USAID Administrator Mark Green’s Remarks to the USAID Contracting Officer/Controller Conference

Monday, May 6, 2019

 
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It's great to be here with all of you, although, I don’t know about you, but when I see flip charts, I get very nervous. (laughter)

It really is an honor to be with all of you, and I appreciate the opportunity to be with you as we kick off our summit and our workshop.

I know many of you have traveled a long way to get here. Thanks for making the journey to lend your voice to what I think are really important discussions, not just for the work we do today, but for the future of this Agency. And, that's why I'm delighted to have such a diverse crowd here. In addition to attendees from USAID missions and offices from all over the world, we have a wide range of hiring mechanisms represented here. Experience, positions, really that capture all the ways in which we work around the world. But that diversity is united. What everyone has here in common is a stake in the fundamental work of this Agency.

The investments that we make through agreements and contracts, together with the accountability mechanisms that we have in place to manage them, that's how we become, again, for the future, the world's leading humanitarian assistance and development Agency.

As, you know, the policies and processes that govern how we partner, how we conduct procurement, how we manage awards, are vital to upholding our highest ethical standards. They're also important to ensuring responsibility to our taxpayers, and we are stewards of the precious taxpayer dollars.

As you also know, despite our best intentions, these same policies and procedures over the years, have become what we would all say are unnecessarily complex and burdensome for us and also for our partners. And this has contributed to an environment where many (inaudible) allies in our development work, education institutions, mounting profits, faith-based organizations, for-profit enterprises, many of them have struggled to compete for the USAID resources. Many of them have given up altogether.

All of that has quietly led to a dwindling partner base for us. And this is a surprise to me, as I first arrived at the Agency. But in Fiscal Year 2017, 60 percent of our obligations were just 25 partners, and more than 80 percent went to 75 partners. In fact, our number of new partners has been dropping steadily since 2011. The complexities in our rules and procedures have also slowed us down. They've reduced our flexibility, reduced your flexibility, and they have hurt our innovation. Our team of dedicated mission-driven professionals deserve better, and so do our partners and beneficiaries, those whom we serve.

So, as Luis mentioned some months back, we embarked on our ambitious transformation forum to help shape the USAID of tomorrow. And as we did, we knew we needed to rethink how we engaged with partners and potential partners. We needed to embrace entrepreneurship and creativity like never before.

You've heard me say it over and over again: the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. At USAID, we believe that every individual, every community, every country wants to craft and lead its own bright future. And we also believe that when our partner countries dedicate themselves to those reforms and actions that we know are necessary to eventually achieve self-reliance, well then, we believe we have an obligation to walk with them along the way.

For more than a year, we've been working together to reshape ourselves to help us do just that. And you can see it in several of our new initiatives, like our education policy. That new policy strengthens our support for the development of high-quality inclusive education for children, including through private providers, because we know investing in the well-being of children will help to produce the leaders, and the innovators, and the problem solvers of tomorrow. You can see it in our new Private Sector Engagement policy, which aims to better harness the innovation and resources of the private sector in unprecedented ways to help us all take on and solve pressing development challenges.

We know that private enterprise is the most powerful force on earth for lifting lives out of poverty. Of course, at the heart of each of these initiatives is building effective partnerships and effective procurement. That's why our new Acquisition and Assistance Strategy is one of the most important milestones in this agency's Transformation and process. It's the how-to manual, the road map that shows our day-to-day workforce and systems new pathways to strengthen self-reliance, and many of you who are here today have made that possible.

I thank you, and I salute you. Through T3's effective Partnering and Procurement Reform Project, you were the ones that identified key weaknesses in our existing systems, and then, you proposed solutions on how to address them and meet them. You also helped develop an implementation plan with key reforms in trying the strategies five components: diversifying our partner base; improving how we partner; connecting, design, procurement, and implementation, focusing on value; and as important as anything else, empowering our workforce.

We've already taken several steps to operationalize the strategy and to equip you with the tools for our new approach for harboring procurement.

Because our low staff levels in the Office of Acquisitions and Assistance have long been a challenge, we've taken steps to increase hiring. We have approved a 28 percent increase in the DC-based MOAA staff. We're also pushing for an increase of 20 to 25 Foreign Service contracting and agreement officers in the near term, and we will allow MOAA to begin immediately by hiring through attrition going forward.

We've established a new partnership's initiative, a flexible, adaptive solution that will help diversify the partner base by making it easier for us to work with new, often overlooked partners, particularly, in crisis areas and fragile states.

As part of this initiative, we have defined the terms, "locally established partner," and "underutilized partner," as well as language which will help clarify agency policies for our partners. I've approved these definitions and they'll soon be incorporated into the ADS.

In an effort to move beyond overly restrictive grants and contracts and towards true collaboration, for the first time, we've established an Agency priority goal on procurement in our Joint Strategic Plan, to increase the use of co-creation by 10 percent by September 2019. To better connect design with procurement, we've finalized a plan to look, to collocate Washington-based AMA staff with their programmatic and technical colleagues. Facilitating regular interaction between these staff will foster mutual understanding of design and procurement, and strengthen idea sharing between colleagues who previously worked independently of each other. There's so many good ideas, so many innovations, so much creativity in this Agency. And each of you should be doing your best to beg, borrow, and steal from your colleagues.

We've also formalized the role of the Bureau for Policy Planning, and Learning as the coordination lead for the agreement and contracting officer's representative functions within the agencies. This will help improve awards management by housing, the accountability, career development, and support for AORs and CORs within one bureau.

Lastly, to emphasize how a small change can have an outsized impact, we've piloted the use of electronic signatures for official forms in the General Counsel's Office. This Summer, we'll also pilot the functionality for awards, and role it out across the agency in Fiscal Year 2020 including with our partners. This small change dramatically speeds up processing times, lowers transaction costs, and minimizes the impact of geographic distance.

But we know there's more to do before we achieve the visions that's outlined in that AMA Strategy. Today, I am pleased to announce several new changes that I think will bring us closer to that day.

First, to strengthen our MOAA workforce and avoid future staffing shortfalls, I've tasked the Agency, I should say, I challenged the agency to develop an MOAA Employee Development and Retention Strategy. I'm also asking the Management Operations Council to continue implementing reforms and options to strengthen workforce planning for MOAA.

Secondly, we need to demonstrate that we're really and truly committed to the professional development and empowerment of contracting and agreement officers. So, we're going to explore revising the delegations of authority for warrant levels to identify if, and how, we can give more flexibility to the field of who get warrants and how quickly. This action complements the recent guidance provided to mission directors, to reassert the importance of the independent judgment of the AOs and COs.

Third, I'm also pleased to announce that we're pursuing regulatory change to de-emphasize the use of salary history in determining pay rates for contractors. This will allow our COs to focus on an individual's skills and the market rate when calculating compensation. By providing more competitive salaries to a broader pool of candidates, we’ll attract the best applicants, and in some cases, it will specifically benefit women who haven't been in the workforce as long and don't have as lengthy or competitive salary histories. We're hoping that this change will have an equalizing effect for women and their participation.

Each of these decisions emerge from the effective Partnering and Procurement Reform Project. I'm proud to say that the results of your ideas and your input, you've shaped how far we’ve come, and your continued engagement will be essential for achieving our goals going forward.

I'd like to close with a few thoughts on what I hope you will take from your time here. I should say, to begin with, that I was surprised to hear how long it had been since all of you last gathered. I could tell by some of the conversations that I heard earlier this morning. So, I hope you will reaffirm relationships and share experiences.

But first, I hope that everyone will leave here with a firm understanding of the new AMA Strategy, and the role that it plays and that it can play in advancing self-reliance in partner countries.

Secondly, I hope we reaffirm this week just how important it is that everyone take ownership for the Strategy and of our push to promote active award management. As you spend the coming days working together to refine and suggest additional reforms, I need you to speak up with your insights, your questions, your comments, and your feedback. It's your work that will shape the next wave of reforms, just as it's your work that has shaped how we've gotten to this point.

Third, I want you to actively seek out new ideas among your peers and partners. As I said, "beg, borrow, steal." I don't care. But once you return home, it's important that you continue to provide feedback and to share what you see, what you think. That's the only way that we're going to achieve what we all seek to achieve. Our efforts to improve partnering and procurement must not end this week. And I hope you'll leave here with a renewed commitment to our work. I hope you'll be inspired to find new, innovative ways to support our countries in their journey to self-reliance. That's the mission that brings us all here.

As I've often said, my own journey in the development field began some 30 years ago when I started off as a teacher in a small village in East Africa, and I was struck, no matter how great the challenges, the global health challenges, the poverty challenges, by the importance of human dignity and human liberty, and the challenges that so many families face day in and day out. We're in the hope business. We're the ones who help others to achieve what they can achieve.

Finally, to provide a little extra incentive and reward to all of you for your hard work, I have one last announcement. We are expanding upon the Mary A. Reynold Award for Innovation in Acquisition and Assistance by doubling the award amount and increasing the number of awardees. We want to elevate the visibility of your best ideas, so they can be adapted and applied across the Agency and elsewhere.

Again, I want to thank all of you for being part of this global mission, which brings us to work each and every day. I want to thank you for coming here, in some cases, from a long distance. I want to thank you very sharing your ideas and your experience. I want to thank you for all the hard work that you've done, and I want to thank you for all the hard work that you're about to do. You're the ones who make USAID the greatest development and humanitarian assistance agency in the world. Thank you. Good luck.

Crystal Gateway Marriott Arlington, Virginia

Last updated: May 08, 2019

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