BROOKINGS: TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT AND COLLABORATION (1977) Page 3 of 4 

VII. Institutional shortcomings

         In our discussions with knowledgeable people in AID, other Federal agencies and the scientific and educational communities, six major shortcomings of the present U.S. institutional capacity to address development problems effectively were mentioned most frequently:

A.     The technical qualifications of AID staff;

B.      The operational procedures of AID;

C.    The lack of mechanisms for scientific and technical collaboration with middle-income countries;

D.    The under-utilization on development problems of the scientific and technical resources of other Federal agencies;

E.     The under-utilization on development problems of private scientific, technical, and educational resources;

F.     The inadequate ability to mount concerted attack on major development problems along the entire spectrum from the creation of necessary basic knowledge, through various stages of adaptation, to the practical application of new technology in the developing countries.

A. Staff

          AID has declined in size by around 50 percent in the last ten years, but the number of technically-qualified people in the fields of agriculture, health and medicine, and education has dropped by more than three-quarters. (This does not take account of staff in management positions who have technical qualifications.)  Because of the overall staff decline, little fresh recruit­ment in technical fields has occurred, except for a small flow to the central staff. As a result, the technical staff remaining tends to be older and less current professionally than was the case a decade ago.

         This decline in technical quality is in part a matter of deliberate policy, in that the Agency decided to rely more on contractors than its own staff for implementing technical projects and for specialized talents of all kinds. The intention was to maintain a core group with broad technical backgrounds within the Agency, and to rely on them to draw on specialized skills outside the Agency, as necessary.

         The quality of staff needed to make this concept effective is high, however, and can only be found through aggressive recruitment -- not gradual attrition. AID is not at this time an attractive organization for many technically-qualified people because of the time which must be devoted to non-professional work and the difficulty of keeping professionally current. Combined AID / university careers are difficult to arrange. Under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, a specialist can join AID on loan from a university, but in practice few do so because of practical costs involved for the individual or his university.

         Nor is area knowledge, increasingly necessary for strengthening indigenous institutional capacity, a strong attribute of AID’s technical staff. The rotational assignment system offers little incentive for deep engagement with the cultures of recipient countries.

B. Procedures

          Administrator Gilligan achieved large progress when he eliminated one major step in the project approval process. The Agency is still far from having an atmosphere conducive to scientific and technical collaboration, however. This is due partly to the use of inappropriate instruments, such as commodity-type contracts mentioned earlier, partly to onerous Congressional demands for detail, and partly to the fact that the primary function of the Agency is to effect resource transfers and manage projects. It should be possible to simplify contracting procedures and improve relationships with private sector research and training institutions, but the requirements of Congress are another matter. It may be necessary and appropriate for the staff of Congressional committees to review each project when they involve major concessional resource transfers, but this kind of close supervision of research and technical collaboration can be seriously detrimental to quality. It should be noted that many of the successful innovations in scientific and technical cooperation cited in this report have come from the private sector -- foundations, universities and voluntary organizations -- rather than from government-financed programs. Accountability in the problem-solving fields of development is more meaningful when considering the results of activities than when scrutinizing detailed plans.

          The underlying problem of the Agency in dealing with scientific and technical matters may have to do with its character as an operating agency, charged with administering concessional aid and expected to produce quick results. There is a difference of time perspective between operations and research, a difference of temperament and of priorities. A relatively short time horizon is perhaps necessary and appropriate to an Agency which must justify its funds on an annual basis, which has to manage projects, and which must be responsive to short-run foreign policy considerations. Projects must be mounted on the basis of what is known. But the major problems of development will not yield to short-term efforts; their solution requires new knowledge, and hence sustained attention by research institutions well into the future.

C. Technical Cooperation With Middle-Income Countries

         A serious gap in the pattern of American international scientific, technical, and educational relationship is emerging as a result of increasing concentration by AID on activities in the low income countries, and the absence of other mechanisms to facilitate relationships with middle-income countries.

         Many of the “graduate” countries, such as Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, are of great economic and political importance to the United States, and their scientific and technical leadership generally has been trained in the United States, but U.S. funds are often not available to maintain the U.S. share of the costs of collaborative relationships.

          For those from countries willing and able to pay the full cost of assistance, in dollars and usually in advance, AID has an Office for Reimbursable Technical Assistance (ORTA). The Office now serves nineteen countries, most of which are oil producers. The assistance requested is generally associated with the purchase of U.S. capital goods.

         Cooperative scientific and technical relationships between American institutions and those in developing countries can be financed by AID, if the country is a recipient of concessional aid, or by the developing country, if it is wealthy enough and wishes to do so. In practice, even the oil-producing countries are more likely to buy technical services than to finance both sides of a collaborative relationship.

         Many non-recipient countries with income levels in the middle range would welcome collaborative relationships with U.S. research institutions, but can ill afford to bear the full cost. At present, no suitable U.S. mechanism for supporting collaborative shared-cost arrangements exists.

         Success in reaching middle-income status is not necessarily accompanied by the maturation of institutional capacities for solving serious technical problems that remain. In Brazil and Mexico, for example, large sections of each country remain in poverty. Although international financial institutions and private capital markets can provide funds for these countries, severe technical and planning problems are involved, to which U.S. research institutions could make useful contributions if requested by local institutions and if funding were available. It would be in the U.S. interest to be able to respond positively to opportunities to collaborate in research and training relevant to anti-poverty programs in these countries.

          Mutual interest in collaborative programs can be found in other fields as well, such as research oh alternative energy sources, family planning programs, environmental protection, drug control, food production, and employment. Knowledge gained on these subjects in the middle-income countries will be useful not only to them but in many cases to the United States and to other developing countries.

          For advanced training, the middle-income countries need to send students to advanced countries. The complexity and diversity of U.S. higher education and research institutions can be baffling to those who wish to tap them. ORTA is currently assisting the Nigerian government to place 500 students in American colleges and universities, and may in time develop additional programs of this type. ORTA staff is not professionally equipped to handle placements itself, however, and the Nigerian project has taxed the Agencys capacity. A permanent organization, more closely tied into the U.S. higher education community, is needed to facilitate international cooperation at this level. The American Council on Education is in the process of studying the merits of establishing a central information and referral system.

          For the middle-income countries, it may also be desirable for the U.S. to share training costs in order to make American training more competitive with that available in other advanced countries.

D. Utilization of the Scientific and Technical Resources of Federal Agencies for Development Purposes

          Approximately two dozen Federal agencies have an influence on food supply and nutrition in the United States and the world. Half of these conduct or finance research on food and nutrition problems, the Department of Agriculture research budget accounting for only around half of the total. (3)

          Of these agencies only AID has a primary concern for food production and nutrition in developing countries. AID can and does draw on other agencies through Participating Agency Service Agreements (PASA) for assistance on specific projects. In the absence of a mandated concern for food production in developing countries, however, these other agencies can be only passive respondents to requests, despite the fact that the preponderance of scientific expertise on food production and nutrition is in USDA and other agencies, rather than in AID. Consequently, USDA need not concern itself with the merit or priority of requests for assistance received through Participating Agency Service Agreements. Nor are PASA projects likely to attract the best staff from cooperating agencies; they must be considered fringe activities where promotion and advancement are concerned.

         It would not be desirable for each technical agency to receive a mandate for work on development problems. Some middle ground between passive response and unlimited license should be found. The realization that the problems of developing countries require a high order of scientific and technical innovation, and will not be solved by merely transferring knowledge, has not yet been translated into the institutional terms.

          Development problems, as we have suggested, are not solely technical, however, and U.S. technological efforts need to be guided by intimate knowledge of development realities if they are to focus on the main problems. This would argue for greater AID leadership in calling forth other Federal skills; as noted above, however, AID staff tends to lack some of the technical qualifications and the area knowledge to perform this leadership role effectively.

          Growing international interdependence will inexorably lead the mission-oriented Federal agencies into greater international involvements on a range of matters that spill over national boundaries. This has to some extent already occurred; but the pursuit of these international relationships in the limited context of these agencies’ domestic interests fails to exploit their full potential benefits. From the development perspective, U.S. international scientific and technological activities are thus unfocused and undirected.

E. Use of Private Scientific, Technical, and Educational Resources

         The New Directions mandate has had the effect of reducing the extent to which AID turns to the higher education and research community for assistance in training and problem-solving. Basic institution-building in many of the aid “graduate” countries has been accomplished, and it is now appropriate to build more durable collaborative, problem-oriented relationships as discussed earlier. Many of the current aid recipients did not benefit from AID’s institution-building era, particularly those in Africa; so the possibility of resuming this type of assistance should not be foreclosed.

         The main task now, however, is to build adequate specialized capacity for research, training, and international collaboration on critical development problems. AID experience with the 211-d program since 1966 has not been successful, but several impressive models for future program development have emerged.

         One is the INTSOY program based at the University of Illinois and the University of Puerto Rico. The University of Illinois began in 1965 to work with universities in India to expand their research, training, and extension programs. Growing interest in the soybean plant as a source of high-protein food led the University, with AID and Rockefeller Foundation support, to examine opportunities for soybean production in other tropical areas where it was not commonly grown. In 1973, AID awarded 211-d grants of $500,000 each to the Universities of Illinois and Puerto Rico to enable them to increase their efforts in this field.

          INTSOY, or the International Soybean Program, now has links with 105 countries through a varietal-testing program. It has formed relationships with international and national research institutions, and it issues a news­letter and sponsors publications to facilitate information flows on soybeans. AID, UNDP and EAO have supported programs of varying size in nine countries. The capacity of INTSOY to sustain an interest in many aspects of soybean utilization and consumption has been an unusually valuable resource.

         This type of program capacity may not be broadly replicable; one of its features, vital to success in any field, is the sustained support that it has received. The assured continued international interest in soybeans is a vital element in inducing well-trained people to make a career in this area.

F. Ability to Mount Concerted Attacks on Major Development Problems

         The National Academy of Sciences has recently completed a landmark study of research priorities in the field of food and nutrition (4), which took two years to complete and engaged the efforts of 1500 people.

         To establish research priorities, 12 interdisciplinary study teams were assembled and asked to identify research and development areas with outstanding potential to help meet world food and nutrition needs. The priority areas identified, totaling over 100, were then evaluated by another study team, from a number of points of view including near- and long-term effects. As a result, 22 priority areas were selected in four categories: nutrition, food production, food marketing, and policies and organizations.

          The study stresses that a large part of the research needed will have to be carried out in the developing countries, where the most serious shortages of resources for food and nutrition exist. Serious research efforts are also found to be needed at the international level, in the research network of the Consultative Group (CGIAR), and in the high-income countries where most of the relevant scientific resources are found.

         The study suggests that the United States should, when asked by developing countries:

·        train researchers for the developing countries at U.S. universities and help build training institutions abroad;

·        help the developing countries establish research facilities and institutions and apply research results;

·        encourage and support communication and collaboration among research workers in the developing countries, in international and regional institutions, and in the United States, on problems of common interest.

At the international level, the study recommends that the United States:

·        continue to provide 25 percent of the funding for the centers and programs sponsored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research;

·        join in supporting other high quality international centers, both those with which it is already involved and others for which it is not now a major supporter;

·        move vigorously and imaginatively to encourage collaborative relationships between international centers and research groups in the U.S.

In the United States, the study indicates that:

·        major increases are needed in fundamental research in the natural and social sciences, particularly in those areas related to the enhancement of food production and nutrition;

·        a new and broader approach is needed for research on nutrition;

·        much greater attention needs to be given by the U.S. research community to international objectives;

·        support for social science research relevant to food and nutrition should be increased sharply.

         The report goes on to make specific recommendations to the Department of Agriculture, AID, the National Institute of Health, and the National Science Foundation, concluding with the suggestion that arrangements for designing and implementing a coherent strategy for research on food and nutrition be established in the Executive Office of the President.

The report emphasizes that research and development capacities at all levels are inadequate to meet the foreseeable challenge to world food supplies in coming years. The final recommendation, that a coordinating role is needed at the White House level, recognizes that the problem transcends the capa­bilities and responsibilities of any existing agency.

Despite the shortcomings of current efforts in the food and nutrition field, U.S. institutions are at present in a better position to make meaningful research contributions in this field than in the other problem areas, for several reasons:

·        Congress has authorized, under Title XII, sustained support for building capacity in American universities to work on international food and nutrition problems, but not on other development problems.

·         The Land Grant and Sea Grant universities have had a problem-solving orientation since they were founded, and many have experience in developing countries.

·         USDA has Congressional authorization to conduct research in tropical and subtropical agriculture for the improvement and development of food production and distribution techniques in developing countries.

·         An international research network already exists which can identify critical basic research needs for action by U.S. facilities.

·         The NAS study provides a comprehensive set of research, organization and policy priorities.

          In a sense, the stage has been set for action on food and nutrition, but the script is only in first draft with respect to research and training in population, health, education and human development. (Continued)



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