New U.S. “voice of development” fluent in Washington speak

December 1, 2009

Rajiv Shah, the Obama administration’s nominee to head the troubled U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), carries a resume heavy with outside-the-beltway cred.

usaid_logo_new1Medical doctor. Agricultural scientist. Gates Foundation expert.

So at least one senator at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday was surprised that, with scarcely a few months of government experience under his belt as an undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture, Shah was already fluent in Washington’s bureaucratic doublespeak.

“You’ve learned the Washington process very well,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said as Shah confidently turned questions into answers without providing much in the way of fact, opinion, or hard detail.

No matter.  Shah, 36, appeared to enjoy strong bipartisan support for his job as the head of a U.S. foreign aid apparatus that almost everybody agrees has been seriously diminished.

“During the last two decades, decision-makers have not made it easy for USAID to perform its vital function,” Senator Dick Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “The rescue mission I think is imperative.”

Shah — whose confirmation looked all but assured given the warm tone of his hearing — stands to take over a $20 billion agency that employs more than 6,800 people in about 80 countries and is struggling to redefine its mission after years that have seen it sidelined and neglected in favor of other agencies including the Department of Defense.

Senator John Kerry, the head of the foreign relations committee, said Shah would become the “de facto voice of development in the U.S. government” — charged with advocating for long-term strategies to improve people’s lives around the world amid the epic chop and flow of D.C. policy-making.

Maybe Washington speak will prove useful.

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PHOTO/ USAID official logo

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