Capabilities of USAID to Use Science and Technology Effectively
Providing Developing Countries with Technological Options
As underscored in Chapter 1, the potential economic and social returns from effectively embedding S&T within foreign assistance programs have been recognized by USAID, other donors, and international agencies for decades.
Within USAID, surges of interest in drawing on S&T capabilities of the United States in formulating and implementing the agency’s portfolio of activities have been followed by declines in the support for S&T-related activities. The changing number and authority of direct-hire staff members with strong technical credentials have probably been the best barometer of the level of attention the agency has given to using S&T in its programs.
A primary reason for the recurrent declines has been the doubts of many USAID constituencies that S&T should be in favor when limited foreign assistance funds are at stake; for example, the proponents of targeting basic human needs as the USAID priority have seldom supported diversion of “their” funds for grassroots programs to support S&T capacity building, which they contend should come much later in the development process within poor countries. In addition, many U.S. officials, a large number of NGOs, and other organizations are focused on improved governance as the agency’s priority; and they have little interest in embracing S&T as a competing priority. At the same time, development specialists have consistently supported three strands of USAID programming wherein S&T are deeply embedded—improved health services for developing countries, agricultural research, and the use of modern technologies in responding to natural and humanitarian disasters. But many of these practitioners too often erroneously assume that high-quality and relevant S&T capabilities will be immediately available whenever USAID decides to buy prepackaged services.
All the while, the interest of developing countries in improving access to S&T on a broad basis has been on the increase as reflected in the response of other donors and international organizations in embracing S&T as a driver of development. While the USAID leadership may at times recognize and support these initiatives, the agency is poorly equipped to respond to such new opportunities.
Given the many changes in the context and political support for S&T programs within USAID in the past, a few comments are offered on approaches toward S&T that the agency has adopted since its very beginning. This discussion should help set the stage for specific recommendations for a future when globalization will continue advancing, and a robust and sustained S&T capability within USAID will be more important than ever.
In the 1960s, during the early days of USAID, scientists, engineers, and health professionals played key roles in development assistance programs. These technical specialists were clustered both in central USAID offices of engineering, industry, health, and agriculture and in technical support offices of the regional bureaus in Washington. In the field, large USAID missions had many technical specialists on staff, while technical personnel located in regional hubs supported smaller missions. Their influence was widely reflected in the agency’s lending and grant programs as they initiated projects throughout the agency, and many became internationally recognized as leading experts in their fields.
From the mid-1960s until 1980, USAID adopted a variety of organizational approaches to expand even further the engagement of the U.S. S&T communities in its programs. The Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the President and the National Academy of Sciences played strong supporting roles in this regard. A Science Adviser was assigned to the USAID Policy and Program Coordination Bureau for several years. A Technical Assistance Bureau with strong offices for health, population, and agriculture was then established; a special S&T office was added to address other areas where S&T could play a greater role. The Research Advisory Committee guided the selection and implementation of innovative research projects. The Administrator appointed a Special Adviser for Environmental Affairs. In 1973, the Congress established the Board on International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD) to help expand the involvement of Land Grant Colleges in USAID programs. All the while, the USAID missions continued to have substantial staff capabilities to address technical aspects of their programs in a variety of fields, and the number of S&T-related projects of the agency continued to grow.
In recognition of the important role of S&T in foreign assistance, and taking into account the foregoing experience, the USAID Administrator in 1981 established a strong Bureau for Science and Technology. This bureau consolidated many ongoing activities while continuing to add new S&T programs. For more than a decade, this bureau raised the profile of S&T in agency activities and attracted many talented technical specialists to the agency.
In the early 1990s the office was reconstituted as the Global Bureau in
recognition that other aspects of foreign assistance were also of significance throughout the agency, such as supporting the evolution of civil society in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere. With the name change also came changes in personnel, and the cadre of talented specialists with technical expertise began to shrink. During the 1990s, the overall agency personnel ceilings declined sharply, and many technically trained employees were among those who were forced out by the agency’s management in order to meet the requirements of Congress and the Administration. The Research Advisory Committee and other science-oriented organizations soon disappeared.
Shortly after the turn of the twenty-first century, a new structure of central “pillar” bureaus emerged. A Bureau for Global Health was established to respond more fully to the high priority given by the Administration and Congress to addressing a wide range of health and population issues, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, voluntary family planning, and maternal and child health. A parallel Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade (EGAT) assumed the responsibility of supporting innovation in fields other than health and population, and particularly agriculture, energy, natural resources management, and information and communications technology. A new Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance also had considerable interest in S&T. This interest included application of technologies in anticipating and responding to natural disasters and in responding to other humanitarian emergencies. In addition, the bureau turned its attention to expanding the use of the social sciences in understanding and responding to development problems of fragile states.
In mid-2005 USAID initiated the process of establishing a new part-time position of Science and Technology Adviser to the Administrator on a part-time basis, and the agency began recruiting for the position. The decision to establish the position apparently was triggered by the appointment of a well-known agricultural scientist as Science Adviser to the Director of the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID). Perhaps, the interim report of this study, which stated that the present committee was considering a recommendation concerning an S&T adviser, also provided some stimulus. In any event, the responsibilities of the position and the activities of the office, if established, will probably evolve over a period of many months or perhaps years. The comments of the committee set forth in the report should assist in this evolution.
ERODED STAFF RESOURCES
As repeatedly mentioned, the technical capabilities of the USAID staff have steadily atrophied during the past 15 years. When the overall personnel ceilings declined during the early 1990s, USAID emphasized retention of generalists who were able to manage a variety of activities rather than employees with in-depth knowledge of specific fields. However, such in-depth expertise, both to help solve problems and to assist in anticipating problems, is essential if the full
potential of U.S. foreign assistance is to be realized. Levels of USAID staffing from1997 through 2004 are presented in Figure 4-1.
Figure 4-2 indicates the number of direct-hire staff assigned to different program areas. Many staff members do not have technical backgrounds in their fields of responsibility; they rely primarily on experience gained on the job.
In 2005 Congress concurred with a proposal to establish 225 new limited-term civil service positions over a three-year period. These appointments for five-year periods are intended to reduce USAID’s dependence on contractor personnel and personnel of other government agencies who are on assignment within USAID. Therefore, 225 positions will be eliminated from the authorized level of personnel embedded within USAID who are employees of contractors and other agencies.
Early indications are that a significant number of the new limited-term positions are being filled through conversion of contractor and other personnel who are already working in the agency to direct-hire employees. Thus, both the number and the technical qualifications of personnel available to work on USAID programs may change very little, but bringing the formerly embedded personnel directly into the agency should enhance agency capabilities during internal dis-
cussions that are limited to direct-hire personnel and discussions with other agencies and other donors.
In the 1980s and 1990s USAID developed a robust program for bringing into the agency a variety of fellows for one- to two-year assignments, most of whom had important technical training and experience.1 As indicated in Figure 4-3, however, the number of fellows has declined significantly in recent years. Of particular concern to the committee responsible for this report has been the sharp reduction in fellows sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see Figure 4-4). As of December 2005 there were just five of those fellows in the agency, and the program, at least in its current form, was expected to be terminated this year. The decline in fellows reflects the general constraints on personnel ceilings in the agency and the fact that personnel slots once held by fellows are now being used by staff members who can make a longer-term commitment and can perform such functions as managing contracts that fellows are not authorized to do. In addition, management of the program has been shifted to administrative offices from the technical staffers who had been
strong advocates for the program. Nonetheless, agency interest in continuing such a program is reflected in plans to issue a request for proposals to operate a new program. One perception of the contribution of AAAS Fellows to USAID programs is set forth in Box 4-1.
In the 15 years that USAID has been funding biotechnology programs, these efforts have always been led by former AAAS Fellows. Five former fellows have followed the first one. This continuing influx of new scientific expertise enables USAID to continue to tap new research breakthroughs and to leverage collaborations with the U.S. research community.
SOURCE: Personal communication from a USAID official to committee staff, June 2005.
In addition to efforts to contract for S&T expertise, direct-hire specialists are critical to the effective design and management of projects with S&T content. These projects require good understanding by project managers of technical details. Such understanding is important not only to ensure that the original design of the project is sound but also to assess proposed adjustments during implementation of the projects and to evaluate results and possible next steps. In addition, institution-building projects require insights as to the quality and capabilities of the necessary work force base and the appropriateness of various types of equipment that may be involved. The technical credentials of USAID project managers are critically important in
gaining respect of partners for the suggestions of the managers. It is simply difficult for USAID officials to manage projects effectively when contractors or other partners have far better understandings of the details of projects than do the USAID managers. Box 4-2 presents an example of how S&T expertise relates to a USAID project.
As agency technical staffs dwindled, the interest within the agency in having specialized “technical” units, particularly in missions, to draw on American S&T resources also declined. Still, S&T have remained integral parts of many agency programs; and retention of a few specialists has been essential. At the same time, the recruitment of new entrants in all disciplines declined until 2001, and each year the S&T age bulge within the staff has moved upward.
USAID’s strong economic analysis capability was for many years an important component of its efforts to mobilize S&T in support of development assistance programs. The effectiveness of S&T programs is usually dependent in significant measure on economic policies in the countries where programs are mounted. Unfortunately, the agency’s economic analysis capability has declined considerably in recent years.
Similarly, for decades USAID had a strong program evaluation unit, but in recent years that effort has also declined. Such a unit is important for recording both successes and difficulties encountered with innovative projects and for disseminating lessons learned. The USAID Administrator announced in mid-2005 a promising development: a new program to revitalize the evaluation function within the agency.
(Activities carried out jointly with appropriate host country institutions)
Given the reduction in size of technical staffs in Washington and the missions, USAID must depend more than ever on its partners—particularly contractors, other U.S. government departments and agencies, and nongovernmental organizations—to provide the technical inputs needed in designing, implementing, and evaluating programs. Fortunately, the staffs of many partners are competent in a variety of technical fields as indicated in Box 4-3. At the same time, the committee received many comments from USAID personnel concerning short-comings in the technical performance of some contractors. In any event, the agency has become excessively dependent on contractors and other partners as sources of technical expertise.
USAID contractors have recruited leaders with impressive knowledge of both scientific challenges and local conditions. While there is a rapid turnover of contractors, they have nevertheless quickly found internationally oriented scientists to lead their efforts.
SOURCE: Unpublished report of the NRC Committee on Science and Technology in Foreign Assistance on field visit to Bangladesh, January 2005.
To be most effective the expertise of partners should be coupled with the
comparable expertise of a strong cadre of direct-hire technical specialists within the agency who participate in internal decisions that determine the strategic directions and program priorities of USAID (see Box 4-4). In addition, well-qualified direct-hire personnel are essential to ensure a credible presence of the agency during interagency and intergovernmental deliberations. Such deliberations often call for stronger support of development of S&T capabilities in developing countries that can help stimulate economic growth and social progress. Contractor personnel are at times torn between their allegiances to their employers and their commitments to respond to approaches of USAID management, which may not be totally consistent with the views of their employers. This apparently was a major concern in developing the program of five-year staff appointments discussed above.
Mission directors should return to using agency experts to design and manage programs rather than hiring contractors.
SOURCE: USAID Administrator. Report of USAID World Wide Mission Directors Conference, May 17-20, 2005.
The decline in the number of S&T specialists has significantly reduced advocacy within the agency for exploring opportunities to increase the impact of USAID programs through innovative uses of S&T. Too often technological innovation has become an afterthought that receives little more than lip service in USAID offices, particularly when there are many claimants on limited financial resources. Without technically experienced leaders with direct knowledge of the power and limitations of S&T throughout the agency, the likelihood is low that S&T will obtain a prominent place in discussions of strategies and priorities.
USAID cannot become a leader in S&T. What the agency can do, however, is coordinate effectively with American scientific agencies in order to ensure that all projects have the optimum access to scientific knowledge. There are many opportunities for USAID to use the scientific and technical capacity of other agencies more effectively.
SOURCE: Unpublished report of the NRC Committee on Science and Technology in Foreign Assistance on field visit to India, November 2004
As witnessed during the committee’s field visits, there has been an erosion of the capabilities of mission personnel to identify potentially high-payoff opportunities for innovation and to hold their own in technical discussions with well-trained professionals from host countries and other donors. In some cases, technical specialists from other U.S. government agencies are replacing USAID personnel as the interlocutors with important local S&T officials and specialists. Overall, there is a wide variation in the quality of the S&T underpin-
nings of USAID programs in the field. While a number of USAID’s partners have strong S&T competencies, the missions themselves have limited capabilities to effectively mobilize and focus S&T resources. A relevant observation is set forth in Box 4-5.
Finally, the use of peer review within USAID needs prompt attention. While the concept of peer review to enhance the quality of programs and to measure project results is widely accepted within some offices (e.g., US-Israel Research and MERC programs), the approaches used by USAID to determine when and how to carry out peer reviews are sometimes questionable. Often peer reviewers are recruited from existing USAID contractors. In these cases, questions arise as to the independence and objectivity of such arrangements.
STEPS TO ENHANCE S&T CAPABILITIES WITHIN USAID
The committee recommends revitalizing USAID’s efforts to harness the power of S&T as an essential input into its programs. Specifically, USAID should strengthen the capabilities of its leadership and program managers in Washington and in the field to recognize and take advantage of opportunities for effectively integrating S&T considerations within USAID programs. The following steps would help achieve this objective.
1. Development of an S&T culture within USAID. The USAID leadership should continually articulate in policy papers, internal discussions, and interactions with host governments the importance of strengthening local S&T capabilities, integrating these capabilities within a broad range of development activities, and incorporating S&T into USAID programs. The agency should establish training programs and related activities that assist USAID officials engaged in designing, implementing, and evaluating programs to develop a higher degree of science and technology literacy. Within the agency, management should encourage technical specialists to pursue innovative ideas during the program planning processes. This commitment of the USAID leadership to integrate S&T into its programs when appropriate is fundamental in ensuring that suggestions 2 through 7 set forth below can achieve a significant improvement in the agency’s use of the nation’s S&T resources.
An institutional culture takes years to develop, but the importance of an S&T culture seems obvious as the stakes for developing countries in using S&T effectively are increasing every year. As noted in Chapter 1, those countries—however poor—that successfully integrate modern technologies within their overall approaches to development will have a clear advantage in the rapidly globalizing world. Even the poorest countries can benefit from a limited S&T assessment capability. Therefore, establishment of an S&T culture within USAID that is reflected in field programs should be a long-term agency commitment with near-term as well as long-term payoffs.
The best current example of an institutional culture that permeates USAID is the commitment of employees at all levels in Washington and at all missions to the promotion of good governance. This governance culture has become solidified within USAID as President Bush has made democracy the hallmark of his foreign policy and Congress has dramatically increased appropriations for USAID to support the President’s initiative.
Just as good governance provides an important framework for social and economic progress, effective use of S&T should underpin the entire development process.
The Agriculture Strategy adopted by USAID in 2004 is a good example of articulating how S&T can be embedded within the mainstream of USAID programs. This document could serve as a model for setting forth USAID strategies in other fields as well.2 In addition, employees should be encouraged to think beyond current program approaches and design innovative applications building on the nation’s S&T strengths.
With a commitment of the USAID leadership to using American S&T assets more fully, the following suggestions could be very significant.
2. Strengthening of USAID staff capabilities in S&T. The professional skills and interests of USAID personnel are a primary determinant of the direction and soundness of agency programs. While the President, Congress, and USAID leadership can mandate priorities and approaches, unless the staff has the wherewithal to carry out directives, the likelihood of successful programs is low. Of course, new initiatives are sometimes coupled with new authorities to hire the required expertise; and these initiatives would seem to have the highest likelihood of success.
Only if there is a new influx of S&T talent will S&T receive adequate attention in USAID programs on a broad scale. Therefore, the agency should recruit assistant administrators, deputy assistant administrators, and mission directors with strong S&T credentials as well as experience in international development for positions that offer special opportunities for improving USAID’s use of S&T. Such appointments are particularly important in the pillar bureaus in Washington and in missions in the more technically advanced developing countries. More GS-14 and GS-15 employees with S&T backgrounds are also needed. Bringing S&T expertise directly into the senior levels will significantly increase the sensitivity of the agency to the importance of S&T. Looking to the future, an increased number of entry-level positions should be devoted to young professionals (New Entry Professionals and International Development Interns) with S&T
expertise, thereby enhancing the technical capabilities of USAID’s Foreign Service (see Appendix L for a description of USAID’s recruitment program).
Career incentives for technical specialists to remain at USAID are essential to retaining experience and talent. Promotion opportunities based on an individual’s success in applying technical expertise to USAID programs should complement the more common criteria for promotion that are based in large part on the extent of an individual’s management responsibilities. Such recognition of the importance of competence and performance in specialized areas of interest to the agency should improve the motivation of skilled S&T specialists to join and remain with USAID.
The continuing efforts of USAID management to increase the overall operating expense budget in order to have funds to cover salaries of an increased number of employees deserve strong support. With an ever-increasing portfolio of programs to manage and while still suffering from staff reductions made during the 1990s, USAID clearly needs personnel enhancements on a broad basis. One of the strongest arguments for overall staff increases is the need to attract and retain technically skilled personnel who are up to date in a variety of S&T areas with high-payoff potential.
Technically trained Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) work in most USAID missions. They should be given opportunities to stay abreast of S&T developments through participation in relevant training programs and conferences.
3. Appointment of an S&T Adviser to the Administrator. During the summer of 2005, the USAID Administrator began to recruit a part-time S&T Adviser. At the end of 2005 the responsibilities and activities of this adviser were still in their formative stages. However, a part-time specialist, even with impressive qualifications, will have little impact on agency policies and programs. While such an adviser might be able to influence some activities in narrow fields, the necessary bureaucratic processes within the agency are simply too formidable for one person to penetrate working part-time.
A full-time S&T Adviser to the Administrator, supported by a small staff, could help ensure that important program opportunities with S&T components are given adequate consideration by the USAID leadership and program managers. A full-time adviser would have time to organize and participate in evaluations of the appropriate use of S&T in USAID’s programs and to contribute to particularly important projects. The adviser could help ensure that the agency is well represented in discussions with other departments and agencies, other donors, and host country officials when technical issues are on the table. Of considerable importance, an S&T Adviser could play a central role in guiding the efforts of the Innovation Center and the Advisory Committee discussed later in this chapter (see Figure 4-5).
The S&T Adviser, assisted by a small staff, would have three responsibilities: an advisory responsibility for bringing to the attention of the USAID leader-
ship opportunities and issues concerning S&T strategies and specific technologies that are or should be of interest to the agency; a line responsibility for overseeing the activities of the Innovation Center; and a coordination responsibility for assisting the S&T Advisory Committee in addressing important issues.
The first responsibility would provide insights as to agency priorities and opportunities for the Innovation Center and Advisory Committee to make impor-
tant contributions. In working with the center and the Advisory Committee, the adviser would be able to compile authoritative assessments for consideration by the agency’s leadership. In carrying out all three of these responsibilities, the adviser should give special attention to building an S&T culture throughout the agency, regularly using internal workshops and consultations on specific S&T issues.
The adviser could prepare annual reports for the USAID Administrator on S&T issues before the agency, perhaps in cooperation with the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. They could analyze USAID successes and difficulties in incorporating S&T in its programs, but they should not become simply catalogues of S&T projects. The reports could be widely discussed within and outside the agency while they are being prepared. The Administrator could then decide whether the reports should be distributed to senior officials throughout the government and Congress.
Such an adviser will only be successful if positioned appropriately within the agency, perhaps as suggested in Figure 4-5. The adviser needs adequate authority to interact regularly with senior officials throughout the agency. Continuing and prompt access to the administrator is important. An adequate staff is essential so that the adviser can participate effectively in policy determinations and financial resource allocations in a manner that adds value to agency efforts.
In considering the most effective approach to providing a focal point for S&T advice and coordination within the agency, the committee considered three other options that were not as attractive.
The committee’s interim report suggested that the S&T Adviser to the Secretary of State might have a second responsibility as S&T Adviser to the USAID Administrator. However, the skills and experience required for the two positions are quite different; each position deserves a full-time, high-level specialist, and dual reporting channels would detract from the adviser’s effectiveness within USAID.
The Science Policy and Environment Office within EGAT could be given an expanded role as the focal point for agency-wide S&T coordination. However, the likelihood is low that an S&T office subsumed in one of the bureaus could be effective across the agency.
S&T advisers could be established in each of the three pillar bureaus, but this approach would confuse external partners interested in broad S&T issues and could generate more friction than cooperation within the agency.
4. Establishment of an S&T Advisory Committee. A strong but flexible mechanism should be established to provide independent advice on technical issues to the Administrator, assistant administrators, the S&T adviser, program offices, and field missions. Every day, units of the agency are addressing important S&T issues; external advice regarding responses to particularly significant issues could help ensure that complicated developments are well understood. The
existing Board on International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD) could become a component of the advisory mechanism, although its composition should be carefully reviewed to reduce the possibilities of conflicts of interest.
As to participants in this advisory mechanism, there are many S&T specialists with international development experience who are not dependent on USAID financial support and who would be interested in participating. American universities, research centers of U.S. government departments and agencies, and technology-intensive private firms employ many scientists, engineers, and health professionals who are well respected for independent and objective views.
The Science Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency provides an interesting model that might be adapted to the needs of USAID. A parent board meets several times a year to discuss broad S&T issues. Narrowly focused panels meet more regularly to address specific issues that are of interest to agency leadership or units. The deliberations of the board and panels are captured in technical reports that provide strong supporting documentation in discussions within the Executive Branch as well as between Congress and the Executive Branch.
The committee considered two other approaches to expanding peer review, but they were considered to be less effective. Both approaches have been used in the past by USAID.
For more than 20 years the National Academy of Sciences, through a specially constituted Board on Science and Technology in Development, conducted reviews of selected technical issues that were of interest to one or more USAID offices. However, such an external mechanism cannot be tightly linked on a continuing basis to the mainstream of USAID activities—as would be the case with the proposed Advisory Committee. Therefore, it could influence only a narrow range of issues. This was the case with the previous arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences.
For decades USAID has convened various types of ad hoc review panels to address emerging technical issues and scientific uncertainties of near-term interest. Too often, however, employees of USAID’s financially linked partners have been prominent among the reviewers, largely because they were available and familiar with the specific issues of concern. Other independent reviewers have had difficulty rapidly becoming equally familiar with technical details and only infrequently have had the opportunity for continuing involvement.
5. Establish a Nongovernmental Innovation Center. This center, financed by USAID, would concentrate on application of innovative technologies to specific development problems identified by USAID missions, USAID Washington, and the center’s staff. A center staff of about 40 technical specialists and 10 managers or administrators, with an annual budget of about $20 million, could give continuing attention to established and emerging technologies and would
support mission efforts to help build local technological capacity. Such a staff and budget, while small for a major USAID initiative, should nevertheless be sufficient both to command serious attention within the agency and to support a credible core of specialists who could have a broad impact on agency programs.
The center should differ significantly from sporadic efforts of the past to establish mechanisms for improving capabilities to address innovation issues more effectively. A model for the center could be as follows:
The center’s charter would call for a program of work that emphasizes innovative activities, with the expectation that it would have the resources to field test particularly promising developments in cooperation with USAID missions.
A senior USAID official with direct links to the USAID Administrator and other senior officials throughout the agency, namely, the S&T Adviser, would serve as the USAID project manager.
A governing board chaired by USAID’s Deputy Administrator and including senior representatives of USAID’s regional and pillar bureaus, together with university and industry representatives, would approve the center’s program of work within the general framework of the center’s charter and evaluate its effectiveness annually.
There would be an expectation that the center would be sufficiently successful to remain in place for a lengthy period of time (e.g., at least 10 years) thereby providing attractive career enhancement opportunities for the staff.
The center would have a special responsibility for regularly bringing together USAID’s other partners that are working on problems of direct relevance to the center’s program of work.
The center would have both a permanent staff of technical experts and a rotating staff of specialists on assignments from universities, industry, and other appropriate organizations for one to three years (perhaps one-third of the staff) to help ensure that new concepts are considered in the development and implementation of the program of work.
The center would have a surge capability to respond to particularly important technology-intensive issues of interest to agency offices or missions on a highly selective basis.
The committee considered three other alternatives for increasing the pool of technical specialists who could concentrate on innovative activities, but they were considered less desirable alternatives.
Enhanced in-house capabilities. It is highly unlikely that direct-hire positions will be allocated to technical specialists to carry out new activities when there is an overriding need for technical personnel to be more involved in management of ongoing programs.
Standard tasking of a selected contractor. Normal contractual arrange-
ments with other organizations would not provide the necessary clout for the center to be successful nor provide the needed continuity over many years to capitalize on expertise that is developed.
Small groups of narrowly focused S&T specialists within U.S. government agencies. While selected U.S government agencies would continue their roles as USAID partners, they are not well positioned to take on the broader role envisaged for the center. They would, of course, be important contributors to the center’s work.
In proposing the Innovation Center, the committee was well aware that for many years USAID has supported technology innovation projects in a variety of fields that have been carried out by other government agencies, by universities, by nonprofit organizations, and by private companies, usually on an ad hoc basis. However, as discussed throughout this report, innovation activities need sustained reinvigoration in view of the fundamental role of S&T in the development process. The Innovation Center will ensure that a substantial critical mass of effort will be devoted exclusively to the development and introduction of technological innovations into the development process over an extended period. Of course, many shorter-term efforts will continue to be carried out by other organizations supported by USAID, underscoring the importance of coordination across the agency and with other assistance providers.
The committee is not aware of any organization that has characteristics similar to those of the proposed Innovation Center. However, in designing the center, USAID should examine the experience of other organizations that have been involved in selected aspects of innovation and development; for example, experiences of the Battelle Memorial Institute (industrial technologies, medical technologies), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Enterprise Works/VITA (small-scale technologies) should be helpful in developing approaches for the Innovation Center.
Expand recruitment of economists and engineers.
SOURCE: Agreed follow-up at USAID Worldwide Mission Directors Conference, May 2005.
6. Strengthening the economic analysis capability of USAID. Economic policies have a profound influence on prospects for sustainable economic development, including development dependent on the use of effective and affordable technologies. USAID leaders recognize that the steady decline of economics capability within USAID needs to be reversed (see Box 4-6). This is certainly true if program managers are to (1) understand and promote fundamental policy reforms that support development and growth, (2) encourage the creation of business-friendly environments for private sector firms in host countries, and
(3) recognize the many dimensions of technological change occurring in almost every developing country. Of particular importance, support by USAID of the introduction and development of specific technologies requires careful assessments of the long-term financial implications of proposed projects.
In some cases USAID can rely on the work of the World Bank and other organizations that have strong economic analysis units and recognize the importance of the private sector contribution to development. But it is essential for USAID to have a strong economics staff since understanding and promoting appropriate economic policies, at both the macro and the micro level, is critical to USAID’s development mission.
The one-person professional staff in EGAT responsible for micro-economic reform projects has commendable ambitions but cannot respond to many of the requests for assistance. The principal activity of the unit is to arrange for economic specialists to go to the missions and provide advice on specific issues, activities that often reflect requests from host governments for short-term economics expertise related to promoting private sector investment.
7. Revitalizing the program evaluation capability of the agency. USAID’s once-robust capability to carry out rigorous evaluations of program effectiveness has declined, making it difficult for USAID to understand the reasons for the success or failure of particular programs. Restoration of this capability is important in providing lessons learned from all types of projects, including those that have involved S&T. Projects focused on S&T must overcome many hurdles, and past successes can provide useful pointers for the future. The successes in using remote-sensing technologies and biotechnology are but two examples of lessons learned that should be easily retrievable.
USAID contractors can carry out some evaluation activities, of course. But well-qualified direct-hire professionals are needed to guide the design of evaluation methodologies, to coordinate within USAID feasible approaches to carry out evaluations that should involve the missions, and to bring to the attention of agency managers lessons learned from USAID projects. In addition, a career staff is essential to ensure that the initial momentum in ramping up the program is maintained and to draw continually on lessons learned in years past as new initiatives are considered by program offices.
In summary, a number of steps have been suggested above to enable USAID to use S&T more effectively in its programs. They should be an important point of departure for upgrading the agency’s S&T capabilities.
On several occasions during the course of the study, USAID officials asked the committee to provide estimates of the number of new S&T-related positions that are required to provide the agency with an internal capability such as that set forth above to take full advantage of U.S. S&T assets. During these discussions, a senior USAID official estimated for the committee that the number of additional direct-hire scientists and engineers, both civil service and foreign service
that are needed within USAID is in the range of 50 to 150. The committee has no basis for disputing the estimate. A detailed work force analysis by specialists familiar with USAID’s entire portfolio and sensitive to the importance of S&T skills during the age of globalization is required to arrive at a well-considered number. Nevertheless, in order to be responsive to the USAID request, a very preliminary estimate of the personnel requirements to implement the recommendation in this chapter is offered by the committee, keeping in mind the estimate of 50 to 150 positions:
At least 10 of the approximately 100 assistant administrators, deputy assistant administrators, and mission directors should have strong S&T backgrounds.
Fifteen new direct-hire positions at the GS-14 or GS-15 levels for specialists with strong S&T backgrounds are needed.
Five direct-hire positions are needed in the Office of the S&T Adviser.
Five new direct-hire positions are needed in the economics unit of EGAT.
Three new direct-hire positions are need in the program evaluation unit.
The intake of AAAS Fellows should increase to 15-20 each year.
Recruitment of 15-20 New Entry Professionals with strong S&T background should be carried out each year.
For too long USAID has been forced to substitute personnel from contractors and other government agencies for needed direct-hire employees with strong S&T capabilities and has lagged behind in identifying and using opportunities for technological innovation in a number of fields. The initiatives proposed in this chapter will be important steps in restoring the expertise needed to draw effectively on the nation’s powerful S&T assets in foreign assistance.