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2020 Election

Biden to nominate Samantha Power to lead foreign aid agency

Power, who was U.N. ambassador in the Obama administration, will run an agency that has been slashed and weakened by Trump.
Image: United Nations
Samantha Power speaks during her final news conference as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at U.N. Headquarters in New York City on Jan. 13, 2017.Bebeto Matthews / AP

WASHINGTON — Signaling a dramatic new direction for U.S. foreign assistance, President-elect Joe Biden is expected to announce Wednesday that he will nominate former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to head the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to transition officials.

Biden is also expected to enhance Power's role by elevating the position to membership on the National Security Council.

In a prepared statement obtained by NBC News, Biden called Power "a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity."

"As USAID Administrator," Biden said, "she will work with our partners to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, lift up vulnerable communities, fight for the value of every human being, and advance American ideals and interests around the globe."

If she is confirmed by the Senate, Power will have a great deal of rebuilding to do. Under President Donald Trump, the agency's budget has been slashed and career development experts have been replaced by political appointees with little experience in the field.

In the administration's proposed budget last year, foreign aid and USAID funds were cut by 22 percent. Trump officials defended the cuts, saying they were looking to other countries to step up to global needs.

Trump's budget also cut other State Department accounts for refugees, global health in the midst of a pandemic and other humanitarian programs, even though foreign aid totals less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Republicans and Democrats in Congress ended up rejecting the proposal, but development experts said the signal sent to the poorest countries had already left its mark.

The administration has also been widely criticized for filling key slots at USAID with political appointees. The Friday after the 2020 election, the White House abruptly fired Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, who had been confirmed by the Senate, telling her she had until the end of the day to clear out of her office.

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Officials offered no explanation of the firing to reporters, but had she not left, she would have automatically taken over from the Trump administration's acting administrator of the agency, John Barsa, a political appointee, whose tenure as acting administrator was set to expire at midnight the same day under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

More recently, The Washington Post reported that USAID employees were left out when the federal government dispensed the first round of coronavirus vaccinations to the State Department last month. Although vaccine doses went to 1,100 State Department employees, none went to USAID until last week.

Morale plummeted further after the attack on the Capitol when the agency's White House liaison, former Trump campaign official Catharine O'Neill, tweeted in criticism of any Trump officials who were considering resigning.

Axios also obtained audio of her declaring the week after the election: "The election is still happening. The Electoral College has not voted yet."