Book Review: Malley, Raymond. My Global Life – A Conversation with Raymond Malley. Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Diplomatic Oral History Series. N.p.: Xlibris, 2012. 155 pp. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4797-1988-4.

Reviewed by Adrienne Stefan, independent scholar

A Quick Tour of Life among the Bureaucrats

In 2017 America, bureaucrats and bureaucracy often have a bad name, which is too bad. Being a bureaucrat needn’t be synonymous with incompetent laziness, as My Global Life demonstrates. This slim volume provides us with a quick and readable, if not terribly intellectual, tour of some of the ins and outs of life as a developmental assistance bureaucrat for the U.S. government in the last half of the twentieth century. It is part of the Diplomatic Oral History series of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), an independent non-profit organization committed to advancing knowledge of American diplomacy generally. One of ADST’s tools is its oral interview project. The Association has transcribed records of conversations with more than a thousand American diplomats concerning the details of their careers in international affairs. This book is a transcript of one such interview, with USAID officer Raymond Malley. Malley’s career with the U.S. government (after a stint in the Air Force and with Texaco) covered the period from 1961, when he began his foreign assistance work with the Development Loan Fund (later amalgamated into USAID), until 1982, when he retired from USAID. Along the way, his work took him to the Republic of Korea, India, Pakistan, Zaire, and France, among other countries, as well as stints in policy development, public relations, and project evaluation at USAID headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Malley also discusses his work with Texaco and several private companies. These shorter experiences are of interest by way of contrast with his experience of government service. It will surprise no one that he found the pay much better in the private sector, but it may surprise some to hear that he found most of his government service to be less encumbered by bureaucracy than some of his private experiences were.

For those interested in the nuts and bolts of development assistance over the last fifty years, this book is an interesting and useful read. It is full of Washington insider references and comments, but Mr. Malley takes such great pains to explain clearly the various acronyms, processes, and bureaucratic histories of the development world that even a neophyte can understand what is going on.

This book both benefits and suffers from the constraints of the oral interview process. On the plus side, it is eminently digestible, provides a quick and clear overview of the daily work of assistance administration, and has some personal anecdotal interest. It is completely devoid of pompous, turgid or academic language. On the con, it is very short on analysis of any depth, resembling nothing so much as a lengthy series of job descriptions—well-told and detailed, with interesting and pertinent commentary—but job descriptions none the less. The author does analyze certain specific projects he oversaw, some of which worked and others not, in a manner and style completely true to diplomatic and governmental life. He provides some interesting and realistic commentary on problems—for example, that corrupt officials were not as big a problem as one might think because they find it easier to steal from their own national funds rather than to divert donor countries’ money. But, he does not go into great depth concerning these or other larger issues, such as the effect of development aid on cultures or the environment. His summing up of the positives of developmental assistance consists of about five paragraphs at the end of the book (153-55).

Mr. Malley’s experiences in Paris at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) yield some of the most interesting commentary. Here, when acting as a U.S. representative to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, he was constantly defending the U.S. record as a very stingy per capita GDP donor (around 0.2 percent of US GDP as opposed to Scandinavian nations, who donate about 0.7 percent of their GDP, the agreed OECD goal). He also strays into the topic of political appointees in high places and how he worked with them (always a topic of interest to Washington insiders and “wannabes”).

To be fair, Mr. Malley does touch on some controversial topics. He decries the increasing influence of the military in both foreign assistance and foreign policy. He occasionally touches on the influence of U.S. politics on assistance policy—as when, while in India, he was forced to tie Indian acceptance of tobacco as well as grain as part of its PL480 (food assistance) allocation. But, he fails to comment on this policy, other than to note the Embassy’s support of the Indian government’s rejection of the tobacco and that both Embassy support and Indian efforts were unsuccessful (79). Mentioning the establishment of the National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Policies (NAC), in which he participated, he notes “Management of the U.S. role in … international financial institutions … was given to Treasury rather than State or the aid agencies, apparently in belief that the former would be a better steward of the taxpayers’ money”(97).  This is typical of the tantalizing morsels found in My Global Life:  wouldn’t you like to know a little bit more about what happened leading up to that decision, and whether the author agrees or disagrees with the sentiment? But no, we zip on merrily to the next bit of discussion of the daily activities of the NAC. On the tendentious topic of family planning, we have: “An example of a foreign aid program difficult to run is population control and family planning. There are certain things that can be done, and many that cannot.” In response to the interviewer’s query, “Is this because of the stand of politicians on abortion?” his answer is, “That is a major part of it, yes.” And that’s the sum total of coverage of a major assistance headache and a huge political divide.

However, this is perhaps unfair carping. In 150 pages of oral exposition, it is probably impossible to analyze and delve into all or even some of the issues raised. Malley’s book provides us with a balanced, unemotional guidebook to the bureaucratics and activities of foreign assistance administration through his memoirs of his work in many different administrations, offices, agencies, and places. It is not, and does not pretend to be, an academic treatment of the topic.

This is a useful book as a sidebar and complement to heavier analytic and academic tomes on development issues, and an effective view of projects on the ground. There are some interesting throwaways—for example, when Malley notes that for many years, assistance projects were not evaluated upon completion. He worked in the initiation at AID of such evaluations and his comments concerning this part of his career are of interest. He notes that foreign aid is often criticized, but that both Republicans and Democrats find it essential to have a foreign economic aid program. He gives us his thoughts and experience on why this should be so, and provides us with a basic primer on both development assistance and Washington politics as they affect the allocation and implementation of such assistance. This is a useful and readable introduction to that world. Malley’s narrative is the type that should find itself frequently cited in footnotes, providing the raw material for more academic work.