Remarks by Eric G. Postel, Associate Administrator, USAID, at the USAID M/OAA Partners Day

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Thank you, Angelique, for the introduction, and for your superb leadership of the M Bureau.  I also want to thank your team in the Management Bureau’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance for organizing this Partners’ Day event. 
Good afternoon, everyone.  It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
At USAID, we are privileged to work with a diverse set of partners who bring so much to our work.  I specifically want to recognize the five different associations we have with us today who help facilitate those partnerships and bring the development community together. 
In addition to helping improve how we all work together, InterAction, InsideNGO, the Professional Services Council (PSC), the Small Business Association of International Development Companies (SBAIC), and the Society for International Development Washington Chapter (SID-Washington) provided valuable input on the agenda. Their support for this event has been a tremendous help. Thank you.
I also especially want to thank all of you for being here. Some of you represent long-time partners, and some of you have never worked with us before. But please know that we consider each one of you as absolutely critical to USAID’s important mission. 
For USAID, partnership is at the very core of our mission.  It is how we often do business, from co-creating and co-designing programs to collaborating through implementation.
When we partner, we can make steady progress against seemingly intractable problems. And, as all of you here today know, we have no shortage of these problems. 
That is why the new global development goals are so important.  They are ambitious, and necessarily so.  After all, the goals must be as ambitious as the challenges we face are daunting. 
The Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework to guide all of us – including countries all over the world – for the next fifteen years. To achieve these goals — to move the needle forward — we will all have to collaborate extensively.
At USAID, our partnerships take many different shapes and forms. Throughout the day, much of the conversation will be focused on partnering through grants, cooperative agreements and contracts. These mechanisms for partnership are critical to the work of our Agency and are really the backbone of what we do. 
Last year, fiscal year 2015, around 80 percent of the Agency’s program funds were obligated through a grant, cooperative agreement, or contract – which equates to $16.1 billion dollars. More than half of you in the room are currently partnering with USAID. For that, I want to say thank you again. Without you, achieving our mission would not be possible. 
Over the past few years, if you have been at a USAID event, you have heard us talk a lot about the need to be more innovative in finding solutions to the substantial problems we face today. USAID has created many new ways to find innovative solutions, like our Grand Challenges or Development Innovation Ventures. But I want remind you there is just as much room for innovation within our traditional mechanisms of partnership. I encourage you, whether you’re a current USAID partner or a new partner – to be innovative, find creative ways to solve problems, and share those new ideas with us and each other. 
We need those ideas now more than ever, because we are at a pivotal moment in history. Today, the world faces increasingly complex challenges. You only have to open a newspaper to see what kind of challenges I’m talking about. Syria. Yemen. Ebola. El Nino. These are challenges that span borders and affect multiple sectors. At the same time, for the first time in history, we now have many of the tools, technologies, and approaches needed to help end extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, such as widespread hunger and preventable child deaths. 
These challenges – whether we are working to save the lives of children and mothers, fight corruption, or eradicate global hunger – are simply too massive and complex for any one entity to tackle alone. We need every kind of partner imaginable to be involved. We need the academic and research communities to ensure that our proposed solutions are driven by the best available evidence and innovative ideas. We need governments of developing countries to come together around our shared development goals and help finance them through domestic resources. We need NGOs to contribute resources and technical support, and to join us in the quest to work ourselves out of the development business (though we probably will never want to be out of the humanitarian business).  And, we need the private sector to add their expertise, ingenuity, innovation and investment. 
At USAID, we seek to partner with all these types of organizations and more – including small and large businesses, colleges and universities, for-profit and nonprofit, local organizations, faith-based groups, scientists, researchers, in-country partners, diaspora groups, other U.S. government agencies. In fact, our Agency has more than 4,000 different partners of all different types around the world. 
The point is that each one of you can play an important role, because each one of you brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the table.  Only by working together can we achieve the SDGs.
That is why, in addition to seeking out new and diverse partnerships, it is essential that we are partnering in the most effective and efficient ways possible. USAID is committed to improving the way we partner, and I encourage the USAID team in the room to look for ways we can do better, and be vocal about it. I urge you all to do the same. 
Over the past few years, USAID has taken strides in improving how we do business. It is something to which the entire senior leadership team at USAID – including our newly confirmed Administrator Gayle Smith – is personally committed. Under her leadership, we will continue striving to deliver operational services more efficiently and effectively, improving our systems, streamline processes, and safeguard the resources with which we are entrusted.
One of the ways we are doing this is through a group called the Administrator’s Leadership Council, senior leaders from across the Agency meet on a quarterly basis to review metrics developed by every Bureau and independent office at USAID. These reviews help ensure that everyone is maintaining a relentless focus on results that is so essential to our success. 
For example, one of the metrics reported to the Administrator’s office from the Management Bureau is PALT -- or procurement action lead time. You have probably already heard the term used a number of times today, but PALT measures the amount of time it takes to make an award, from start to finish. 
I know PALT is an important topic to you, and it affects you a great deal. Once you submit a proposal to USAID, it costs money to keep your team together while we review. That is why I always the best answer we can give someone looking to partner with us is a quick yes. But the second best answer is a quick no – it is better for all of us when things aren’t dragged out unnecessarily. 
As you heard today, USAID has taken a number of steps to make our acquisition and assistance functions more efficient. And now, we are on the right track to reduce PALT by 40 percent by 2017.  In trying to hit that goal, we are also mindful that the government-wide doubling of protests adversely affects PALT times and thus represents headwinds for us.  But, when we succeed win reducing the PALT times, we will not only make the procurement process more efficient, but we will also help you all -- our partners -- to have more time to utilize your resources.  
Another way we can improve how we partner is through communications.  That is why I created the semi-annual E3 Open House, and why Angelique has created this Partners Day.  
You can see by looking around the room that this is a full event.  In fact, it filled up in less than 24 hours, and there was a waitlist of more than 275 people eager to join the discussions.  That says to me that there is a thirst for information. 
We need to be doing a better job of communicating with you -- including hosting more regular events like this Partners’ Day. 
That’s one of the things I’d ask you to do. Think about how we can do a better job of communicating, about our approaches, about opportunities, or anything else that would be valuable to you.  I know the Office of Acquisition and Assistance has created many new tools for communications -- including e-mail distribution lists, a new twitter handle, conference calls on the Business Forecast, and the Ask the Procurement Executive.  I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, but also to let us know where we can do better. 
Lastly, I want to say a word about the increasingly difficult world in which we find ourselves operating.  As the senseless murder of a Palladium contractor in Mali two weeks ago and the deaths of many others in places such as Afghanistan show, our people are frequently operating in very challenging circumstances, as you know fully well.  We are all one development family and these incidents hit all of you and your teams, and our USAID team hard.  Sadly, I think we will all need to redouble our efforts to keep our people safe.  And, as more and more data is indicating, we also need to help them with the stress, both in-country and after their assignments are completed.  Here at USAID we have created a Staff Care unit to help people and I predict that more of you will need to think about such support in the days ahead. 
I want to wrap up now, because I know you have a busy afternoon ahead of you.  Again, I want to thank you for the work you are doing.  As you know, it is not easy work. And it can be incredibly taxing – emotionally and physically. 
But what we do together is important, and I hope you know that our collective work is making a lasting impact on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. And whether you are a current partner or a future one, we are eager to work with you to sustain that impact and continue driving this important work forward. 
Thank you again for being here, and for everything you and your organizations do to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies around the world. 
Thank you.
Ronald Reagan Building – Atrium Hall