Administrator Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Incoming USAID Mission Director for West Bank and Gaza Aler Grubbs

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much and good morning, everyone here in DC, and on the East Coast of the U.S. And good afternoon--evening to those joining us from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I’m sure there are people beaming in from all over. Thank you all for gathering here to swear-in our newest Mission Director, Aler Grubbs. I especially want to thank Aler’s parents, Steve and Vera, for zooming in. Aler, since you and I were a little bit late, I could see the parental look of anxiety on your parents' faces saying, “where is she? She's late for her swearing in ceremony.” But I am to blame. But most of all, I’d like to thank Petra, Aler’s four and a half year old daughter. How thrilling that you two are on this adventure together. And that Petra gets to see her mom serving her country and serving her beneficiaries and partners there in West Bank and Gaza as Petra will see. Petra, we're here to celebrate your mother’s many achievements, which you will now hear about. But I hope that you know that she considers you by far her greatest success. And again, it’s just wonderful to imagine the two of you there blazing your respective trails.

Aler was once a young girl herself, of course. Growing up in her case, in rural Indiana with her brother, often whiling away the days in the woods near their home. And it was apparently those early days that gave Aler a taste for exploration, a wanderlust that would stay with her throughout her life. She backpacked across Central America and South America as a young adult—alone, I might add, which I’m sure Steve and Vera were just thrilled about. She also wore out her railpass backpacking and hitchhiking across Europe. She did stay long enough in one place to pick up some work, as a bartender in Germany. But it was only to save enough money to travel to West Africa.

And somehow, amidst all this travel, Aler was also a competitive gymnast—a sport she credits with teaching her how to fail and fall a lot. To get over the pain, to get over the fear, and get back up on her feet. And, she also worked as a kitchen porter in a restaurant before working the line as a brunch grill chef. Brunch, the most dreaded of all kitchen assignments—high heat, high stakes, a lot of demands. Perfect training for a post in the Middle East one day. Aler eventually joined USAID as a member of our Civil Service, supporting trade and development programs in Latin America. And serving on the U.S. delegations during free trade negotiations with Central America and the Andean nations.

After converting over to USAID’s Foreign Service, Aler spent time in Egypt, Pakistan, Bosnia, South Sudan, in the country’s very infancy, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and even the bureaucratic jungles of USAID’s Budget Office, where she was Deputy Director. Our outgoing budget director, Tricia Schmitt, credits Aler’s leadership with helping staff up the bureau by 50 percent due to her ability to not just recruit staff, but to coach and to mentor them, and to make them feel so welcome and so a part of the team.

One of my favorite Bidenisms is “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget.” Thanks to Aler’s leadership, the bureau elevated budgeting as a core element of policymaking. Helping other Bureaus staff up, helping other Bureaus to respond to crises, and helping other Bureaus reorient their work to place an even greater focus on results and impact.

And no surprise, in briefings and negotiations with partners on the Hill, things got contentious.

But according to her colleagues, “Aler’s utmost professionalism and extremely effective communications skills” allowed her to successfully defend USAID’s priorities. And she did all of this before taking up her first Mission Director Post in Burma, in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, Aler helped steady the Mission’s response and supported the country’s second national election last November. As we all know, that election and Burma’s burgeoning democratic transition was cut short in a violent coup earlier this year. As the military arrested the country's elected representatives in the middle of the night. Aler led the Mission during this rocky, distressing time. Prioritizing the staff’s welfare and safety, trying to connect with colleagues and implementing partners to make sure everyone was okay.

Thanks to her decisive leadership, the U.S. acted rapidly to label the coup, to redirect our funds, and to address the crisis, a crisis that, of course, is still unfolding today. “I’ve never seen foreign policy gel so quickly,” one of her colleagues said. That colleague went on: “Through it all, Aler emailed, called, met, spoke, convened, rallied, and persevered—protecting our people, our programs, our work. She strategized and pushed us to think big picture when all we could see were the walls closing in and overwhelming odds. Aler is almost supernaturally positive and optimistic. Not naive -- just fundamentally good.” Wow, that is just a wonderful thing to have one of your close colleagues say about you. He finished it off with perhaps the highest praise no one hopes to earn: “There's no else I'd rather go through a coup with than her.” I think that’s pretty formidable. But when adversity strikes, Aler, like she did in her gymnastics today, gets up, gets over her fear and pain, and gets back up on her feet.

And now she’s serving the people of Gaza and the West Bank. As she knew when she took the job, her work was cut out for her. Even before this year’s conflict, the Palestinian economy contracted by nearly 12 percent in 2020. Poverty rates, food security, spikes in gender-based-violence, declines in education rates—all the bad things we track, essentially, are heading in the wrong direction.

Gaza’s economy, in particular, is spiraling. More people are looking for jobs than have jobs, with an unemployment rate more than 60 percent. The poverty rate has jumped by 10 percent.

To combat these harrowing statistics, Aler and her team will be focused on the post-COVID economic recovery, as well as meeting the basic needs of the Palestinian people and reengaging them in programs designed to foster peace and reconciliation.

After the previous Administration cut all funding to the Palestinian people—a first in 70 years—President Biden restored the funding, and initiatied $75 million worth of projects designed to strengthen health systems, support civil society; address water, sanitation, and hygeine issues; and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance. And we’re also really excited to be supporting the five-year, $250 million Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. To build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians that will reduce tension and violence over time, we hope, while building a new constituency for peace.

Aler, as we just discussed one on one, the stakes are high, the heat can build, and the demands on you and your Mission are daunting. Just like back when you were manning that grill back in the day. But from your first days exploring the Indiana woods, to your service in searing circumstances in Burma, I know, we all know, that your past has prepared you well. And you have all of the experience, the rigor, and above all, the dedication and compassion to do incredibly important things as Mission Director of the West Bank and Gaza. And above all, we just want to thank you for your service. Thank Petra for her service, and with that, I would like to invite you, Aler, to take the oath of office.

Last updated: August 16, 2022

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