NEW YORK. – Among the group of Greek Americans in President Bush*#8217;s cabinet is Holliston, Massachusetts, native Andrew Natsios, head of the international aid organization, USAID. The U.S. Agency for International Development works around the world to further Americas foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of citizens in the developing world by helping countries recover from disaster, escape poverty, and engage in democratic reforms.
USAID receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State and works to help developing countries sustain economic growth, agriculture, trade, health, democracy, conflict prevention and provides humanitarian assistance.
USAID has working relationships with more than 3,500 American companies and over 300 U.S.-based private voluntary organizations.
*#8220;Most of our workforce is in the field, not in Washington,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios, of the more than 80 USAID offices worldwide.
They are currently building 1,000 schools, he said. *#8220;We*#8217;ve printed 30 million textbooks for schools in Afghanistan, we are reconstructing the electric utility system and the water and sewage treatment system of Iraq right now, we have large HIV-AIDS programs around the world, we have large programs to reduce child mortality rates, we have large environmental protection programs to protect the remaining rain forests in the world, we have democracy and governance programs to eliminate corruption, and train new democracies and new parliaments as to what democracy is about, we built a chain of universities around the country and around the world in different countries, we do many different things,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios, shedding light on the scope of USAID*#8217;s activities.
A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Universitys Kennedy School of Government, where he received a masters degree in public administration, Mr. Natsios*#8217; grandparents on his father*#8217;s side came from the village of Megarchi, East of Trikala, right on the edge of the Pindus Mountains, in Thessaly.
His grandfather on his mother*#8217;s side came from Robetti, a village in Albania that is ethnically Greek.
*#8220;I went there for the first time last June,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;No one had been there from our family since 1912 when he left*#8212;we still have first cousins there.*#8221;
His maternal grandmother was from Evia, an island north of Athens, along the coast of Thessaly.
He speaks what he calls *#8220;broken Greek.*#8221;
He and his parents visited Greece for the first time in 1963, where they stayed at his uncle*#8217;s house in Athens for the summer.
*#8220;I loved the country, and so I decided to go back alone,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
He did not go to Greek school, but was tutored for a year by his father*#8217;s and uncle*#8217;s Greek teacher before visiting Greece in the summer of 1965 to live with his uncle, who was in the American embassy.
*#8220;I can read it very slowly,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios, of his Greek language skills.
*#8220;I can order in a restaurant, and if people speak slowly I can get half of what they*#8217;re saying,*#8221; added Mr. Natsios.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children, Emily, Alexander, and Philip.
His children do not go to Greek school. His daughter is Catholic, his son Alex is Presbyterian, and his other son Philip is Catholic.
His wife is Catholic, and is not Greek, but he said she took Greek lessons at a nearby Greek Cathedral and speaks a little bit of Greek.
*#8220;My daughter took two years of Classical Attica Greek, so she can speak Periclean Greek, not Modern Greek,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
Alexander, his oldest son who is about to graduate from Georgetown University, took a year of Modern Greek there and said that he had somewhat of a traditional Greek upbringing.
*#8220;There were only six Greek families in our town,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;We didn*#8217;t associate except at AHEPA dances and all that.*#8221;
*#8220;Of course, the Natsios family is a big family and we would have big family outings,*#8221; added Mr. Natsios, who was brought up in the Congregational Church.
*#8220;I was baptized in a Greek Orthodox Church, but there was no Greek Orthodox Church nearby, so they sent me to a Congregational Church when I was six years old,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;I*#8217;ve been active in the in the Congregational-Presbyterian churches for 40 years, got tired of it, decided I would go back [to the Orthodox Church].*#8221;
*#8220;I actually go to an Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church because it*#8217;s in English,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;If I had heard the liturgy in English, I think I would have gone back much earlier,*#8221; he added.
*#8220;I like to hear some of it sung in Greek, maybe 10 or 20 percent, but I like to understand what I*#8217;m hearing.*#8221;
Mr. Natsios headed the largest construction project in U.S. history: Boston*#8217;s notorious *#8220;Big Dig,*#8221; from April 2000 to March 2001, as chairman and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
*#8220;I was asked by the governor to take it over with about 24 hours notice, after there was a scandal over cost overruns,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;I*nbsp; fired eight senior staff the first day and then had to overhaul the thing because there were problems.*#8221;
*#8220;They had not told the federal government, which was paying for a large portion of it, that they had had cost overruns and that they later, the FCC I think, sanctioned the people involved for not telling the truth in terms of what the costs were,*#8221; explained Mr. Natsios. *#8220;It turns out that the costs were about $2.4 billion more than what they were publicly estimating through their reports to the transportation administration and to the inspector general.*#8221;
*#8220;My daughter*#8230;can speak
Periclean Greek, not Modern Greek.*#8221;
*#8212; Andrew Natsios
*#8220;People kept adding things on to the Big Dig that cost a lot of money without anybody trying to provide the money for it,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;Things simply cost more money than they had anticipated.*#8221;
He said he did not discover any corruption in the construction process, that it was just a matter of underreporting the true numbers. *#8220;I did call the F.B.I in, and I called auditors in and forensic auditors to see if we could find any corruption, and we could not find any,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
One of his major tasks in taking over the Big Dig was to refinance the $2.4 billion in cost overruns, which would not be supplied by the federal government.
*#8220;I had to find it at the state level,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;We had to do a recapitalizing of the thing because we didn*#8217;t have the revenue to pay for the cost overruns.*#8221;
Together with his staff Mr. Natsios drafted a package of legislation that went through that was approved and has held up even since he left two and a half years ago.
The Big Dig is still in progress and won*#8217;t be completed until this fall.
*#8220;I ran the project for one year. I told everyone once I get 12 tasks done, I will leave. And I came here [to USAID] the day after I left the Big Dig,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios..
He was appointed to his position as head of USAID before he left the Big Dig project.
*#8220;I wanted to clean the project up, get it back on track, so it gets completed. I did not want to run it until it finished,*#8221; he explained.
But getting the appointment was no big jump for him, as he served in AID under President Bush (senior) as Director of the office of foreign disaster assistance as an assistant administrator.
*#8220;I was close to the president*#8217;s father, I ran the president*#8217;s father*#8217;s campaign as co-chairman in 1980 in Massachusetts, and then again in 1988 when he ran for president the second time,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
From 1987 to 1989, he was executive Director of the Northeast Public Power Association in Milford, Massachusetts and served as Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee for seven years.
*#8220;So I*#8217;ve known the Bush family for 26 years now, and that certainly helped,*#8221; he added.
Mr. Natsios served at USAID, first as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 1989 to 1991 and then as assistant administrator for the Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance (now the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance) from 1991 to January 1993.
He then spent five years, from 1993 to 1998, as a vice president at the faith-based Point World Vision, where he was responsible for program development, evaluation, and resource acquisition for relief and development programs in developing countries, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Eastern Europe.
He was active in local and state politics, serving in the local government in Holliston, Massachusetts and as a state representative before he became secretary of administration and finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from March 1999 to April 2000.*nbsp; In that position he had 3,000 employees and administered a $22 billion budget, so he*#8217;s no stranger to big budgets.
Mr. Natsios served in the U.S. Army Reserves, beginning in 1972 and is a veteran of the Gulf War. After serving 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, he retired in 1995 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
He served on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon on active duty in 1993, working on issues facing Somalia and Bosnia.
That gives us a glimpse into his work history, but what skills does it take to be in charge of such large government agencies?
*#8220;The skills that are important in being a public administrator are public speaking, I testify before congress all the time, I give speeches and lectures, I*#8217;m interviewed by the news media on a regular basis,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;You have to understand development policy, humanitarian relief issues, how to deal with conflict, with war, how you deal with reconstruction,*#8221; added Mr. Natsios, who has written two books, on conflicts and emergencies: *#8220;U.S. Foreign Policy and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,*#8221; (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1997), and *#8220;The Great North Korean Famine,*#8221; (U.S. Institute of Peace, 2001).
*nbsp;*#8220;So I have some expertise in the areas from a policy perspective,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;I*#8217;ve run eight institutions now, and running a very large complex institution with 8,000 employees and a $14 billion budget requires some management and leadership skills, which are also important to be an administrator,*#8221; he said, adding that USAID does much more than give supplies to the needy. He explained that they also provide technical assistance, help design bank reform regulation, famine prevention programs, agriculture programs, and build schools. They are currently building 1,000 schools, he said.
Mr. Natsios is also in a position to make significant changes in the world hunger problem.
*nbsp;*#8220;It is very complicated, and you can*#8217;t solve all the problems at once,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;What we*#8217;ve done is we*#8217;ve decided on choosing a few countries that are the most famine-prone in the world, Ethiopia being the best example of that, which by the way is an Orthodox country*#8230;40 percent of Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians, they*#8217;ve been an Orthodox country for 1,700 years,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;And so we have a plan to end famine in Ethiopia, the president has a plan that we proposed to him, which he has now made his own, to end famine in Africa through an agricultural development program,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;We*#8217;re not suggesting we*#8217;re going to succeed in ending it, but we will make progress towards ending famine,*#8221; he added.
At the core of the hunger problem, he said, is poverty.
*#8220;Famine is a function of poverty. Except during war time, people do not starve to death even if there*#8217;s no food grown in a country they can buy food by importing it, it*#8217;s people who have no money to buy food, or the price of food goes up too much that they can*#8217;t afford to buy it in the market, they*#8217;re the ones who die. And usually it*#8217;s children who die first, the elderly, then lactating mothers, in that order. So we know what happens during a famine, we know what causes a famine, and we know how to respond to it. It*#8217;s a matter of political will and the resources being applied properly,*#8221; explained Mr. Natsios.*nbsp;
*#8220;To increase agricultural productivity, economic growth, so countries will be much more immune to the shock that causes famine,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;We*#8217;re very focused on sustainability,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;We don*#8217;t do things unless we can sustain them.*#8221;
*#8220;In Iraq and Afghanistan we are spending the largest amount of money since we have in any country since the Marshall Plan when we rebuilt Europe at the end of World War II,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios. *#8220;We*#8217;ll spend about maybe $3 billion in Iraq and about $2 billion in Afghanistan this year alone,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;We*#8217;re building, for example, in Afghanistan, 400 health clinics out of 1,200 that they need,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;We*#8217;re training thousands of midwives and health workers, and we*#8217;ve done mass immunizations of children to prevent childhood disease, we*#8217;re in the process of building a thousand schools in Afghanistan, we*#8217;ve already printed 30 million textbooks; AID basically produced the curriculum for the schools in Afghanistan, we just finished building a 379 kilometer highway from Kabul to Kandahar through the middle of the Taliban heartland, we did it in 13 months, in record time, we*#8217;re doing economic governing stuff to build a legal basis for a market economy, we*#8217;re doing irrigation projects, agriculture projects, we*#8217;re introducing new seed varieties, we*#8217;re doing*nbsp; veterinary programs to protect animal herds, building several hundred farmers markets around the country so people can sell their wares…we*#8217;re running women*#8217;s programs because women have been disempowered under the Taliban.*#8221;
Although the taliban does present some difficulties, USAID is able to operate in 80 percent of the country without much trouble.
*#8220;From hour to hour,*#8221; he said, what is most exciting about his job changes.
*#8220;Because everything is exciting from one different way to another,*#8221; he explained. To have the kind of impact he has on the world, he said, is very rewarding.
*#8220;Well, it is sometimes very frustrating, it is daunting, it is a great challenge, but it is very rewarding, very rewarding.*#8221;
He is proud of the work of his agency, which has, for more than 40 years, provided economic and humanitarian assistance to transitioning and developing countries.
*#8220;AID helped rebuild Greece after the civil war in Greece in the 1950s,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
*#8220;We invested a lot of money in Greek agriculture and Greek education, and so I*#8217;m very proud of the work of the agency. And I often tell the story of my grandfather*#8217;s horio, which I went to in 1963, and it was very, very poor; and I visited there 10 years ago and it*#8217;s become very prosperous. And it*#8217;s through trade and economic development and agricultural and technical expertise.
*#8220;Development does work, and I hope, because of the wonderful work that we and other agencies have done in Greece, that the Greek American community will support a strong foreign aid program in the United States,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.*nbsp;
*#8220;It*#8217;s very important to fight the war on terrorism using agencies like ours,*#8221; said Mr. Natsios.
President Bush has also appointed him Special Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance and Special Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan.