On Wednesday, January 13, President-elect Biden announced his nomination of Ambassador Samantha Power to be the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Samantha Power, USAID Administrator
Power is a diplomat and longtime advisor to President Obama, serving as the Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017. Previously, Power chaired the Atrocities Prevention Board in the White House, a position she came to after serving on the State Department agency review team in the 2008 Obama transition, and served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council. She was a senior foreign policy adviser to then-Senator Obama on the campaign trail, until an off the record comment about then-Senator Clinton caused her to resign in early 2008. While UN Ambassador, Power’s office focused on human rights issues in the Middle East, North Africa, Sudan, and Myanmar, and is considered to be a key factor in persuading President Obama to intervene in Libya. She is known for advocating for humanitarian intervention, though some critics say she is overly willing to advocate for deploying U.S. forces to address human rights issues.
Power began her career as a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, before working as a war correspondent covering the Yugoslav Wars. She is the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrook in the World, and The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir. She was the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she later served as the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy. Emigrating from the UK, Power became a U.S. citizen at 23 in 1993. Power earned her bachelor’s from Yale University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.
Samantha Power’s nomination to serve as USAID Administrator marks the earliest naming ever for this position, and quite possibly the highest profile nominee in the Agency’s 60-year history. The elevation of the position to the National Security Council may be an indication that President-elect Biden intends to elevate the role of USAID and global development efforts generally. While Power is known for her substantial work on human rights and multilateral diplomacy, she is not a practitioner of the kinds of economic and health development programs or humanitarian assistance programs that are core to USAID’s mission. Her nomination to the position raises questions amongst those in the development and humanitarian community about potential changes to the mandate of USAID, including the potential shift of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to USAID.
Power has strong relationships with the Biden team, allowing for strong cooperation with Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin. Given longstanding tension between the State Department and USAID, proximity of relationships between the two leadership teams may be helpful in rebuilding the agencies, both of which have been demoralized and faced significant challenges over the last four years. Power has good Hill relationships and a deep understanding of the United Nations, as she previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN. She will be seen as an extremely heavy hitter in negotiating USAID’s equities in the national security space.