Remarks at the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) Launch

John Kerry
   Secretary of State
Heather Higginbottom
   Deputy Secretary of State
Rajiv Shah
   Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development 
Tom Perriello, Special Representative
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
April 22, 2014

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here today. It’s wonderful to see all of you for the launch of the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

In 2010, Secretary Clinton launched the first-ever QDDR to examine State and USAID and position us for continued success in the 21st century. The first QDDR outlined ambitious reforms for State and USAID, many of which have already been implemented with others still underway. I’m confident that this second QDDR will build upon those ideas and go further.

The first QDDR reorganized select bureaus in the Department. It brought economics, energy, and environment under one under secretary. It sharpened our focus on human rights, democracy, and civilian security. It strengthened the corps of diplomats and development professionals through the Diplomacy 3.0 and Development Leadership Initiative programs. And it brought the role of women and girls to the forefront of our work as we address global challenges.

We learned from the first QDDR just how important it can be to take a hard look at what we’re doing well and what we can do better. We owe this to our diplomats and development experts, and to the American people.

As we launch the second QDDR, we once again recognize the importance of engaging all of our stakeholders. From our State and USAID family, to our partners on the Hill, to advocates in the NGO community, to thought leaders at think tanks and universities, we understand the value of your support and insight.

We’ll kick this process off tomorrow with a town hall here at the State Department, followed by a similar event at USAID. As we plot the future course of State and USAID, your engagement, your ideas, your energy are vital to our success.

To help harness that energy and provide the leadership we need for such an undertaking, we were lucky to have Tom Perriello join the State Department. In a moment, he’ll tell you about his work leading the day-to-day operations of the QDDR as well as the process we’ll use to connect with Congress and the community of outside partners.

After Tom, we’ll hear from Administrator Shah about the second D in QDDR – development. And finally, Secretary Kerry will share will us his vision for the QDDR and its role strengthening American foreign policy.

It’s now my pleasure to introduce Tom Perriello. Tom joined us in February as the Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and he brings to the Department a wealth of experience from a variety of different roles. As many of you know, Tom served as the congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, and he was special advisor to the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He has conducted extensive research in Egypt, Afghanistan, and Darfur, and most recently served as CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. We are thrilled that he is on board in leading the QDDR effort. With that, I’ll turn it over to Tom. (Applause.)

MR. PERRIELLO: Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom, not only for that introduction but for your leadership and commitment to a continuous process of reform here at the State Department. Thanks as well to Administrator Shah and his team for their commitment to reform and their tremendous support of the early parts of this process.

And most of all, I want to express my appreciation to Secretary Kerry for giving me the tremendous honor of asking me to serve my country in this way. He’s embodied the role of personal diplomacy and given us the charge of asking tough questions, as he’ll talk about, because he knows our missions here at State and AID are too important not to do so.

But it’s also an honor for me to be in this role because I have so long admired the work of the State Department and USAID, whether as an NGO worker in Sierra Leone, watching young Foreign Service officers be a central part of the peace process and accountability measures there; whether during my research as a conflict analyst in Afghanistan, seeing AID workers in Kandahar and Gardez and other areas set up small-scale electricity and build early governance processes; or in a public diplomacy tour in Sarajevo last year; and certainly as a member of Congress, knowing that in the parts of the world that are far from the front-page headlines, we have veteran diplomatic and development professionals who are on the case.

I know that diplomacy and development work because I’ve been blessed to witness it myself. Done right, diplomacy and development can prevent wars, it can reduce extreme poverty, it can transform the rights of girls, and advance transparency over corruption. It’s not just our men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day to serve our country, driven by a sense of patriotism and a sense of commitment to our common humanity. There’s great work done by our NGOs, and I’ve been one of them, but there’s something unique and powerful about those who are asked to represent the United States of America as our State and AID colleagues do every day.

But diplomacy and development is a long-term bet. It’s kind of a blue chip investment in a world increasingly obsessed with day trading and flash trades. There are no short cuts. There are no easy wins. But we can and must revisit the way that we do our work in order to ensure that we’re making those investments over the long term, which is why it’s so important that Secretary Kerry has shown the leadership to institutionalize this multi-year strategic review that was the legacy of Secretary Clinton, and demand that we continue to do good and do better.

As for answers, that’s left to all of us. Before my arrival, Secretary Kerry had already spent a year laying a foundation for this review by asking questions throughout the building and throughout the community. Since my arrival, we’ve already had dozens of meetings with leaders, as well as first and second-term officers, civil servants, and others. We’ve met with over a hundred NGO leaders, as well as engaging our friends on Capitol Hill, and we’re just getting started. As Deputy Secretary Higginbottom mentioned, we are going to continue to have a participatory process that focuses primarily on the substance of the ideas submitted in order to try to do better at all the things that we do.

We stand strong today as a nation because previous generations dared to think about not just the world that was, but the world that might be, and then chose to prepare for that world. With the QDDR, we aim to meet that same standard of leadership. It’s now my pleasure to introduce Ambassador Shah – or Administrator Shah. He was an active leader and veteran of the first QDDR process and he has not slowed down a day since. And the continuous process of improvement, most recently launching the Global Development Lab, in his effort and leadership to successfully restore USAID as the premier development agency in the world.

It is my honor to introduce USAID Administrator Raj Shah. (Applause.)

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Good morning. Thank you, Tom. I want to begin by thanking Secretary Kerry, whose tireless efforts on behalf of our country and our vision of a smarter and more capable presentation of diplomacy and development around the world allows us to, today, proudly launch this 2nd Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review.

Thank you to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom and Special Representative Perriello. I’m looking forward to working closely with both of you as we go forward here and really have an honest assessment of how we’re doing in an effort to get better. That was the theme that underpinned Secretary Clinton’s launching this initiative originally and I think ought to serve us as well as we go forward this time around.

Now, four years ago, the QDDR provided the strategic foundation to answer President Obama’s call to transform USAID into a modern development enterprise. With direction from the QDDR, we implemented a suite of ambitious reforms that have changed the way we do business around the world. And I’m not going to reiterate the full list of those actions taken or steps forward, but I would note that today you can download an app on your iPhone and pull up hundreds of rigorous, high-quality programmatic evaluations that demonstrates that development and the execution of development cooperation is, in fact, a discipline that needs to be informed by evidence, data, excellence, and delivering real, concrete results.

Last month in New York with Deputy Secretary Higginbottom present, we had the opportunity to launch the U.S. Global Development Lab, a historic investment in the power of science, technology, and private sector partnership to take our work forward in a transformational way. That lab began as a single recommendation in the first QDDR, and I think it’s a testament to the fact that when we get great ideas from our teams through this process, it may take a few years, but together we can actually deliver on the ideas and on the concepts this process will undoubtedly uncover.

Four years later in total, the steps we’ve taken since the first QDDR have made us a stronger and more capable development enterprise and have helped our nation pioneer a new model of development that intertwines policy reform, political commitment, financial support, and private sector leverage to deliver extraordinary results.

While this is a great foundation, we know we have more to do – more especially as we try to answer President Obama’s call, now made in two State of the Union addresses to lead and join the world in ending extreme poverty within the next two decades.

While this goal is ambitious, it is also within reach. This new QDDR will enable us to take advantage of this unique moment in history, one where new tools, technologies, and partnerships are redefining what’s possible, and where we have to address real opportunities and challenges we will face – the challenge of climate change and performance in fragile states and conflict-affected settings.

Now, as we pursue this new QDDR, I just want to share three principles that I’m going to ask our teams to keep top of mind as we go forward. The first is the basic principle that our nation is more secure and more prosperous when we effectively elevate development to stand with diplomacy and defense in how America projects power, influence, and support across a rapidly changing global context.

The second is to live up to that bold aspiration, we have to constantly be willing to do things differently, to continuously improve, to modernize, to partner with others, to get more leverage out of our relationships, and to more actively engage with the Congress and with partners all around the world. And the third is that this is a real opportunity to also bring attention and political support to the work that all of you do every single day.

In just a few weeks we’ll honor colleagues of ours who have lost their lives in the diplomatic or development service by placing their names on the plaque downstairs. And as we do that, we recognize that in fact, whether it’s the quiet diplomacy that averts conflict and keeps people safe or the unheralded efforts to help young girls go to school and learn a bit more so they can build a prouder and more prosperous life for their own communities and families, that the folks we work with every day are, in fact, heroes.

So let’s use this as an opportunity to elevate the role of diplomacy, the role of development, and the role America can play in a world that is, in fact, rapidly changing.

Now, I have the opportunity to introduce Secretary Kerry in the Ben Franklin Room at the State Department, so that’s – I’m not going to do a broad introduction here. But I will say one thing, and that is: The sheer force of Secretary Kerry’s example should inspire every person in this room today, and all of our colleagues at State, at AID, across our government, and in our diplomatic and development community, to be bolder, to be more aspirational, and to be more confident that in a world where people debate sometimes what America’s power looks like 10 or 20 years from now, if we do the right things today, if we follow Secretary Kerry’s bold aspirational leadership, we know that our efforts will collectively shape the kind of world we live in.

So with that, Secretary Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Raj, thank you very much for the very, very generous introduction. And thanks for your leadership. Thank you to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom for her efforts to focus the QDDR and her leadership that will be forthcoming in the days ahead as we carry this out. And I particularly want to thank Congressman Tom Perriello for his commitment to public service, which you heard defined to you, and for his willingness to come back and take on this task, tough task, but a really important task, as you’ve heard this morning. And I thank all of them for the level of engagement and critical thinking that they’re already bringing to the QDDR process.

Thank you all for coming and sharing a few moments of valuable time. I think the single most important asset we all have is time, and how we manage it is critical. And I’m grateful to you for coming here to share in this launch. It’s very appropriate that we are here in the Ben Franklin Room, because Ben Franklin was not just the father of the American Foreign Service; he was also America’s great innovator. He was the father of innovation, really, in our country, of experimentation. He was a remarkable innovator. And so we can take both the diplomacy and the innovation and marry them, which is what we’re trying to do in the context of the QDDR. And we can honor both of those traditions, which is what we seek to do here.

I hope that as a result, the QDDR ultimately will be true to the historic mission of our country, of American foreign policy. But most importantly, I hope it’s going to shape and guide us as we move into the future.

One of the lessons that I certainly drew from the Cold War, which I grew up in, from the early days when we would crouch under our desks at school and practice for possible nuclear war, to the incredible emotions we all experienced with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sort of formal demarcation point of the end of the Cold War, to the vast array of challenges that we face today as the world is witnessing this explosion of sectarianism, religious extremism, radical ideologies, and frankly too many failed states and failing states – a vast challenge to governance, sometimes even witnessed here in our nation’s capital. So we – all of us – need to be thinking hard about how we project power. But not power for the sake of power – power to achieve great goals, power to leverage values and to protect our interests. That’s what this is about.

And I can’t help but think coming back to that lesson that I mentioned that during the Cold War, it actually – it may not have seemed so at the time, obviously, to great leaders, but it was easier than it is today – simpler is maybe a way to put it. The choices were less varied, less complicated, more stark, more clear: communism, democracy; West, East; the Iron Curtain, the great line of divide. And many things were subsumed and quashed by that force of that bipolar world.

Today all you have to do is go back and look at the former Yugoslavia and see how Tito crushed all those forces that were released that led to what we saw in the Balkans and in Kosovo, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and so forth. Now we witness in the Middle East many forces unleashed – Sunni, Shia, other – Islamism, radical Islam, so forth. So we have to really navigate our way through this much more complicated world. And in order to do that in a world where change is coming at us much, much faster, whole populations that might have relied on written communication arriving at some point in time or perhaps just television now instantaneously are in touch with everybody in the world.

And everybody’s aspirations are shared by everybody everywhere, all the time, 24/7, 365. That changes politics, believe me. I can tell you that based on 30-plus years of being elected. It’s tricky, a tricky world. And so the values that we stand for, we want obviously to be able to assert and do so in ways that are effective, not just feel-good, that are going to help get the job done.

So I want the QDDR to be a blueprint for America’s success in this new world. And to get there, to really innovate, we are – all of us, the team up here and those of you who will take part in the leadership of this effort – going to insist that the QDDR ask tough questions and pull no punches. There are many absolutely critical issues that we all need to confront that each of you are confronting in your various bureaus and tasks here. The QDDR process, I’m going to say to you upfront, cannot and will not touch them all. A very smart Foreign Service officer briefed me when I first was tasked with this job, which I’m privileged to serve in, and said to me, “If everything’s important, nothing is important.” Smart advice.

So this QDDR will not seek to be everything to everybody, because most of all I really want it to be relevant. It will be relevant to the work that we do and to the work that we need to do going forward. And it will be focused on a few big challenges and a few big opportunities. Yes, it will deal with intricacies of internal administration and innovation and modernization and other things we need to do. Yes, it will. But we also need to deal with the big challenges of American diplomacy. And it is a process that we will use to challenge ourselves with some tough questions and to respond with a concrete set of proposals.

So I want it to be both strategic and operational. And I want it to be grounded not in laundry lists that make some of you or all of us feel good, because, boy, it’s mentioned, but to make us feel good because there were plans to be able to help us do good. In other words, this has to be a product that really guides a modern State Department and a modern USAID and empowers our frontline diplomats and development professionals around the world so that they can get the job done.

We do so, building on the example of the first QDDR, which was, in and of itself, an innovation. And I will say right up front, I could have come in here as a new Secretary and said: Well, that was really nice. That was for the former Secretary’s personal deal. We’re going to go on and do things a different way. No. I think it serves a useful purpose. I think it is important to innovation. And I think the commitment, contributions of Secretary Clinton and for many of you in this room today didn’t simply demonstrate the importance of civilian power, it used that power to try to drive change and modernize how we advance diplomacy and development.

And so I want to see us go even further with this next effort. I want to see us advance diplomacy and advance development. All you have to look at the Department’s remarkable efforts to support women and girls. I’ve seen that firsthand all around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, in parts of the Middle East, South Central Asia. We can also measure the work we’ve undertaken recently with our European partners on energy security. And I think the first QDDR did highlight the importance of those issues, so that we now have resources to try to create and also structured ourselves in ways that allow us to try to create the opportunities that we have today.

So advancing the spirit of the first QDDR means continuing to ask the next round of difficult questions that will keep us resilient, make us stronger, and make us more innovative. This is not, therefore, purely an intellectual exercise. For the QDDR to be effective, it has to connect in a real way to the needs that are out there and to a real way to the day-to-day mission that all of you are confronting in your leadership positions. It has to spur greater ownership and greater initiative from every single bureau, post, or mission out in the field. It has to narrow the distance between Washington and the frontlines, and it has to connect Washington to those frontlines in ways that the people in the frontlines don’t feel, “Man, those people back there are really screwing up my life.”

We need to do these things in way that proactively engages Capitol Hill so we have the support and the resources we need. And I ask our elected leaders of all stripes and our best minds from all sectors to join this process in asking how our great nation can meet the great challenges and opportunities of our time. And believe me, they are out there. It is not a small thing that 11 of 15 nations that used to receive aid from the United States are now donor nations. We need to tell these stories.

Yes, we’re fighting some complicated issues in Ukraine. Yes, we’ve got struggles in Syria and the Middle East and places. But look at the huge, vast parts of the world where we are able to maintain the calm, able to navigate and thread the needle and do things on a daily basis that many people are unaware of, which we are working now with Rick Stengel to make sure that they are, in fact, aware of. There’s an enormous amount happening out there. We now have the majority percentage of chemical weapons moved out of Syria and we’re moving on schedule to try to complete that task. We’re making progress in the effort with respect to the Iran negotiations – not there, but steadily at it in a serious and professional way. So there’s much that happens, even while people can complain on a daily basis about whatever is not happening, some of which is obviously not exactly in our day-to-day control.

We can’t empower our people without providing them with effective leaders over the course of these next years and leaders who are empowered to guide others to higher achievement within all of the ranks and echelons of the State Department and USAID. We need leaders who have the flexibility to respond to a world, as I mentioned, that’s changing so incredibly rapidly, leaders who can back up their teams when their team’s there to take a smart risk and provide a new solution to problem. We’ve begun some of this critical work already, and if you haven’t done so, please just take a look at our new leadership principles, read them carefully, and think about how you can begin to model them. The QDDR is going to help us institutionalize these principles and especially the ones about planning strategically and learning and innovating constantly.

Last week, when I was in this room swearing in our new Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Rick Stengel, Rick reminded us of what Benjamin Franklin said the day that the Constitution was signed. Franklin said: “Let’s all doubt a little bit of our infallibility.” Well, Franklin’s point and Rick’s point, and frankly the point that the QDDR is going to make, is that our institutions remain dynamic by embracing tough decisions. And we cannot afford to answer the questions of why we do things in a certain way simply by saying that’s how it’s always been done. That’s not adequate. We can’t set our budget and personnel priorities this year based simply on where they were last year or in the last decade.

And as we face a world of multiple emerging powers – a global youth bulge in some parts of the world, in some of the most dynamic areas of the world – as we face these changes which are so different from the time when in the 1948, post-war, ’46 to ’50s and ’50s to the ’60s – we could make really bad decisions and still win because we were pretty much the sole dominant economic and military power around. That’s not true anymore. And so as we face a world of multiple emerging powers and all of these other things and the existential threat of climate change, we have to be strategic, proactive, and particularly we have to be efficient.

So this is a review of how we’ve been doing things, but it’s also a preview of what State and USAID need to do in order to put the United States of America in the strongest position to face the challenges and seize the opportunities of tomorrow. This is what we owe to the American people, and we owe it to their elected representatives on Capitol Hill who approve the budget that we live by.

There are enormous opportunities out there; I want to tell you. I’ve seen them as I’m privileged to travel on behalf of our country all over the place. We sometimes – I mean, obviously, we worry about unemployment and we should. And for all those millions of young kids in Africa – a hundred million-plus or something are going to need to be educated in the next 10 years if we’re going to break out of this kind of cycle. All over the world there are remarkable opportunities, though. Even as we look at this world where we sort of worry about job creation and the future, there are hospitals to be built, there are schools to be built, there are teachers who are needed, there are roads that are needed, railroads, high-speed rail, airports, aircraft, whole civil societies that need to be built – unbelievable amounts of opportunity in a world where half the population is still living on $2 a day, and much of it on $1 a day. Huge opportunities.

And we need to recognize that if you’re going to live up to the real meaning of American exceptionalism, it is not because we just repeat the words about being exceptional. We’re not exceptional because we say we are; we’re exceptional because we do exceptional things. And we have to make sure we’re doing those exceptional things. I want the QDDR to be the blueprint to do exceptional things within an exceptional institution, to chart a course for how we’re going to be more creative in our work together and in our engagement with the world. And I look forward to working with each of you to make the most of this critical moment in this critical process. I ask you to take this seriously.

I know that Heather and Tom – I mentioned – I think Heather mentioned it – they’re going to be hosting a QDDR town hall on Wednesday to get input from State Department staff and to get – and then they’re going to get in the field through the sounding board, and hopefully some of you will join them in that effort. And obviously, over the course of the next weeks and months, Tom’s going to be reaching out like crazy. There’ll be a lot of meetings, a lot of time to weigh in, a lot of opportunity to build on the retreat that we had with the senior leadership earlier in the year, and to build on your own creative input and ideas for how we make this place as valuable as you felt it was when you decided to come here in the first place, and as you try each day to make it.

So let’s get to work. Thank you very much. (Applause.)