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US Announces Major Reform in AID Agency

The director of the U.S. government's Agency for International Development, U.S. AID, says the relief effort following the earthquake in Haiti early this year has been a success and is guiding his ideas for a reform of the agency. He said it would be the biggest operational shakeup of US AID since it was created in the 1960s by President John F. Kennedy.

In a speech at the National Press Club Friday, U.S. AID director Rajiv Shah said the entrepreneurial actions of his staff in the weeks after the earthquake ensured that Haiti's most urgent needs were met.

Rather than rely on food brought in from the U.S., he said emergency teams purchased from local stockpiles - and together with the World Food Program they fed around three and a half million people. He called it the largest feeding program ever attempted as part of an emergency relief effort.

Shah said the quick vaccination of more than a million people prevented any major disease outbreak so far. "I learned that to bring out the best in our people we needed to unleash the pentup entrepreneurial energy that existed within the agency and within our staff," he said.

The 37-year-old director, who used to work at the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, said he would reform procurement practices at the US-AID, improve budget accountability and create partnerships with private foundations.

Instead of merely disbursing aid, he said the agency would focus on whether it is having an impact. He said staff would be given videocams to conduct interviews for customer research which would be analyzed at regular high level evaluation meetings.

Shah said the effort is designed to obtain "extreme transparency." "We owe American taxpayers hard evidence of the impact their money is making," he said.

He said US AID is also making sure its aid does not fall into the hands of corrupt local officials. "We have no tolerance for corruption in any of our programs. It's why we have our inspector general on the ground in Port au Prince in Haiti helping oversee disbursements and contracts. It's why we have teams of inspector generals in Afghanistan and Pakistan that very rigorously evaluate the flow of funds," he said.

Shah said the Obama administration sees development aid as a security issue because it prevents conditions that give rise to extremism. He said that since early last year, the agency has tripled its staff in Afghanistan.

Last month, Shah announced the "Feed the Future" initiative, a $3.5 billion effort to guarantee global food security.

The United States is the world leading donor of development aid, but compare to the United States' gross national income it lags behind many other industrialized countries.