Congress Directs USAID to Prioritize Skilled Volunteers
On March 23, Congress finally passed a bill to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2018. The so-called Omnibus spending bill (H.R. 1625, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018) was accompanied by appropriations report language—strongly supported by the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA)—which directs the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to prioritize utilizing skilled volunteers in their programs:
Volunteers.—The USAID Administrator shall develop an agency-wide policy that attributes additional merit to proposals and applications that include the use of skilled U.S. and local volunteers (including, as appropriate, the use of the Peace Corps Response Corps and U.S. Government retirees) to implement a broad range of locally-driven development activities. The Administrator shall consult with the Committee on such policy not later than 120 days after enactment of the act.
VEGA President and CEO Michael Deal stated, “On behalf of our 24 members and the millions of Americans they represent, VEGA sincerely thanks the Senate Appropriations Committee—and especially State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT)—for their leadership on USAID programs and policies that leverage American generosity and private sector expertise for more effective global development.”
Now, how will USAID implement this directive? That isn’t entirely clear. However, VEGA has been gratified that USAID leadership has continued to follow through on their commitment to hear from the volunteer-sending community to help inform USAID’s path forward.
To that end, VEGA has made recommendations based on a model mechanism for mobilizing volunteers: the VEGA Leader with Associate award (VEGA LWA). The VEGA LWA was USAID’s signature volunteer-sending program and succeeded in using foreign assistance funds efficiently and effectively, saving more than $30 million taxpayer dollars and nearly doubling program value through cost share and leverage.
President George W. Bush and then-USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios scaled USAID’s mobilization of skilled volunteers by broadening the activities and expertise that could be accessed worldwide and streamlining it under an LWA to a single, successful consortium of volunteer-sending organizations. Natsios drew upon three decades of prior experience with volunteer programs. The breadth of the VEGA LWA’s scope allowed USAID field missions to accommodate their increasingly integrated programmatic designs, and integrate volunteers into full-scaled, priority programs such as Feed the Future and Power Africa.
Notably, many of the features and results of the VEGA LWA are perfectly aligned with Administrator Mark Green’s goals for transforming or redesigning USAID—and especially with partnering and procurement reform: Diversifying partners, leveraging the private sector, saving U.S. taxpayer dollars and providing the field with flexible, fast and efficient procurement tools for accessing the right expertise at the right time.
The VEGA LWA was flexible, fast and efficient with PALT times three times faster than the USAID average (89 days vs. 300 days) and nimble enough to be used for large, full-scale programs and small, discrete technical assistance anywhere in the world for any economic growth program. The VEGA LWA also was successful in large part because of the support the VEGA Secretariat provided to USAID staff. VEGA procurement support increased over time, saving thousands of hours of USAID staff time, and proved important to the success of the VEGA LWA. The VEGA Secretariat provided missions with information about and access to the benefits of the VEGA LWA through outreach and marketing, significant independent assistance throughout procurement and implementation—assisting in program design and managing the competition, selection, and award—and additional monitoring, oversight and accountability.
The VEGA LWA also evolved in recent years to allow for co-creation which increased the participation of volunteers dramatically. It also proved to be useful in facilitating corporate investments in USAID programs (see Nestlé in Nigeria and Microsoft in Sri Lanka).
Most importantly, the VEGA LWA achieved notable development and volunteer impact and tax payer savings:
The clock is ticking on how USAID will scale mobilizing volunteers—with only a few months to have something workable in place given the deadline set by Congress (120 days to report = July 21, 2018).
That said, VEGA has a lot of confidence in Administrator Mark Green and his team’s ability to move quickly to build upon one of its most successful partnership models to leverage skilled volunteers for more prosperity and security at home and abroad.