Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
February 17, 2011

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As you may know, yesterday the Secretary launched a new Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, designed to underscore the Administration’s commitment to serious and sustained engagement with citizen activists, the non-governmental (NGO) community, and others outside of government, here and abroad, on key program and policy issues impacting U.S. foreign relations. You can find the Secretary’s remarks on the State Department's website.

While the theme of yesterday's event dealt largely with the role of democracy and human rights advocates, the Administration's engagement with civil society encompasses broader themes, including humanitarian issues.

The Secretary’s strong commitment to engagement with NGOs certainly predates this Strategic Dialogue, and emboldened me in efforts to enhance the already strong relationship between the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and our partners in the NGO community. We rely on the fast, flexible, and targeted response of NGOs in emergencies as well as their continued commitment to assist refugee and other populations in protracted situations. Not only are NGOs crucial for assistance delivery, they also provide crucial information and analysis – often strongly critical analysis – for policy development and advocacy. We enjoy a rich partnership – one that ultimately results in enhanced services to vulnerable populations, more comprehensive information from the field, and smarter policy decisions.

In fact, I began my own career in the NGO community – at Human Rights Watch – and deeply appreciate the ongoing partnerships we have with both advocacy and assistance organizations.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to announce the release of PRM’s updated NGO Guidelines for Overseas Assistance. These guidelines seek to ensure that Bureau partnership with NGOs is conducted in an efficient, transparent, and fair manner. The most significant new aspect to these guidelines is that we will now, as appropriate, be prepared to issue Funding Opportunity Announcements that more explicitly recognize a multi-year approach – notwithstanding the fact that our budget comes in annual appropriations. In short, we will be able to approve 12-month Cooperative Agreements that provisionally assume follow-on awards for up to two additional 12-month periods.

Date: 02/2011 Description: Participants in the ''Village Savings and Loan Program'' run by PRM's partner International Rescue Committee - Burundi to assist refugee returnees and receiving communities as they rebuild after years of conflict and displacement. © Wendy Henning, PRM Program Officer

Participants in the "Village Savings and Loan Program" run by PRM's partner International Rescue Committee - Burundi to assist refugee returnees and receiving communities as they rebuild after years of conflict and displacement. Photo by Wendy Henning, PRM Program Officer, February 2011

The need for this change was made clear to me during my trip last year to Afghanistan, and provides a good example of how we seek to enhance our programs based on what we hear from our partners. In a returnee village outside of Mazar, I asked an implementing partner whether his NGO could use a doubling of our annual grant. He responded by saying he didn’t want more annual funds, just a longer program cycle. His comments coincided with what we'd been learning in our reviews of PRM funding practices worldwide, and in discussions with other partners in a variety of settings. As a result, we are implementing the new approach described in the linked document.

As always, I welcome your reaction and look forward to our continued collaboration.

Many thanks, and kind regards,

Eric Schwartz
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration