Q & A with the New OHA Director Doug Arbuckle

R. Douglass Arbuckle

R. Douglass Arbuckle
Director, Office of HIV/AIDS

As the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and our country are in the midst of leadership change, so, too, is the Office of HIV/AIDS (OHA). On September 6, 2016, OHA welcomed R. Douglass (Doug) Arbuckle, as its new Director. Doug brings tremendous depth and knowledge with more than 27 years of experience at USAID. We had the opportunity to sit down with Doug to get his candid perspectives on OHA and what it's going to take to bring about an end to the AIDS epidemic.

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Q1. How did you first get involved in development work, and what inspired you?
I served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia in 1973–1974 during a major humanitarian disaster. As a surveillance officer for the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program, I walked throughout what was then Wollo province, the epicenter of a major drought. Large swaths of the countryside there were almost completely depopulated. I later worked as a research assistant on a major perinatal mortality study for Penn State University in Ethiopia. All of this inspired me to seek a career in development, trying to make a difference in the world.

Q2. Most recently, you were the Mission Director in Malawi, and prior to that served as Deputy Mission Director in Sudan, and in other capacities at USAID missions in, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iraq, Tanzania and Zambia. How will your leadership in these roles serve you at OHA?
I've spent most of my career in various management roles. In the 22-plus years that I served as an Executive Officer for USAID, I have gained a pretty comprehensive understanding of how the Agency works and how it could work better. I hope to apply those lessons to my tenure as OHA Director. Many of the constraints and challenges we face in our day-to-day work are self-imposed, brought about by an incomplete understanding of what is actually possible within the framework of the "rules and regulations." I look at each day as another opportunity for creative problem solving, and I enjoy helping figure out how to accomplish the impossible. OHA provides myriad opportunities for me to practice and further hone those skills.

Q3. With your extensive experience supporting USAID Missions, where do you see OHA expanding its efforts to support the field?
I believe that OHA can and should play a significant role in advocating on behalf of our field missions – our bread and butter. Under the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), interagency collaboration is crucial but often only gets a passing nod from those responsible for making it happen. Collaboration can't be a one-way street, and I hope to use my position in OHA to advocate for stronger partnerships and greater accountability from all the players in PEPFAR.

Q4. USAID is celebrating 30 years of its leadership in the HIV and AIDS arena and is committed to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of Ending AIDS by 2030. Where do you think OHA can make the most impact to meet this goal?
USAID (and OHA, by extension) brings a unique set of strengths and capabilities to the fight against HIV and AIDS. I think that we can do a better job of telling our story and defending our equities. We really need to master the data to support that case, and that will require all of us to be much more serious about how we gather, analyze and use the data we've got.

Q5. What is your number one priority for your first year as OHA's director? Yes, you can only pick one!
In the first year of my tenure at OHA, I would like to achieve some relief for all of us from the constant onslaught of demands for more information and for the achievement of unrealistic targets. That doesn't mean the information and targets aren't important, but we can reduce duplication and unnecessary information demands and make stronger arguments for the role of local context in target setting. One size doesn't fit all. And at risk of exceeding my allotment of desires for year one, I'd like to help everyone do a better job of achieving and maintaining work-life balance. Our work is critically important but so are the other aspects of our lives.

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