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Humentum US Advocacy: The State of Play

December 17, 2020

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Cynthia Smith

Director, Global Initiatives, US

Without a doubt, 2020 has forced the development and humanitarian sector to adapt and pivot in new and often dizzying ways. We have yet to fully comprehend the monumental human, health, and economic impact of an ongoing global pandemic. Despite an administration change, we will continue to work in a climate of intense political polarization, nationalism, and the aftershocks of our government’s recoiling from the global leadership stage over the past four years. And, we will be challenged to confront the colonial underpinnings of our own industry while taking active, meaningful steps toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do. Throughout all of this, we are called upon to ensure we have mechanisms, guidance, and supports in place to uphold our duty of care to those we partner with and assist across the globe.

This year, Humentum worked to undergird the resilience of our members and the sector at large. We reviewed and dissected COVID-19 related donor guidance, advocated for timebound financial and technical flexibilities, and researched how the sector was fairing financially. We guided members through this unchartered landscape, holding numerous thematic and expert webinars and roundtables which convened hundreds of C-Suite and administrative staff alike. We engaged members in eight US Federal rulemaking and information collection notice and comment opportunities. We met with officials across government to examine ways to streamline funding and simplify compliance regimes, while expanding resources to local partners.

To keep our members and stakeholders informed and engaged, we published these quarterly Advocacy Advisor updates for over 14,000 development and humanitarian assistance professionals across the globe. We fielded dozens of member questions and requests for assistance on donor guidance, policy shifts, and Executive actions. And, in coalition with other industry associations, we advanced members’ interests through targeted governmental outreach and advocacy, as funding priorities were altered in dramatic ways.

Humentum will face the year ahead with the same level of intentionality and purpose. We will continue our focus on administrative advocacy with the incoming Biden administration. With a divided government, there will be an outsized role for the Executive branch in the enactment of substantive policy change through executive orders and federal rulemaking. Among other significant actions impacting the sector, we anticipate that the Biden administration will:

  • Rescind EO 13950, Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping
  • Revise and amend EO 13964, Rebranding US Foreign Assistance to Advance American Interests
  • Rescind the Mexico City Policy
  • Promote democracy and human rights
  • Renew commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion within government and across programming
  • Renew multilateralism and emphasize soft power through strategic diplomacy and sustainable development
  • Reenter Paris climate agreement and roll back environmental deregulation
  • Rejoin WHO and facilitate global health coordination

Because of this relative sea change in the US Government’s posture toward foreign affairs, Humentum anticipates openings on key issues that impact the operationalization of US foreign assistance. What, among other things, are we asking the incoming Biden Administration to consider?

  • Build on efforts to streamline and simplify federal acquisition and assistance financial and programmatic reporting requirements and procurement policies to reduce barriers to new and local implementing partners.
  • Institutionalize donor flexibilities in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Lead the harmonization of donor financial reporting requirements across major global funders.
  • Establish a mechanism for greater outward-facing coordination (among US federal agencies administering foreign assistance funding) and engagement of the implementing community to harmonize the approach across agencies to sector-wide challenges and concerns (e.g., seeking agency waivers for Section 889 of NDAA FY19 implementation; DOS and USAID have waivers, but unclear whether others have requested them for their international implementing partners).
  • Create an “Industry Liaison” post within each US Government donor agency (USDOS, CDC, USDA, USDOL, etc…) to ensure frequent, meaningful, and timely engagement and consultation with implementing partners on policy and procurement issues as they arise, as USAID has demonstrated is possible even in these most challenging of times.
  • Undergird and elevate USAID’s vital role in the execution of US foreign assistance policy. Support the continued implementation of USAID’s Transformation agenda, with an emphasis on localization and J2SR principles. As part of this process, prioritize the hiring of Foreign Service Nationals into USAID’s local workforce.

Above all, we encourage the incoming Administration to adopt a posture of trust with new and existing partners. By doing so, the Administration can still ensure mechanisms and procedures are in place to verify that such trust is merited and respected, while reducing unnecessary barriers to self-reliance and localization. By continuing to embrace a posture of distrust in the skills, capacity, and competency of all implementing partners – with a punitive first approach that emphasizes compliance and prosecution, rather than capacity building and verification – we fall short on localization, sustainability, and self-reliance targets. Humentum is at the ready to work with the incoming Administration to make this essential pivot.

Read our final Global Advocacy Update of 2020