s been successful and we’ve been able to make progress. We don’t want to sacrifice that.” I’m just using that as an example.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE PERRIELLO: Sure, sure. No, actually this is – I think I’m going to regret saying this, but I think this is kind of the fun part where we have done a very difficult process of reaching agreement on a set of priority reforms and ideas, and now we want to move into the granularity of implementing those. One of the things that we’ve talked about a lot at both and USAID is: How do you create a more experimentation/innovation-oriented environment? Often in the public sector it feels like you’re only judged by your failures, not your successes, and they don’t get reported quite as much sometimes. And so we want to create an environment in which we try new things, and that there is not a sense of managing to avoid failure instead of managing to success. So we think that these are important directions that we can go with this.

We also want where those people can say, “Hey, this program worked. Why do you want to change it?” That’s extremely important for D.C. headquarters to hear and not micromanage the field when there are programs that are working. There are certain things that we can see here by looking at the data of all the posts and certain things that only the post can see. And I think one of the core components of this that’s really exciting is to get at and really feed into a very new way of thinking about information that is not the field comes out to D.C., it’s not one-way communications; it’s networked information where D.C. is also feeding out in the field. And certainly, this has been going on; we didn’t invent the concept. The idea is we want to put a lot more muscle behind those efforts to think about this information environment differently, to think about lessons learned differently. And to do that, you have to create the incentives to show, hey, even if the thing didn’t go right, if it was a smart risk to take, if it was a smart thing to try and if we learned from it, that’s the kind of thing that we want to encourage and improve on.

MR RATHKE: Okay. Thanks, everyone.