Mark Green is a rare bird in Washington these days — a Donald Trump nominee with broad bipartisan support.
But there's a catch to his potential posting as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency faces a starkly uncertain future, including potentially big budget cuts and the possibility of being folded entirely into a restructured State Department.
Within hours of the White House's announcement of his nomination this past week, the former Republican congressman from Wisconsin and U.S. ambassador to Tanzania under President George W. Bush had collected an impressive array of endorsements from lawmakers in both parties, and from development groups that had up to then largely opposed other Trump nominees and policies. That bodes well for Green's confirmation, even if it may not be enough to stave off what some see as the Trump administration's intent to dismantle USAID.
"There's no way Ambassador Green, or anyone for that matter, could effectively execute the mission of USAID under the proposed cuts and changes that President Trump is proposing for this critical agency," said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will evaluate the nomination. The cuts "would devastate the United States' ability to conduct diplomacy and development and harm our national interests."
Created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, USAID oversees American civilian assistance abroad, including health, education, environment, democracy and economic programs, and provides emergency humanitarian aid in response to natural disasters. It administers more than $20 billion in foreign assistance each year. Although it takes direction from the State Department, USAID is an independent agency.
The administration's initial proposal for the 2018 budget called for slashing State Department and USAID funding by 31 percent. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has countered by proposing a 26 percent cut and creating a committee to study USAID's full integration into his department. The effect on specific programs won't be known until later this month when the entire spending plan is submitted to Congress. The panel considering USAID's future is to start meeting this summer and deliver findings several months later.
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who as the House Appropriations Committee's top Democrat will play a major role in determining the dollars for diplomacy and development, welcomed Green's nomination. She said he "understands just how important effective foreign assistance is to U.S. national security."
Green, through a spokeswoman for the International Republican Institute he now leads, declined to comment about his plans for USAID, citing protocol that nominees avoid speaking publicly before their confirmation hearings. The institute promotes democracy, multi-party political systems and electoral processes and civic development around the world. It is not affiliated with the Republican Party but does have loose connections to the GOP. Green was a Republican congressman from Wisconsin and the organization's board includes other former and current Republican lawmakers.
In addition to serving in Congress and as ambassador, Green was involved in creating President George W. Bush's PEPFAR program, which combats AIDS, and was on the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, another Bush-era initiative that awards grants to foreign countries that commit to good governance and anti-corruption policies.
"Mark is familiar to many of us," said Wade Warren, USAID's acting director. He praised Green for his work on democracy, human rights, and governance programs, and overseeing "some of the U.S. government's largest development programs." Warren also credited Green for championing legislation as a congressman to promote global health.
Tillerson has made clear changing were coming to USAID, even with Green at the helm. He said this past week that Green would "help us prioritize where America's future development investments will be spent so that we can ensure every tax dollar advances our country's security and prosperity."
Republican lawmakers, including some opposed to drastic cuts in foreign assistance, echoed calls for Green to streamline the agency.
Green is "uniquely qualified to lead a modernized USAID," said GOP Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He said he would work with Green to make the agency "more efficient and effective so that it can continue the critical missions of promoting economic growth, saving lives, and promoting democracy and human rights."
Nongovernmental development organizations hope Green staves off major changes
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a bipartisan advocacy group that has called Trump's proposed budget cuts "reckless," said it looked forward to Green "maintaining the elevated role of USAID, which has been transformed during the last two administrations into a modern and accountable institution."
The anti-poverty One Campaign, which has said the aid cuts would be "disastrous," cited Green's "long history of thoughtful leadership on America's development assistance strategy."
Saying he would make a strong USAID leader, the group said Green's "leadership will be particularly important and tested as he grapples with the unprecedented cuts proposed to USAID in the president's budget."