In March of this year, the Canadian government announced that CIDA would be brought into a renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The move was justified in order to more closely align CIDA’s work with Canada’s foreign policy and trade objectives. Officials argued that under the new organization, development would be more relevant and better coordinated. Critics countered that aid should not serve trade objectives and that Canada’s respected focus on poverty alleviation would be lost in the shuffle.

Then in September, the Australian government made a similar announcement. AusAID would be amalgamated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in order to cut duplication and waste and to more closely align development with diplomacy. Supporters and critics offered up the same responses, although it should be noted that AusAID was part of DFAT until July 2010 so its history of independence was much shorter. Nonetheless, the reorganization does raise questions about the future of AusAID’s previously announced ambitious objectives and work plans.

These announcements do raise the question of whether there is an optimal organization chart under which development works best. I think any reasonable person would respond with a no. After all, many Scandinavian countries run highly respected aid programs from their foreign ministries while the United Kingdom maintains a distinctly independent and well-regarded DFID. A number of other countries – France, Spain and the United States – deliver aid through multiple agencies with varying degrees of effectiveness.

I think the far better question centers on what these moves are expected to accomplish and whether they will in fact do so. This is a question of efficiency versus effectiveness goals. Although the two are related, they are far from the same. I believe both the Canadian and Australian governments are conflating the two. To be clear, efficiency is about using the least amount of inputs to produce the greatest amount of outputs. Merging agencies can be efficient in reducing personnel costs and perhaps even program costs, but efficiency does not in and of itself mean that agency missions are being accomplished. Effectiveness, on the other hand, means producing an expected or desired outcome, like halving chronic hunger by 2015, eliminating poverty by 2030, or achieving an AIDS-free generation. Whether Canada and Australia can actually be more effective going forward will depend on how these mergers are structured. We can only wait and see while we advocate that both maintain their commitment to a poverty focus.

More crucially, what does this mean for the United States and USAID? Although I am not one to subscribe to the argument that one political party is more anti-aid than the other, it should be noted that the conservative center of gravity is largely focused on efficiency. Both the CIDA and AusAID reorganizations were instigated by conservative governments during periods of austerity. Both are justified on achieving some degree of efficiency. It is worth noting that a previous attempt to fold USAID into the State Department occurred during the budget battles of divided government in the mid-1990s.

I have always believed that USAID’s mission should be to work its way out of business – not in the pursuit of efficiency but because we may someday reach a world of little poverty. That day is clearly not here. Merging State and USAID would do little for efficiency and certainly nothing for effectiveness. If such a move really increased effectiveness, then we would expect that State’s public diplomacy programs to be vibrant and respected after the formerly independent U.S. Information Agency was closed and its programs moved to State. (That you are now chuckling or grimacing proves the point.)

I also question whether in the U.S. context, the efficiency argument really is sincere. Adhering to an efficiency rational that leverages the power of diplomacy, development, trade, and business would require one mega-department that incorporates the State Department, USAID, MCC, the U.S. Trade Representative, OPIC, and portions of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and Health and Human Services. I think we all know that’s not going to happen.

In the end, those who may want to rejigger the org chart need to be clear on their objectives. I hope the objective is greater effectiveness with an understanding that a singular focus on efficiency will not necessarily get you there.

Connie Veillette is a Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center