Tales from the Trail

Senator to USAID: Stop your high-flying ways

An influential senator warned the official U.S. overseas aid agency: come down to earth with the impoverished people or see your funding cut.

QUAKE-HAITI/FRANCESenator Patrick Leahy said he was concerned that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had become “distant from the trenches,” sometimes more eager to deal with foreign elites than the suffering masses who had no voice.

Leahy’s opinion matters because he chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for USAID, which the Obama administration hopes to transform into an important tool to boost the U.S. image abroad.

“There is a disturbing detachment between some USAID employees at missions overseas who spend much of their time in comfortable offices behind imposing security barriers, living in relative high style — and the impoverished people they are there to help,” Leahy told the agency’s administrator, Rajiv Shah.

“USAID needs to change its culture, and change the way it does business, if it wants the kind of money you are asking for,” Leahy said during a hearing on USAID’s budget request, which is roughly $21 billion for the fiscal year starting in October.

The First Draft: Bernanke, budget trump vacation – for a bit

OBAMA/Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, President Barack Obama is taking a┬ábreak from his vacation to make some news: he will announce that he is nominating Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Investors have given Bernanke, whose current term expires on Jan. 31, 2010, high marks and had widely expected his reappointment.

But the announcement is being┬ámade earlier than expected and comes not just during Obama’s family vacation but also on the day that the White House Office of Management and Budget and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office both release their midyear budget updates.