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Archive for September, 2011

MFAN Principal Connie Veillette on Five Super Ideas for the Super Committee

Thursday, September 29th, 2011
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MFAN Principal and director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Reform initiative at the Center for Global Development Connie Veillette revisits five ways Congress could save billions of dollars with simple reforms to foreign assistance programs and policies. With the Budget Control Act, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion over ten years in savings. Veillette offers up “five super ideas for the super committee”—originally co-created with MFAN Principal John Norris. See below for some excerpts and a handy chart on the range of savings made with cost-effective reforms:

Back in May, I joined with John Norris at the Center for American Progress to make recommendations on savings that could be achieved through simple reforms of some aid policies and procedures.  We called it then Five Steps to Make Our Aid More Effective and Save More Than $2 Billion.  I have since informally redubbed it:  Five Super Ideas for the Super Committee.

Yes, there’s a long way to go to reach $1.5 trillion, but as they say…a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

On the low estimate end, this would achieve $2 billion in savings annually, or $20 billion over ten years. On the high end, it would be $8 billion in savings in one year, or $80 billion over ten years.

In addition to reducing the deficit, bringing greater efficiency to government programs would be another very positive contribution the Super Committee can make.


REQUEST: Letters of Support to Joint Select Committee

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
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Last week, 129 NGOs—including MFAN—signed an open letter to Congress to oppose disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs budget.

Click here to see the open letter that ran in Roll Call.

Now, Senator Patty Murray, co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, has requested that organizations who signed onto the letter submit a separate letter from their individual organization in support of the International Affairs budget. Once collected, Sen. Murray will submit these letters to the official record during the committee’s deliberations.

Sen. Murray is asking for individual letters so that she can show a high level of support for the international affairs accounts.  Even if your organization did not sign on to original letter, please feel free to submit a letter that suits your organization. The more letters, the more impact the message will have.

For those organizations interested, the deadline for committee members to submit materials to the record is Friday, October 14th. In order to accommodate this deadline and to allow staff time to process the letters please have your letter submitted to the office as soon as possible.

Please send your individual letter (on letterhead) electronically to Lauren Overman,

Note: The letter should be in support of international affairs funding, but it is fine to talk about specific areas where your organization has a focus. For your reference, the coalition letter sent to the Joint Select Committee is attached and a letter template by USGLC can be found here.

Lastly, Bread is hosting another strategy session on International Affairs Funding and the Joint Select Committee this Friday, September 30 from 2-3:30PM. Those interested in attending should RSVP to Traci Carlson at


Sec. Clinton to Attend Busan Forum

Friday, September 23rd, 2011
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Principal Noam Unger, fellow and director of the Foreign Assistance Reform Project, and Homi Kharas, senior fellow and deputy director of the  Development Assistance and Governance Initiative, both of the Brookings Institution. They react to Secretary Clinton’s announcement that she will be attending the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Korea and consider what the move signals for U.S. leadership in development. This post originally appeared on the Brookings Up Front blog.

Hillary Clinton to Attend Busan Forum: Demonstrating Development Diplomacy?

Noam Unger and Homi Kharas

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced that she will attend the upcoming High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. Although this event will be the fourth such forum – following on Rome (2003), Paris (2005) and Accra (2008) – it will be the first time the U.S. is represented at such a high level.

We view Clinton’s attendance as a positive step, having made the case for it privately in meetings and openly in publications (see our policy paper and this recent brief). But how does her attendance fit into the context of reforms to elevate global development within the U.S. government? And how can her participation lead to a better High-Level Forum? Here are some of our thoughts:

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), issued at the end of 2010, focused in part on how the State Department can play a role in elevating development within U.S. foreign policy. It explicitly states:

“Elevating development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy requires not just rebuilding USAID into the world’s premier development institution, but also transforming the Department of State to support development. Secretary Clinton recognizes that while diplomacy and development are each critical in their own right, when they work together they are the basis on unrivaled civilian power to advance U.S. interests. For too long, however, the Department of State has not always been a willing and capable partner for USAID in supporting the development pillar of our foreign policy.”

The review goes on to note that State should systematically use diplomacy to advance development by negotiating and promoting international policy agreements in the context of multilateral forums in a way that complements USAID rather than treading on that agency’s expertise.

The transformation of the State Department to better support development makes many development assistance advocates and close observers nervous about further absorption and instrumentalization of operational assistance programming into the toolkit of diplomacy. The construct of the three “D’s” – development, diplomacy and defense – as distinct pillars of U.S. national security and foreign policy can quickly morph into a two-dimensional frame that blurs diplomacy and development while setting them apart from military efforts. Given USAID’s recent history of eroded independence, this is a legitimate concern especially with regard to increased roles for the State Department in operational aid programs and aid budget management.

But there are many ways the State Department can support development by drawing on its comparative advantages. For example, in conflict-affected states where an international military presence is required, State can use its expertise and influence with other departments, governments and international organizations to shape coherent stabilization efforts that are conducive to development.

A more obvious comparative advantage is the international prominence of the Secretary of State, which should be put to good use in Busan. So while USAID should naturally continue to lead in shaping U.S. positions for Busan— after all it’s a global development conference — Clinton’s participation should enable the U.S. to leverage her unique profile on the global stage. As one of us previously noted in reference to the OECD ministerial meeting in May 2011, “Secretary Clinton must continually use development diplomacy opportunities to empower USAID and its administrator, Rajiv Shah, in the eyes of other U.S. government and international officials. Secretary Clinton is certainly capable of using her star power in this way, but will she?”

With regard to the High-Level Forum itself, Secretary Clinton’s commitment to attend is already serving as a game-changer that could snatch a politically meaningful result from the jaws of an otherwise technocratic aid conference. Six years ago in Paris, at an earlier conference on aid effectiveness, rich countries committed themselves to make changes in the way they delivered aid to improve its impact. They have made some progress on this and the efforts are contributing to better development results, but the pace has been slow. As panelists at a recent Brookings conference argued, this is mostly because the necessary improvements in aid delivery require tough political support. In essence, the reforms would transfer more control over resources to beneficiaries in return for greater accountability on results. Persuading Congress and the public that that is a sensible approach to improving the “bang-for-the-buck” for U.S. taxpayers is essentially a political issue.

Busan will be a political event in other ways as well. There are now many international forums that deal with development in overlapping ways, including the United Nations and the G-20, and many more providers of development cooperation, including China and other emerging economies. Busan must reposition the aid industry to work better in this environment, taking the discussions beyond aid into a more systematic “development effectiveness” agenda. The attendance of Secretary Clinton, and the other foreign ministers who will now be encouraged to attend, can signal that this repositioning is underway. Maybe then new forms of aid partnerships can be built, including with the private sector, so that aid and other instruments of development cooperation can catalyze and accelerate improved living standards in the poorest parts of the world.

Lastly, as one of the world’s strongest voices on greater investment in women and girls, Secretary Clinton’s participation provides a new opportunity to add a focus on gender to the development agenda at Busan.


OGP plans show US and UK commitment to aid transparency

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Partner Publish What You Fund about the Open Government Partnership that launched earlier this week at the UN General Assembly.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched in New York on Tuesday. The initiative is a “global effort to make governments better […] more transparent, effective and accountable” and is overseen by eight governments and nine civil society organizations. Forty-six governments have so far agreed to take part, with Canada being the latest signatory.

To become a member, participating countries must make an Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan; and report on progress. Country plans were released as the OGP was launched. The US and the UK made important commitments to aid transparency, including to publish information in line with a common standard. The inclusion of aid transparency in their plans at this time is important; as we approach the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, major donors need to be leading by example.

Notably, the UK has committed to publish aid information “from all government departments who spend overseas development assistance (ODA) in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards”. Hopefully the US will publish a timeline for reporting requirements soon, and ensure the comparability of its data with IATI.


Brookings Paper Offers Recommendations on Anniversary of PPD

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
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MFAN Principal Noam Unger’s recent paper for the Brookings Institution, “The Shape of U.S. Global Development Reforms,” offers a number of recommendations to the Obama administration on the eve of the first anniversary of the President’s global development policy, also known as the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD).

The PPD was released to help U.S. government correct course after years of failing to strategically employ its full array of policy instruments to address the challenges posed by global poverty and conflict. The PPD was a momentous document that dramatically raised expectations within the development community, which largely felt that U.S. development efforts had been greatly undermined by outdated legislation, a fragmented aid infrastructure, and a neglected and weakened USAID.

Unger, who directs Brookings’ Foreign Assistance Reform Project, assesses the pace and scope of reform in the context of new global challenges posed by fragile states, as well as dramatically increased budget pressures. He finds that USAID is much more likely to emerge as a strategic and influential institution in the coming year, thanks to the implementation of the USAID Forward reforms, renewed focus on evaluation, greater dedication to developing Country Development Cooperation Strategies, and the creation of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning and reestablishment of the Office of Budget and resource Management. Unger also emphasizes the less visible impact of the PPD and USAID Forward reforms, namely overdue institutional and cultural changes within USAID’s bureaucracy.

Unger faults the administration for failing to achieve greater development policy coherence, notably by dragging its heels in the creation of a U.S. Global Development Council and formulation of a U.S. Global Development Strategy. President Obama’s stated policy to reestablish USAID as the government’s preeminent development agency is challenged by major sectoral programs that remain independent of USAID, especially PEPFAR and the Global Health Initiative. He criticizes the PPD for failing to provide clear guidelines on how best to overcome organizational fragmentation and modernize the U.S. government’s development infrastructure, noting that, “Major structural reforms were overlooked, dismissed or intentionally left out.”

He also gives the administration a failing grade on their lack of attention to differentiating clear organizational responsibilities in conflict prevention and crisis response, explaining that the QDDR assumes, “a distinction—between political and security crises on one hand and humanitarian crises on the other—that is often blurred in reality.” Unger expresses concern that the progress already made in transitioning from U.S. military to civilian leadership in frontline states may be reversing as scarce resources remain within the purview of the Pentagon and budgets shrink at State and USAID.

Unger is disappointed by what he perceives as a considerable gulf between the executive and legislative branches on development, far from the grand bargain imagined by the PPD that would exchange greater transparency for increased flexibility (through a reduction in legislated directives, earmarks, and procedural obstruction). He calls for increased consultation with Congress to preserve the development budget, educate skeptical lawmakers on the pace of current reforms, and advance efforts to craft modern legislation that would replace the outdated Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

Unger concludes his assessment by encouraging the administration to seize the opportunity presented by the first anniversary of the PPD to rededicate itself to fundamental reforms. His recommendations include completing the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to enhance transparency, establishing the U.S. Development Council, consolidating some of the twenty agencies responsible for development assistance, tracking U.S. policies such as subsidies or military sales that have a development impact, granting USAID oversight of PEPFAR and the MCC, revitalizing Congressional engagement, and seizing the opportunities presented by the G20 and the Busan High Level Forum to assert U.S. leadership in the global movement for aid effectiveness.