The United States supports rule of law initiatives throughout the world. This resource describes the government agencies that support justice sector development, the process for allocating public funds, and the public and private institutions engaged with project implementation.



The U.S. Agency for International Development is an independent agency that receives policy guidance from the U.S. secretary of state. It is the primary development organization of the United States, and its programs include promotion of democracy, rights, and governance in addition to poverty reduction, global health, education, economic growth, and humanitarian assistance. USAID provides funding to private contractors, nonprofits, international organizations, and other agencies to implement projects based on its priority goals. USAID is currently undergoing a restructuring—information can be found here.

Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG Center)
The DRG Center’s mission is to integrate democracy, rights, and governance practices and programs throughout USAID’s development assistance activities. It serves as the agency’s primary clearinghouse of rule-of-law technical expertise and learning, including USAID’s Rule of Law Strategic Framework. More about its mission can be found here. This center will be located in the new Development, Democracy and Innovation Bureau. More information can be found here.
Conflict Prevention and Stabilization Bureau (CPS)
This bureau is part of USAID’s restructuring and will combine functions of the agency’s approach to conflict and fragility, focus on civilian/military relations, and nonhumanitarian aspects of stabilization. CPS will consolidate the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, the Offices of Transition Initiatives, and the Bureau of Conflict Management and Mitigation. As described in the Stabilization Assistance Review, the concept of stabilization includes building justice institutions and strengthening the rule of law. More information about the plans for this bureau can be found here.
Overseas Missions
USAID has missions all over the world that often provide funding for rule-of-law programs directly. Funding from a USAID mission within a U.S. embassy comes from a different pool of funds than DC-based USAID programming and is often meant to be more flexible and responsive. Missions may identify priorities in consultation with the U.S. ambassador and work together with embassy personnel for program design and management. A mission directory can be found here.

Department of State

The U.S. Department of State is the foreign affairs agency of the U.S. government. It funds the majority of foreign affairs activities and provides direct funding for assistance activities, including rule-of-law programs. The State Department may act in several ways to provide funding, including to other U.S. government agencies, international organizations, and private contractors and nonprofit institutions. It has bureaus and offices that fund and manage rule-of-law programs, coordinate visitor exchanges, and identify rule-of-law experts for specific projects.

Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO)
CSO’s mission is to anticipate, prevent, and respond to conflict that undermines U.S. national interests. The bureau implements this mission in two complementary ways: through data-driven analysis and forward-deploying stabilization advisors to conflict zones. The objective is to inform U.S. strategy, policy, and programs on conflict prevention and stabilization. While much of CSO’s work focuses on countering violence, its focus on stabilization means that it engages in the security and criminal justice sectors and may draw on judicial expertise in those sectors.
Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT)
The CT Bureau promotes U.S. national security by coordinating strategies to defeat terrorism abroad and through cooperation with international partners. Through its Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATA), among others, CT provides training, mentoring, seminars, and equipment to assist partner nations in building their counterterrorism capabilities.
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)
INL formulates policy and programs to combat international drugs and crime. INL works with partner countries to assess, build, reform, and sustain criminal justice systems. Areas of focus include transnational organized crime, criminal justice institutions, and corruption. Within INL there are regional and functional offices that may reach out to U.S. judges for assistance.
The Office of Knowledge Management (INL/KM)
INL/KM works to ensure that INL is a strategic learning organization. INL/KM employs subject-matter experts to provide technical assistance to INL’s criminal-justice programs on criminal justice areas such as law enforcement, justice institutions, and corrections. INL/KM also provides training to domestic and overseas INL personnel and spearheads the bureau's work on program monitoring and evaluation.
The Office of Global Programs and Policy (INL/GPP)
INL/GPP works on initiatives to combat transnational organized crime, high-level corruption, money laundering, terrorist financing, smuggling, cyber and intellectual property crimes etc. This office develops tools and protocols to facilitate international cooperation between nations combating transnational crime.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL)
The State Department’s DRL provides grants to organizations working on rule-of-law programs throughout the world and often supports human rights law clinics, women’s rights programs, and legal education reform.
Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
The ECA Bureau promotes public diplomacy by funding academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges. ECA often awards grants to U.S. nonprofit organizations and universities to carry out exchange programs. ECA also supports rule-of-law related professional exchanges and international visitors programs, including the Humphrey Fellowship and the International Visitor Leadership Program.
Regional Bureaus
The Regional Bureaus oversee embassies and consulates and coordinate U.S. foreign relations in their six regions, spanning the globe. These bureaus often deal with legal matters such as protection of citizens, treaty interpretation, status-of-forces issues, and trade. Attorneys with these bureaus sometimes manage litigation in U.S. courts involving countries and officials from the region.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

The MCC is a U.S. government agency that provides development funds to countries demonstrating commitment to reform. The MCC funds assistance programs based on its ascertaining their eligibility through various indicators. These indicators include rule of law, corruption controls, education, and trade policy. The MCC’s support for rule-of-law activities is usually provided by threshold programs that help improve performance in specific areas.

Funding Rule of Law Initiatives

As is the case with many countries, the United States directs a portion of its annual budget to international foreign assistance. The slider to the right discusses the funding process for rule of law programs. Funding addresses different priority objectives including fostering economic growth and reducing poverty; improving governance and healthcare; promoting stability and human rights; and countering terrorism and trafficking. 

Support for the rule of law is essential to all these objectives and many government agencies are involved in justice sector development. The Department of State’s Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance coordinates this process.

  • Funding Programs
  • 1.	United States embassies around the world are staffed with professionals who advise ambassadors and develop priorities for foreign assistance. Embassy staff work closely with the Department of State and USAID; these agencies regularly conduct in-country assessments to identify pressing needs and inform recommendations for assistance.
  • 2.	Once program goals are identified, development professionals from the State Department, USAID, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation draft operational plans with details on how funds will be allocated. These plans are reviewed by joint teams with representatives from different agencies.
  • 3.	The individual government agencies that draft the operational plans also send separate Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) for their requests.  These include agency annual reports, mission statements, and priorities, and are a chance for Congress to hear directly from the agencies.  The CBJs are compiled by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be sent to Congress with the final budget request.
  • 4.	Final plans are incorporated into the foreign affairs budget request, which is sent to OMB for review. The budget request is eventually included in the President’s budget that is sent to Congress for approval.
  • 5.	The House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committee review foreign assistance requests and make recommendations, followed by congressional review that may include changes to the ultimate funding levels.
  • 6.	Congress agrees on the final Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill and sends it to the President for signature.
  • 7.	Funds are dispersed to government agencies.


The State Department and USAID design, but do not implement, rule of law initiatives. They fund, through contracts and grants, non-profit organizations and private companies with relevant expertise to carry out implementation. Some government agencies – including the Commerce Department and Department of Justice – receive funds from the State Department to provide direct technical assistance. Grants may also be awarded to international organizations with specific expertise.

Contracts are usually given to private firms to achieve specific and detailed project deliverables. Nonprofits may also compete for contracts. Contracts are costly and can be cumbersome to procure, but they allow an agency more detailed oversight over aspects such as the selection of high-level project leadership and monthly financial reports. For large contracts awarded to private companies, subcontractors may be retained to provide relevant expertise.

For a limited project that requires specific expertise, an agency may issue a nonbid sole-source contract to a single implementer. This saves time and allows the agency to use recognized experts in certain fields without going through the procurement process.

When agencies anticipate quickly evolving circumstances requiring rapid responses to events in a country or region, they may use pre-competed Indefinite Quantity Contract. These consist of implementers that have already met competition requirements (such as demonstrated expertise and records of success in certain fields). Task orders under these pre-competed contracts can be procured faster than other types of contracts.

Grants are used when an agency has general objectives in mind and wants to receive expert and creative proposals for how best to achieve its objectives. Grant competitions solicit applications and agencies select the best proposal. Support to international organizations like UNDP or the OSCE that have extensive and established programs of their own may be in the form of a grant.

Cooperative agreements are grants that involve modest oversight and allow for flexibility in implementing a program. They are often used to support nonprofit organizations and universities.

Procurement Process for Contracts & Grants


Example of U.S. Procurement Process for Contracts and Grants




Department of Justice

The DOJ has two offices that focus on international justice-sector reform. These offices are funded through interagency agreements with the Department of State, USAID, or the MCC. The majority of programs are funded by the State Department/INL.

Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT)
OPDAT develops and administers technical assistance related to criminal justice reform, including prosecutor training and court reform. OPDAT usually deploys a resident legal advisor to carry out in-country programs with the coordination of the U.S. embassy in that country. OPDAT works primarily with prosecutors and courts.
International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP)
ICITAP works with foreign governments to develop professional law-enforcement institutions that protect human rights, combat corruption, and reduce the threat of transnational crime and terrorism. ICITAP focuses on law-enforcement personnel and correctional institutions. ICITAP and OPDAT often coordinate efforts to pursue a comprehensive approach.

Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce promotes job creation and economic growth by providing the data necessary to support commerce and constitutional democracy and fostering innovation by setting standards and conducting foundational research and development. Commerce provides international technical assistance through the Commercial Law Development Program and the United States Patent and Trademark Office/Global Intellectual Property Academy.

Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP)
CLDP provides commercial-law technical assistance to governments and private-sector entities in developing and transitioning countries. CLDP draws on the expertise of U.S. government employees (including judges) and leading private-sector professionals enlisting their assistance with workshops, skills training, and educational tours.
United States Patent and Trademark Office/Global Intellectual Property Academy (USPTO/GIPA)
The USPTO formulates U.S. policy regarding the protection and enforcement of domestic and international intellectual property rights. It also supports the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of State, and other agencies in international negotiations and consultations and the drafting of treaties on intellectual property. The USPTO runs the Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA). GIPA offers programs on intellectual property protection, enforcement, and capitalization. GIPA was created to help foreign governments improve intellectual property programs through interaction and training with experts in the U.S.

Other Implementers

The U.S. government supports international rule-of-law initiatives in a number of ways. While some agencies implement their own programs, much of the work is done by quasigovernmental organizations, private firms, nonprofits, or educational institutions.

Congressional Office for International Leadership (COIL)
The Congressional Office for International Leadership carries out professional exchanges for emerging leaders from Russia, Eurasia, and the Baltic countries. The program is supported by congressional funds supplemented by donations.
Private Contracting Firms
Numerous firms provide technical, management, and advisory services for the U.S. government’s international rule-of-law programs. Examples include Chemonics, DAI, and Development Professionals, Inc. These firms may design and implement an initiative or provide subject-matter expertise for a particular project. Private firms usually opt for contracts in the procurement process, but many have spun off nonprofit divisions that allow them to bid for grants as well.
Nonprofit organizations also provide technical assistance and training for international rule-of-law programs. Nonprofits typically seek out grants rather than contracts, though that distinction is beginning to blur. Examples include the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative and Center for Human Rights, as well as the International Association of Women Judges, the National Center for State Courts International Programs, and East-West Management Institute.
Educational Institutions
Educational Institutions – Educational institutions may also provide technical assistance and training for international rule-of-law programs. Examples include Stanford University, New York University, Loyola University, and University of South Carolina. Their work includes educational symposia, moot-court competitions, and conferences and educational exchanges for lawyers, judges, and law students.
Intergovernmental Organizations
There are several prominent intergovernmental organizations that implement rule-of-law programs supported by funding from their member states. The World Bank’s rule-of-law work reflects the belief that building fair, accessible, and efficient justice institutions is critical for sustainable development. The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is based in Rome, Italy, and focuses on rule of law and sustainable development exclusively. IDLO works around the world with different legal systems and through thousands of trusted experts and partners. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) supports judicial and legislative reforms to ensure the independence of justice-sector actors. The United Nations, as the most significant intergovernmental body, has designated the Global Focal Point for Rule of Law, incorporating the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (UNDPO) to integrate the political and developmental dimensions of global UN assistance in rule-of-law efforts under one umbrella.