the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Mike Froman and Gayle Smith Previewing the President's Speech at the Millennium Development Goals Summit


12:34 P.M. EDT

MR. CHANG:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for coming on the call on relatively short notice.  This is a big day for us.  As you know, the President will be addressing the Millennium Development Goals Summit during which he will have some very important remarks to say about the administration’s development policy. 

On the line with us are Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, and Gayle Smith, special assistant to the President and senior director for international development.  They will be speaking on the record, and after some opening remarks we will turn this over to questions.  And without further ado, I’d like to turn it over to Mike.

MR. FROMAN:  Thanks very much, Ben, and thanks, everybody, for joining us.  As Ben said, the President in his speech before the MDG Summit will lay out the administration’s new development policy and we wanted to spend a few minutes walking you through the major elements of it. 

First of all, this is the first development policy issued by a U.S. President.  And so it is an important statement of not just what the administration intends to do with regard to foreign assistance, but the broader development policy agenda including how other policy tools are brought to bear on development overall. 

This is the product of an almost year-long effort involving 16 agencies who touch development in various ways.  And it reflects also the national security strategy that the administration issued earlier this year, which made it clear that development is a strategic, economic and moral imperative for the United States.

It recognizes that there’s been enormous progress made in reducing global poverty, but a lot more still to do.  And it has several key elements.

One, a focus on economic growth, that the goal of this policy is to see to the emerging markets of the future and make it possible for countries to eventually graduate from assistance; that is, a focus, as I mentioned, on development, not just foreign aid.  There’s a focus on selectivity.  Rather than trying to do everything everywhere well, we will focus on those countries or sub-regions where they have the governance necessary and the conditions in place to succeed, and also on those sectors where we have a comparative advantage.

As part of that, it requires a forged division of labor between ourselves and other donors -- both other governments but also international organizations, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector -- so that we’ll be putting an emphasis on coordinating with other donors as we pursue this strategy.

There’s a great emphasis on innovation and investing in game-changing technologies such as in agriculture, health, and clean energy, building on a long tradition of such investments such as the Green Revolution.  And very much an emphasis on sustainability, not just providing food aid or medicines in emergency situation -- although we will continue to do that, obviously -- but investing also in health systems and agricultural productivity so that countries can better serve their own people.

Finally, it is a policy that elevates the role of development, makes sure that development has a seat at the table at the White House and the National Security Council when their issues -- when those issues are relevant.  It emphasizes the rebuilding of USAID and building out its capabilities in areas like budget and planning, attracting the best quality people to go into development to come to USAID; and also emphasizes the coordination both between AID and the State Department, but also among all 16 agencies that are involved in development.  It’s really the first time there is a development policy that will inform the efforts of the entire government, not just one or two pieces of it.

With that, why don’t I turn it over to Gayle, who ran the interagency process that produced this policy directive, for any further comments.

MS. SMITH:  Thanks, Mike, and thank you all very much for joining.  I think a couple things in terms of the kind of larger frame for this.  The President will make the point that development is in our strategic, economic and moral interest.  And I think as you know, that’s reflected in our national security strategy.  Part of that is about really moving the development ball forward.  In other words, we can do a lot to ameliorate the conditions of poverty, but I think what he’ll speak to and what this policy speaks to is the need for us to really invest in meaningful change.

And just to underscore a couple of the points that Mike made, I think this means we’ve got a deliberate policy that will guide all agencies.  One of the things that’s very new that wasn’t the case 15, 20 years ago is that there are many more agencies engaged internationally than there used to be.  They all bring different tools to the table and they’ve all got stakes in the outcome -- so making sure not only to include them in a well-coordinated process, but also bring the resources and specific policies they have to the table.

The President will also place a real focus on sustainable outcomes.  Again, we’ve made great progress toward the MDG.  Our challenge going forward is to do more so that we make even more progress -- but importantly and in significant ways, make that sustainable.  How do we do that?  One emphasis is, as Mike mentioned, really focusing on inclusive economic growth that over time can allow countries to reduce their dependence.  A second is to help them build the systems that they need to provide services to their people.

But there are two other pieces here.  One is to place a real premium on mutual accountability.  That means as donors, we need to be more transparent, we need to honor the commitments we make; and on the other side, that leaders in developing countries need to step up to the plate.  And one of the very exciting things I think about this summit and today is that there’s a lot of evidence that a lot of countries are doing that; that there’s been a real shift where the political capital needed to drive a development agenda is being invested by an increasing number of leaders.

The second piece here I think is about evidence.  This is a field, development, that the world has been at for a good 50 years.  There’s a lot that we know.  We intend to do a much more rigorous job on the front end and in terms of evaluating what we do to look at whether we’re getting the outcomes we need and want; to look where we may need to change course to build up and bring to scale those things that work, and cease doing those things that, frankly, aren’t generating the results that we and our partners want.

Last point I would underscore is the development landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade if you look at the huge contributions made by the American people in the growing and strengthening of NGOs, if you look at the very robust philanthropic sector, particularly in our country with foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and new actors being at table.  Also on the private sector in many cases, a growing recognition not only that they want to pursue foreign direct investment, but that development is in their interest.  So I think we’re seeing a much more active private sector community.  So we’ve got many more actors at the table.

We’ve also got new donors coming to the table -- and South Korea is a great example.  Part of our task going forward is to really use our leadership to coordinate strategically with them, as Mike suggests, but also to use our leadership to leverage others so that we’ve got a more diverse set of actors bringing a more diverse set of tools to the table to, again, not just treat the manifestations of poverty, but to really make the investments over time that will enable us and our partners to turn it around.

I will stop there. 

MR. FROMAN:  Let me add one last comment which is while this is the rolling out of the presidential policy directive on global development, many of the principles in it are already reflected in the major initiatives that the administration has taken over the last 18 months, including in food security, in global health, and in climate change.  And we can talk about those in specifics if you’d like.  But many of the concepts that we were just discussing are already being put in place through those major initiatives.


MR. CHANG:  Thank you, Mike, and thank you, Gayle.  We’re going to open the floor to questions.  I want to do two quick reminders. 

One is that as the media advisory noted, Gayle and Mike’s remarks are embargoed along with the text of the remarks the President is going to deliver that was set out a little earlier you should already have in your inboxes.  All of this is embargoed until delivery, which is estimated around 4:45 P.M. this afternoon.

The other thing is we’re going to have a pretty comprehensive fact sheet, series of fact sheets going out right after this call with information that will help supplement what Mike and Gayle are saying right now.  So on that note, please open the floor to questions.

Q    Good afternoon.  I’m not sure if you’re really prepared to address questions quite this focused, but does the policy see a role for advancing deployment and adoption of Internet access and broadband in developing countries in terms of their economic development?

MS. SMITH:  Yes, I can answer that.  This is Gayle.  It doesn’t address that specifically.  It does address innovation and the need to place a premium on research and development and the science and technologies that we know can make a transformative difference, but it doesn’t go into specific details such as that.

Q    When the President talks about being selective about where U.S. aid can best be deployed, should we assume that that means that some countries or areas that are currently getting aid will (audio drop) in the future?  And does this new strategy change any of your budget assumptions going forward for how much money the U.S. is going to spend --

MR. FROMAN:  I’m afraid you faded in and out there a little bit, but let me try and answer that.  And Gayle may want to amplify that. 

The concept of selectivity is that we want to focus additional resources but also policy engagement, diplomatic engagement -- really all the tools available to us to help support development on those countries where -- or sub-regions where we think the potential for achieving sustainable economic growth and becoming the next emerging market is -- are most ripe, where the conditions are most ripe.

We do not anticipate necessarily an effect on the budget number as a whole, but it could affect some reallocation within that number from some places to other places, or from some sectors to other sectors.  And the idea is really to make sure that we can act at scale in ways that achieve the objectives of the overall policy.

MS. SMITH:  And I would just add to that briefly on your question on the budget.  I think you’ll hear the President talk about both our intent to honor our commitments on that front -- we’re not looking at a readjustment, as Mike said, of the overall numbers -- and also an intent -- the United States will continue to be a leader on providing humanitarian assistance and helping fill global gaps in things like global health and other areas.  We have no intention of dropping that.

I think what we’re saying is that to really get the transformation that we now know is possible, given what we’ve seen around the world, we need a much more focused effort.  And we know a lot about development in terms of when the conditions are ripe to get the outcomes that we all desire.  And those things include, again, a government that's willing to put political capital into the game, an environment where citizens are empowered to do everything from starting businesses to engage in solving some of the other development challenges that a country faces.

The last thing I would add is that the notion of selectivity is married up to a notion of a far greater -- a far more strategic level of coordination with other donors.  If you look around the world, I think what you see in many countries is that a lot of donors doing a lot of everything and imposing enormous transaction costs on our partners.

We want to be able to sit down with other donors -- the diverse range of them -- and again, with our partners, be much more deliberate about what each of us does.  That's something we’re already doing in the food security initiative.

Q    Hi.  I would like to know if President Obama is willing to support the proposal to tax financial transactions to help achieve the Millennium goals that was proposed by President Sarkozy and President Zapatero? 

MR. FROMAN:  I’ll take a shot at that.  We have been part of several processes to look at alternative finance mechanisms.  And we are comfortable with some of them more than others of them, and the financial transaction tax has been one proposal that has been out there both to -- it has been linked to both MDGs, it’s been linked to climate change, it’s also been linked to paying for bank bailouts. 

We’re in dialogue with -- through the G20 and otherwise with our -- with other countries about alternative finance mechanisms, including that one.  But it’s not one that we have publicly supported as of now.

Q    Hi there, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.  I had a quick question about -- I think it was Mike’s comment about USAID having a seat at the NSC when it was relevant.  And I just wanted to follow up on that and see if that meant that in fact the President has decided not to give the administrator a permanent seat at the NSC as some in the development community have called for.

MR. FROMAN:  Well, I guess I would just say that the way the NSC works, any agency that is relevant to a discussion can be asked to sit on it.  There are a set of core agencies that are part of the National Security Council for virtually every issue -- agencies like State, Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, et cetera.  And there are other agencies that are added to the process as appropriate.  And what this says is that the NSC can include USAID as appropriate when those issues are part of the discussion.

MS. SMITH:  And I would simply add to that, that one of the interesting things about this policy is that a lot of it is already underway.  And the fact of the matter is that on all the major issues that we have tackled over the last months where there is any kind of, if you will, development equity, USAID has been at the table.  So on Haiti, on a number of issues, with respect to Pakistan -- on any number of issues.  So that’s already something that’s happened.

Q    Hey, guys, thanks very much for chatting with us.  There’s been some criticism at the U.N. this week about the U.S. actually fulfilling all of its development obligations or promises.  And I wanted to know if you expect this policy to tamp down any of that criticism?  And does it come with any new money beyond what’s already been pledged?  And then the second part of the question is about the reaction on the home front.  Do you expect any pushback from people in this country who are saying, you know, why are we sending so much aid overseas at a time of economic crisis at home?

MS. SMITH:  I’m happy to take -- take a first cut at that.  I think on the question of the U.S. meeting our development commitments, quite frankly, we are meeting our development commitments.  One of the things at the recent G8 summit, for example, was talking a look at the Gleneagles commitments.  And if you look at both the G8 accountability report or the reports that outside groups have done, I think you will find that the United States was among those that in fact have met our commitments. 

The President has also announced well before this policy came out very early in his tenure the new global health initiative, which builds on what President Bush did, but in fact expands that both programmatically and in terms of dollars and a food security initiative, which importantly entailed a three-year new commitment from us, but which we also leveraged to turn into a $22 billion worldwide commitment.

So I think we’re fairly confident that we’re right on target with meeting our commitments.  I think there are those -- and there will always be those -- who would like to see more money under different sectors or issues or so on and so forth.  And I think that’s always going to be the case.  But I think there’s a very firm commitment and you will certainly hear from the President that commitment.

I think on the home front, I would just say one quick thing and then I’m sure Mike wants to add.  I think part of the story we’re telling the American people is, A, that we’re going to use our dollars more wisely when it comes to aid.  We’re going to complement them with other tools.  We’re going to use our leadership to leverage engagement and resources from others.  And we’re going to spend them more wisely.  We’re going to focus much more on evaluation, on building on what works and not doing what doesn’t work.

The second thing is part of this is about investing in our having more capable partners over time with whom we can engage to deal with a host of challenges, whether climate change, global pandemics, whatever it may be that we have to deal with collectively.  So I think we can tell a very good story about spending our resources more wisely, maximizing our resources through leveraging, and really turning our development dollars into a long-term investment.

MR. FROMAN:  Yes, I would only add -- I agree with all that.  I would only add to that, back on your first point, we -- the U.S. pressed very hard for transparency as to how the G8 countries, who are the major donors, have done vis-à-vis their commitments.  And that report, as Gayle said, came out in Muskoka in June.  I commend it to you.  It goes commitment by commitment, country by country, what was committed to, what was done.  And I think you’ll find that the U.S. holds up very well there.

And so I sort of dispute those who say that the U.S. has not upheld its commitment.  And the $63 billion global health initiative that Gayle mentioned puts us far and away ahead as the largest player in global health among all the donors.  So I think we are in very firm ground there.

The only other point I would make on your second question -- and I think you’ll hear it from the President -- is a clear point of view that development is not just a moral imperative, but is a strategic and an economic imperative as well.  As Gayle said, we need to have capable partners, stable, growing, well-governed partners around the world to help us deal with the global challenges.  And we also need emerging markets as our own economy requires markets abroad for our exports.

So this is very much in the U.S. interests and I believe you will hear the President make the case as to why this is a core part of our national security.

Q    I’m sorry, I was going to ask about the 0.7 percent GNI, but I think it was already asked and addressed fully.  Thanks.

Q    Hi, thank you.  My question -- maybe this will be answered when you send out the fact sheet you referred to -- but I read the President’s speech and some of the things he mentions as being a new emphasis -- economic growth, accountability on the part of those countries that receive the aid.  These are -- goals are already embraced in the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  And so I’m wondering are you talking more about these ideas being extended to the other -- the broader foreign aid programs, like USAID?

MS. SMITH:  I think we’re doing two things.  I think, one, we’ve certainly learned a lot from the MCC, both about outcomes but also about, quite frankly, the incentives effect.  So there’s no question that we’ve -- our findings have been informed by that.

But I think part of what we’re also talking about is, you know, the MCC might have a compact with a country but that doesn’t, again, bring all these other resources to the table that both Mike and I have mentioned across the policy spectrum.

A second thing I would say is that part of what we’re also -- talking about the proof will be in the pudding, although I think we’re quite confident that we’ll be there -- is that concepts like accountability and transparency have been out there.  We’ve all committed to doing that.  I think you will hear a very forceful message from the President that we have to hold ourselves accountable to actually do the things we’ve said.  So I think that's the other element of this, is really translating the promises that we as donors have made, even as we expect our partners to honor the commitments they’ve made, into concrete, tangible and different ways of doing business.

Mike, do you want to add anything?

MR. FROMAN:  No, I think you covered it.

Q    Hi, thanks for taking -- doing this call.  I was just wondering if the President’s development policy -- does it include any goals or timetables -- you know, five years or 10 years out, where some of these countries that now are relying on U.S. assistance economically, development-wise, et cetera, will be able to function on their own and become the emerging markets that were talked about during the call, that sort of thing?

MR. FROMAN:  It does not set a precise timetable and I think this is a -- this will be an ongoing and long-term project that's really turning the ship in a way that we do development policy.  And so it will take some time to be fully implemented, and it will take time for the implementation to have all the desired impact.  But it is setting out an objective that we want to work towards.

Q    Thank you very much.  I'd like to ask you a couple of specific questions about the new policy.  According to a draft of the policy that was published earlier this year, it called for a standing interagency development policy committee to coordinate the development policy across the executive branch.  It also called for a U.S. global development strategy to be undertaken every four years and approved by the President.  Did both of these items make it into the final version of the presidential policy directive?  And also, could you please explain why the decision was made not to release the actual policy document to the public?  Thank you very much.

MR. FROMAN:  Both of those elements did make it into the final presidential policy directive, and I think you’ll see that reflected on the fact sheet when it’s released.  And I think in terms of PPD of release, I think I'll probably have to refer you to somebody else at the White House.  I think it’s general policy that we can release a detailed summary of it, but as has been -- as I understand the policy, not to release PPDs themselves.

MR. CHANG:  And let me add that the fact sheet that will come out and hit your inboxes momentarily is very comprehensive and thorough and falls on the point that Mike just made about sending out a detailed and comprehensive summary.

Q    Good afternoon.  Thank you for holding this.  Can you just briefly tell us if you are going to earmark money for, say, Asia, for Africa, for the different continents, or is it going to be all one global fund?

MS. SMITH:  I can take that.  We’re not actually talking about creating a new fund, per se.  But no, we don't plan to, if you will, create different subsets for earmark.  I think we plan to base our analysis, again, on what we’re seeing in terms of where the trends look right for the kind of investments we’d like to make to get the results we’ve discussed.  But it’s our expectation that this is, indeed, as has been said and the President will make clear, this is a global development policy.  And I think that will be reflected.

1:02 P.M. EDT