Testimony of USAID Administrator Mark Green before House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs - Accountable Soft Power in the National Interest

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Chairman Rogers, Ranking Member Lowey and Members of the Subcommittee, I am grateful for the opportunity to come before you today to discuss how USAID’s work in development advances U.S. national security.

The thrust of my message is simple: USAID is the world’s leading development and humanitarian assistance agency and an irreplaceable tool of American global leadership and our overall U.S. national security strategy.

Mr. Chairman and Members, I expect most of you recall Secretary of Defense Mattis’ often repeated line: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

General Votel of U.S. Central Command put it this way: “There is a lot that the military can do, but it is extraordinarily important that our diplomats, our Department of State, our other development agencies, and others are involved in this process as well.”

In other words, the leaders of our foreign policy and national security community agree: in a world as complex as ours, with our national security under greater threat than ever, we must bring to bear the entirety of our statecraft toolbox, including our most sophisticated development tools.

Consultation and Cooperation Between USAID and DOD

As I come before you, I’m proud to say that our connections with the defense establishment have never been stronger, and because of that we have never been more effective. This at a time when they have never been put to greater test. From the Caribbean, where the Department of Defense (DOD) supported USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in October, to Syria, where USAID stabilization and humanitarian assistance experts are working hand in glove with DOD and Department of State colleagues to help stabilize Raqqa and allow for the safe return of people displaced for years by horrific conflict.

USAID also has 26 staff serving side by side with America’s military men and women in our Combatant Commands and the Pentagon. This partnership with DOD injects a critical humanitarian and development perspective, and better synchronizes U.S. government efforts as part of a whole-of-government national security approach. To further this strategic alignment, in coordination with Chiefs of Missions, I am directing every USAID Mission and Country Office around the world to identify Civil-Military priorities and, where deemed necessary, establish a Civil-Military Coordinator at their Mission. This will further institutionalize our relationship with DOD where it matters most – in the field.

Both sides are clearly committed to this relationship. DOD has assigned 16 military officers and representatives to work alongside USAID staff in implementing programs and supporting development priorities. And they have tapped 20 USAID employees for leadership and student roles in DOD academic institutions across the nation.

Mr. Chairman and Members, our close coordination with the Department of Defense in areas of conflict or disaster response is but a small part of the broad contributions we make in advancing our nation’s security interests. As you well know, America is facing an unprecedented array of national security threats – not only threats from violent extremism and epidemics, but also fallout from the displacement of communities not equaled since the Second World War.

These crises cannot be solved by kinetic action and hard power alone. The international development efforts of USAID help respond to, counter, and prevent these threats and create a more prosperous and economically integrated world. Today, in the brief time I have, I will focus on just a few of the ways USAID fits within the broader national security framework.

Helping to Prevent the Spread of Violent Extremism

First, in broadest terms, USAID’s work addresses some of the conditions – like poverty, marginalization, poor governance, and instability – which, left unchecked, can and have led to the severe frustration and despair that recruiters for transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups often try to exploit.

To quote General Dunford, “For us to be successful against ISIS, or any of the threats we face right now, it will be important for us to leverage all the capabilities that our nation has – diplomatically, economically, and militarily.”

While military force is obviously vital to defeating extremists on the battlefield, development is absolutely critical to ensuring that gains are sustained by helping to reduce and eliminate the breeding grounds for extremism and recruitment. If we don’t address the root drivers of conflict and instability, we will have to face the same threats again in the future. That is why we consider humanitarian, and stabilization assistance critical components of our efforts to defeat ISIS.

In Nigeria, we see Boko Haram use business loans to attract local recruits. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab recruits young men for as little as $50 a month and a mobile phone, which gives them a basic income, social status, and connectivity most Somalis lack.

At the northern point of Africa, and just a few miles by boat from Spain, USAID is working to replace despair with opportunity for youth in the cities along Morocco’s northern coast. There we provide vocational training and life skills to help marginalized youth contribute to their communities. Among those we helped were two teen boys who thought fighting in Syria was their only way out. Before departing, the boys stopped at a USAID-supported youth association and a worker was able to convince them of a better path and set them up with jobs at a construction company. Since 2014, this program has served approximately 15,000 young people, many like those two boys.

We also know helping the most vulnerable and those targeted by extremists and terrorists is simply the right thing to do. When religious and ethnic minorities are attacked, such as Christians and other minority groups are in Iraq, we rally local and international civil society and the private sector to join us. Together, we strive to ensure their safety, food security, and livelihoods, and to find them a place to call home for now and ultimately secure their return. We admittedly don't have all the answers to such complex problems, which is why, in the case of Iraq, on Monday we issued a Broad Agency Announcement – a process to gather ideas from the public – on ways to support the safe and voluntary return of internally-displaced persons in Ninewa. Through a co-creation workshop, at which my USAID colleagues will be equal participants in designing pilot initiatives with outside parties, we will develop innovative solutions that, hopefully, we will be able to take to scale. This is a great example of the way in which smart, targeted risks have the potential to yield tremendous results.

The dire situation of over 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in Burma and into Bangladesh is another such case. To respond to this unprecedented crisis, alongside our partners at the Department of State, USAID is providing urgent humanitarian aid to refugees in Bangladesh and vulnerable populations in Rakhine State for as long as needed, with a hopeful eye to their safe, dignified, and voluntary return to their places of origin in Burma.

Combating the Underlying Causes of Mass Migration and Displacement

Second, USAID’s work addresses challenges emerging from displacement of families and communities by countering the conditions that often drive mass migration – including into the United States.

I have just returned from Mexico, where I met with our Mission Directors from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. We spoke at length about challenges facing Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

I learned about the Rivera Hernández neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where six gangs control the streets and, until recently, routinely left them littered with bodies. In 2013, 194 people were killed in a neighborhood with a population of 150,000, making it one of the highest per capita murder rates and one of the most dangerous places on earth. This combined with similar unchecked crime and the lack of economic opportunities in the three countries of the Northern Triangle, led to the migration of tens of thousands of individuals to the United States in recent years, including unaccompanied children.

To address these conditions that drive migrants north, USAID, works closely with community leaders in Honduras, helping to create the conditions for peace and security while also supporting licit economic opportunities, particularly for those at high-risk of migration. Modeled in part on successful approaches learned on the streets of Boston and Los Angeles, USAID and our partners at the State Department worked with community leaders, local government, and the police to establish 46 outreach centers to recruit mentors and provide vocational training for at-risk youth – helping them find jobs as barbers, bakers, and electricians, and deterring them from joining gangs and participating in other illegal activity.

We provided funding for streetlights and trashcans and paid for the tools needed to clear 10 abandoned soccer fields that had become popular dumping spots for bodies. We helped launch a local soccer league to take at-risk youth off the streets and a program to combat substance abuse.

In the four years since this work began, homicides in Rivera Hernández have fallen by 78 percent, compared to a 20 percent decline in other neighborhoods where USAID and our partners were not working. The number of gang recruits decreased by about 25 percent. And when we first started our work, people wouldn’t dream of reporting a crime, while today community leaders have the courage to not only report crimes, but to call out corrupt police. Moving forward, USAID is expanding these youth-focused programs in Honduras to other high-violence neighborhoods to reach those most at risk for gang recruitment, crime, and violence.

We do this work because it is the right thing to do. But more to the point, we do this work as an Agency contributing to national security – our programs contribute to a safer and more prosperous United States by helping to secure our borders, protect our citizens, and increase economic and business opportunities. In addition, evidence suggests it helps mitigate the conditions that drive migrants to make the perilous trip north.

Bridging the Challenges of Hosting Displaced Communities

Third, USAID and our partners help strategic allies respond to the challenges of hosting displaced communities in an effort to reduce the governance-related financial and political burden these governments face. In turn, this support both strengthens stability in the face of internal and external pressures, and it strengthens the bonds between us.

Today, more than 65 million people are displaced and 20 million people are at risk of severe hunger or starvation. Around the world, in 2016, twenty people were driven from their homes every minute, or one every three seconds, on average. And all of these people need - and deserve – somewhere safe to go and a chance at a healthy and productive life.

If they are unable to access essential services – water, health, nutrition, education, electricity, and others – how will they become productive, civic-minded citizens when their displacement ends? How will they not become targets for exploitation?

I know that some of our closest allies and partner governments, like the Government of Jordan, agree with that sentiment. At the same time, they are stretched to the limit and need our help.

In Jordan, the Syrian crisis has added more than 654,000 additional refugees to the country’s population, taxing already overburdened schools, hospitals, and social services. Nearly 126,000 refugee students crowd Jordanian classrooms. Still, the Government of Jordan committed to enrolling 80,000 more next school year.

Until recently, a Jordanian woman named Maha served as principal of the Khawla Bint Tha'alaba Primary Girls’ School on the outskirts of Amman. As principal, she wanted desperately to educate her students as best she could.

In theory, this meant turning away new students to prevent overcrowding and allow her teachers to best educate those already enrolled. Maha’s small school educates 356 students. One out of five of them is Syrian.

“The main problem that we faced,” said Maha, “is that the Jordanian students already filled the school’s capacity.”

As the war continued, distraught Syrian parents showed up after being turned away at other schools. One mother, Lina, pleaded desperately with the principal after her daughter had been turned away. “I don’t have space,” Maha told the mother.

Lina begged the principal, and unable to turn away a desperate mother in tears, she relented, “I will register your daughter if you bring a chair for her – even if it is a plastic chair.”

It was a bargain that she struck over and over again with Syrian parents. Today, the classrooms of Khawla Bint Tha'alaba are littered with small, mismatched chairs. And mothers like Lina play an active role in the school’s success, serving as classroom aides so that educators can focus on students who need the most help.

This is just one example, but we see stories like this playing out across the country – parents desperate to ensure their children have brighter futures and heroic teachers helping to make that happen. USAID and our partners are working to renovate, expand, and build 259 schools to ensure both Jordanian and refugee children have places to learn. This will provide Jordan with an additional 2,000 classrooms over the next three years. But simply providing a school does not result in learning. This is why we are also working with the Government of Jordan to improve learning outcomes through better teaching materials, teacher training and coaching, assessments, and policies. We are also providing crucial humanitarian aid, boosting crucial infrastructure, and upgrading life-saving medical facilities.

Preventing Global Outbreaks and Epidemics

Fourth, USAID support interagency efforts to prevent and mitigate the threat of global infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics and anti-microbial resistance under the Global Health Security Agenda.

As an example, when Ebola broke out in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the U.S. government took a leading role in the international effort to stem the tide of the disease. The outbreak was first reported in March of 2014; by the end of the epidemic in 2016 there were nearly 29,000 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases, and 11,000 Ebola-related deaths. While tragic, this is far fewer than it could have been. In September 2014, the CDC had predicted that under some scenarios we could see as many as 1.4 million cases by late January 2015 if no additional control measures were implemented.

That’s thanks in part to the quick action of the nearly 2,700 U.S. government personnel from USAID, DOD, DOS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and more who trained healthcare workers, traced the spread of the disease, tested laboratory specimens, built Ebola treatment units, airlifted critical supplies, and worked with national, local partners and community groups to warn the public about the dangers of Ebola.

On the ground in West Africa, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) led the overall U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak, coordinating with other government entities for an efficient and effective response. We applied our own unique expertise to respond to the epidemic, tapping into our local community networks, working with partners to treat those infected, and mobilizing people who understood the local governance structures, language, and cultural practices.

And we used what we know about development to strengthen the existing health system, and support those critical public institutions that were overseeing the response. In the end, these efforts reached more than 8.4 million people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and we reached our goal of no new cases. The importation of Ebola cases into the United States laid bare the critical need for U.S. leadership and the forward deployment of technical and financial resources to prevent and respond to outbreaks of dangerous pathogens where they start, rather than waiting for them to reach our shores.

At the same time, as part of the Global Health Security Agenda, we and our interagency colleagues continue to focus on the challenges posed by Zika, yellow fever, cholera, plague, and the perennial threat of influenza. As time passes, we will face more infectious diseases, at a larger scale and a quicker pace increasingly resistant to antibiotics and other medicines. These epidemics don’t adhere to international borders, and they don’t wave flags; they are invisible threats to our national security and, without bringing to bear the unique skills of USAID and our interagency and non-governmental partners, we will not be able to counter and contain them.

Combating Trafficking in Persons and Wildlife Trafficking

Fifth, in coordination with the Department of State and interagency partners, USAID counters some of the terrible illicit activities, from trafficking in persons to trafficking in wildlife, which criminal and terrorist organizations often leverage in order to fund their operations.

For many terrorist groups and transnational crime rings, trafficking in persons and wildlife is seen as a low-risk, high-reward way to generate money. Human trafficking is estimated to generate $150 billion a year, with another $19 billion generated through wildlife trafficking. USAID and our partners are on the ground in dozens of countries working to cut off these and other important financial lifelines for global terror and organized crime.

We have supported programs to counter trafficking in persons in more than 68 countries since 2001. Our approach aims to prevent trafficking by raising awareness of the issue and tackling the root causes; protecting victims and survivors; prosecuting traffickers by building government’s criminal justice capacity; and building a coalition of partners dedicated to ending modern slavery.

In Madagascar, for example, we helped the nation stand up its first Anti-Human Trafficking Bureau. At the same time, we coordinated an interagency advocacy and messaging campaign to raise national awareness of the country’s challenges with trafficking-in-persons.

On the wildlife side, we are training local law enforcement in 30 countries across Africa and Asia – teaching them how best to go after international criminal networks at every stage, from poacher to trafficker to seller, from arrest through conviction. With our support, in 2016, patrols in key areas increased by 18 percent in central Africa, and over seven years, law enforcement seized more than $150 million in contraband and criminal assets in Asia.

Supporting Citizen-Responsive Governance and Repairing the Social Fabric in Fragile and Broken Communities

Finally, USAID helps restore and repair the fabric of countries and communities torn apart by conflict and war in ways that can solidify military success. To quote General Dempsey, “Military might alone cannot create stability.”

Following conflict or times of significant transition, USAID’s governance, conflict and transition programs are there helping to build capacity of local partners and institutions to advance lasting peace, democracy, and respect for human rights. USAID provides fast, flexible, short-term assistance to stabilize fragile political transitions, along with medium- and long-term assistance, for communities to address the governance challenges that can contribute to the root causes of conflict.

Stability gains are not sustainable without citizen-responsive governance. Early transition work lays the foundation for long-term development by promoting reconciliation, jumpstarting local economies, supporting emerging independent media, and fostering lasting peace and democracy through innovative programming and evidence-based approaches.

For example, USAID is assisting the Government of Iraq to improve the delivery of essential services and better respond to citizens’ needs by supporting Iraqi-led economic reform initiatives, including in areas recently liberated from ISIS. In countries like Iraq, we are adopting smart approaches to repair broken social compacts while laying the foundations for long-term development

In Syria, USAID continues to facilitate the restoration and refurbishment of water networks in order to support residents and internally displaced persons in recently liberated towns and villages near Raqqa– these stations serve more than 140,000 people. For some, this is the first time they have had running water since ISIS took control several years ago. Similarly, in Aleppo Province, we helped repair a neighborhood water system that now provides water to many for the first time in five years. Programs like these are helping to restore a small bit of normalcy and put communities on a path to peace and stability.

The Path Ahead

Mr. Chairman and Members, we all anticipate many continued global challenges. At USAID, we are working hard to ensure that we have the tools and capabilities necessary to prepare for, respond to, and prevent those threats to our national security. Toward that end, in my first months as Administrator, I have prioritized a few key things.

First, to better respond to the humanitarian crises that are growing in frequency and magnitude, I have committed to elevating and better coordinating our humanitarian assistance efforts. When disasters strike, our DARTs deploy and lead the U.S. Government’s interagency response on the ground. Just last month, we tied the record when we deployed six DARTs simultaneously around the world. To maintain our responsiveness, we are taking steps to make our humanitarian programs even more effective to reach even more of the displaced people who desperately need aid.

Second, the work we do is challenging, and with that comes the risk of failure. Yet this reality should not prevent us from being ambitious. We will strive to more closely align our resources with our strategic needs, and are focused on measurement and evaluation to support that alignment. We will use data and evidence and lessons learned to ensure that effectiveness and strategic priorities and are better reflected in our future programming.

We will reinvigorate our private sector engagement to move our work with the private sector beyond merely contracting and grant-making towards truly collaborating with organizations outside the public sector. At the time of the Agency’s founding, official development assistance (ODA) was the dominant source of financing from the United States to developing countries, but now represents less than 10 percent of these capital flows. Solutions that engage the private sector to reach new markets and support development objectives can help us leverage new funding, and make our own investments more efficient and effective. Collaborating with entrepreneurs in program design and technology adaptation can also help ensure that we are harnessing the most creative, most innovative ideas available. I am urging our staff to choose implementing mechanisms that are flexible and adaptable to alternative scenarios, with as much competition built in as possible.

USAID must diversify our partner base, as our funds have become increasingly concentrated in fewer hands. We need to guard against the perception that we often fall back on a small group of partners that are doing roughly the same work over and over again. We recognize that a lack of institutional capacity and familiarity with U.S. Government and USAID rules and procedures – in place to protect taxpayer funds – can be a barrier to entry for smaller organizations. Nevertheless, we can provide education and hands-on guidance to new partners, for example by creating solicitations that only require a short submission for consideration.

Third, the purpose of development assistance is to end its need to exist. Each of our programs should look forward to the day when it can end and, around the world, we should measure our work by how far each investment moves us closer to that day. Each country must lead its own development journey, but we can help willing partners by prioritizing programs that incentivize reform, strengthen in-country capacity, and mobilize domestic resources, as well as the private sector.

The FY 2016 appropriation introduced transition-planning requirements for all countries that receive U.S. foreign assistance. In line with this legislative requirement, Missions plan for a strategic transition in appropriate middle-income countries as the host country evolves beyond a traditional foreign-assistance relationship with the United States.

As USAID programs are implemented in this changing environment, we must investigate how best to engage local stakeholders and mobilize resources, including from the private sector and host-country governments, to enhance programs’ sustainability and ensure the effectiveness of U.S. development assistance. Large, multi-year awards should include local capacity-building as a specifically articulated objective in the solicitation and evaluation criteria, so that international partners seek to turn their work over to local organizations (whether public, nonprofit, or private) by the conclusion of the contract, grant, or cooperative agreement.

By designing and implementing projects and associated activities that respond to local priorities, leverage local resources, and increase implementation through local actors, USAID’s results will be more sustainable.


Every morning, on my way into work, I pass by a wall in the USAID lobby lined with 98 tiles – each laid in memory of those who gave their lives in service to our country.

Those 98 tiles are a reminder of not just of the courage and dedication of USAID’s wonderful team all around the world, but, sadly, also of the high price that some have paid for doing the important work of lifting lives and building communities. The United States asks the men and women of USAID to work in dangerous and difficult places and our staff serve our country with bravery, courage, and distinction.

That memorial wall is also a reminder to me and to everyone who enters our building of the gravity and importance of our work – both in America and around the world.

Over the last half century, USAID has played a critical role in protecting U.S. national security and furthering American interests. Given the forces at play today, this role will surely grow. Mr. Chairman, by focusing on the threats that face us today and addressing those that will come tomorrow, and with your help, I believe that USAID will continue to help ensure that the United States is safe, secure, and strong. Once again, thank you for your commitment to supporting the men and women of USAID.

Accountable Soft Power in the National Interest
House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Last updated: November 01, 2017

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