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Trump's Proposed USAID Head Knows Aid — And Politics

Mark Green, second from left, president of the International Republican Institute, testifies in 2014 before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill.
Karen Bleier
AFP/Getty Images
Mark Green, second from left, president of the International Republican Institute, testifies in 2014 before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill.

The White House has nominated Mark Andrew Green to what could be one the toughest jobs in the Trump administration.

The former Republican congressman from Wisconsin has been tapped to run USAID — the U.S. Agency for International Development. If confirmed, the 56-year-old Green will take over USAID at a time when global humanitarian crises are mounting. And he'll have to answer to a president who's been openly hostile to handing out American taxpayer dollars abroad.

Across the development world, Green's nomination has been widely praised.

"Mark Green is a really strong choice to head USAID," says Jeremy Konyndyk, former head of USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

"He has very deep experience and reach within the development sector. He's currently the head of a very well-respected democracy NGO, the International Republican Institute, and before that he has been active in development policy reform conversations in D.C."

Green served four terms in Congress from 1999-2007 before being named ambassador to Tanzania by President George W. Bush. Konyndyk, now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, says one of Green's strengths is that he has experience in both the development world and in Washington.

"He understands the politics and the political environment that he's going to be jumping into. He's a very experienced operator in terms of navigating both Capitol Hill and the internal workings of the administration. So I think he's a very strong choice."

Other development policy groups and aid organizations were also quick to praise President Trump's choice.

Save the Children issued a statement saying Green is "eminently qualified to serve as USAID administrator and would arrive for work on his first day ready to lead the agency. Ambassador Green recognizes the importance of robust investments in foreign assistance and the need for transparency and accountability." Save the Children urged the Senate to swiftly confirm his nomination.

Green's ties to the developing world run deep. Right out of college in the 1980s he and his wife taught English as volunteers with WorldTeach in Kenya.

After stepping down as ambassador to Tanzania, Green served on the board of directors of Malaria No More and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. He's been an advocate for more efficient and accountable international aid.

The Trump administration has proposed slashing international aid by 25 to 30 percent.

But Konyndyk at the Center for Global Development says Green isn't likely to approach his job as being the hatchet man at the agency.

"I wouldn't foresee him being someone jumping into this job with an eye toward deconstructing USAID or making debilitating cuts to U.S. development investment," Konyndyk says.

But he adds that Green will face a major challenge to balance the publicly stated goal of President Trump to cut international aid while still doing what USAID traditionally does. With an annual budget of $27 billion, USAID is the American government's lead agency in terms of humanitarian relief and poverty eradication globally.

The proposed Trump cut "would be really debilitating to the agency," Konyndyk says.

The trick for Green, he says, will be to trim but not gut USAID programs: "That's going to be a critical early test."

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Jason Beaubien
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.