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Archive for October, 2011

USAID Launches FWD Campaign

Thursday, October 27th, 2011
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Yesterday, the U.S. Agency for International Development, in partnership with the Ad Council, launched a national public awareness campaign to help spread the word about the current crisis in the Horn of Africa. The campaign, entitled FWD – Famine, Ware, Drought, encourages people to share facts about the crisis, support the humanitarian organizations conducting the relief operations, and learn more about the solutions through Feed the Future. See below for a spot on the campaign:

 

To launch the campaign, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah joined Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the National Security Council, for a live webchat to discuss FWD and answer questions. You watch the webchat below:

Street Theatre: Superheroes or supervillans?

Thursday, October 27th, 2011
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See below for a post from Linda Delgado calling upon the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to protect poverty-focused development assistance. Linda Delgado is Director of Government Affairs at Oxfam America.

It is street theatre everywhere these days. Standard decision making processes and procedures are OUT. Legislating on appropriations bills is IN. And twelve Joint Select Committee Members of Congress have the unprecedented power and burden of making non-amendable recommendations to Congress about how to reduce our deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

On this beautiful, crisp Fall morning, as Super Committee members gathered for their third public meeting, Oxfam America did a little “street theater” of our own in front of the US Capitol. In the name of our 1.3 million constituents, we donned superhero outfits, capes, and masks representing each member of the Joint Select Committee. Our message: oppose cuts to poverty-focused foreign assistance.

Oxfam calls on members of the Super Committee to avoid cutting poverty-foucsed foreign assistance. Photo by Matthew Hale/Oxfam America.

The members of the Super Committee have much bigger fish to fry as they struggle with large domestic spending priorities that are vital in these tough economic times-but we need them to understand the enormous, disproportionate, life and death impacts of potential cuts to foreign assistance (less than 1% of the budget), specifically poverty-focused assistance, which is just 0.6% of the budget.

Poverty-focused foreign assistance is one of those tiny budget issues where a small gesture by the Super Committee (no cuts) will turn our 12 potential villains into life-saving superheroes.

Whether they care because it is the right thing to do; because they get the U.S. trade and job creation potential; and/or because they understand what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and many other military leaders have said about how basic assistance to reduce hunger and poverty is a critical component of our national security strategy-we call on them to focus for a moment and agree to protect poverty-focused foreign assistance from cuts.

Judge Ted Poe and his bipartisan posse lay down the (foreign aid) law

Friday, October 21st, 2011
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Archana Palaniappan, aid effectiveness policy and advocacy advisor at Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

Bipartisan. Remember that word? It’s been a while since we heard a tale of true bipartisan support in Washington. In a time when it feels like politicians care more about their party line than the people’s bottom line, one bill is finding support across the aisle for values we can all get behind.

The bill is being introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX-2nd district), a former judge, who’s embarked on reforming foreign aid to work better for poor people and US taxpayers. Last week, he introduced a House bill to shine the light on how US development dollars are spent and improve its effectiveness dollar for dollar. Judge Poe has identified a good idea that everyone can agree on and is moving this idea forward in legislation. Instead of just cutting development assistance, he’s breaking the mold and improving how the US delivers assistance.

Known as H.R. 3159, The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012, the Poe bill has 30 original co-sponsors at its introduction and is set to have the most bipartisan support seen since frontier days–or at least since last Congress’ H.R. 2139 where Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA-28th district) and 127 co-sponsors called for foreign assistance reform. Building on that momentum, Congressional Members from Tea Party Republicans to progressive Democrats are calling for more transparency of US aid dollars, and a common set of monitoring and evaluation guidelines for USAID, MCC, State, and DoD.

Judge Poe’s bill couldn’t come at a more important time. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a recently established government website showing how USAID and State development dollars are spent, could disappear in a heartbeat if another administration chose not to carry it on. But Judge Poe and his bipartisan group have the power to make it stick. In fact, they’re expanding the role of the Dashboard to include country-level data from all 12 departments and 26 agencies that deliver foreign assistance. This kind of transparency gives Congress more effective oversight. It’s also powerful in the hands of people living in poor countries: citizen watchdog groups, journalists, and local businesses can use this data to blow the whistle on aid dollars that disappeared or weren’t used to meet their needs, which helps them wage a homegrown fight against corruption.

The bill also lays down a marker on doing aid well. USAID’s recent Monitoring and Evaluation Policy has set the standard for how impact evaluation should be done. Thanks to Judge Poe and his co-sponsors’ mandate in the bill, this policy would ensure that the US keeps up the good work, and establishes common guidelines for how all US government agencies administer development assistance effectively.

With these bold steps in transparency and accountability, Judge Poe and his bipartisan posse are reforming foreign aid for beneficiaries and taxpayers alike. These reforms are garnering broad Congressional support, but the next step is to make sure H.R. 3159 becomes the law of the land.

 

MFAN Statement: Super Committee Must Protect Foreign Assistance Programs and Reform Progress

Thursday, October 20th, 2011
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October 20, 2011 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – the Super Committee – works toward delivering its final recommendations next month, we urge members to avoid making drastic and disproportionate cuts that would cripple U.S. foreign assistance programs and undercut reforms that are making these programs more effective and accountable than ever before.

To this end, we are concerned that several of the recommendations transmitted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to the Super Committee could damage our nation’s ability to address urgent challenges, including turmoil in the Middle East, famine in Africa, and particularly the transitions from military to civilian control in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although we believe it is imperative to get the country’s fiscal house in order, we must not do so at the expense of national security. We urge Joint Committee Members to focus on a few key issues as they continue their work:

  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID): The agency is being asked to bear a much bigger national security burden as a result of the issues outlined above, and we believe it is imperative that adequate funding for personnel and global operations be maintained. To ensure that every dollar of this funding is used pertinently and effectively, it is also critical to support aggressive internal reforms that are underway, including an overhaul of procurement practices and new efforts to bolster monitoring and accountability through the USAID budget and policy offices.
  • Foreign Assistance Funding Vehicles and Prioritization: The U.S. must be more selective about how and what to fund in terms of development, as the Obama Administration and leaders in Congress have said repeatedly. While taking steps like increasing resources for USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) could help spur economic growth in developing countries, it would be counterproductive to fund this increase by siphoning resources away from the overall development assistance account, which supports health, education, and entrepreneurship programs that are the backbones of growth in the first place.
  • Multilateral Organizations: U.S. leadership in supporting multilateral organizations like those in the World Bank group has been behind some of the greatest advances in health and development the world has ever known. Particularly in a time when budgets are tight, our support for multilaterals and the leveraging it provides with our allies will help make our development investments go further.

Maintaining support for foreign assistance, including the unprecedented reform process underway across the U.S. government, will keep the U.S. strong abroad while ensuring U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible.

 

MFAN Co-Chair Jim Kolbe and Rep. Ted Poe in Roll Call

Thursday, October 20th, 2011
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In a new op-ed for Roll Call, House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX-2) and former Rep. Jim Kolbe argue that modernizing the U.S. foreign assistance system will helps us confront challenges abroad while making the most effective use of every dollar spent. In Rep. Poe’s new bill introduced last week – the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2011 – he outlines specific actions, such as establishing clear guidelines for measuring the impact of programs, that will help streamline U.S. foreign assistance and make it more efficient. See below for the full op-ed:

Poe and Kolbe: Shedding More Light on U.S. Foreign Aid

The United States faces myriad challenges around the globe. We are engaged in military conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia. We are pursuing terrorists in far corners of the world. We respond when other countries need help by offering humanitarian aid to cope with crises — from famine in the Horn of Africa to earthquakes in Haiti and tsunamis in Japan. At the same time, we compete with China and other emerging economies to maintain our position as an influential and powerful force in the global economy. Clearly, the need for effective U.S. global engagement is more important than ever.

Meanwhile, at home, we are confronted with a skyrocketing domestic budget deficit that places enormous pressure on all areas of the federal government’s budget. While re-evaluating how we spend American tax dollars at home, we must also closely examine how and where we spend our international assistance budget.

The basic question is this: How can the U.S. maintain leadership overseas while adjusting to the shrinking federal budget at home? We believe the answer must be through smart and strategic reforms that make foreign aid programs more efficient and effective. The bottom line is that America cannot continue to advance our political, economic and security interests abroad without serious and long-overdue reform of foreign assistance programs. We believe that the best path forward is through enhanced coordination, accountability and transparency on both sides of the assistance equation — donor and recipient.

Since the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act in 1961, foreign aid programs have spread across 12 departments, 25 agencies and almost 60 federal offices. However, according to the conclusions of an independent study commissioned by USAID, “current monitoring and evaluation of most U.S. foreign assistance is uneven across agencies, rarely assesses impact, lacks sufficient rigor, and does not produce the necessary analysis to inform strategic decision-making.”

There are encouraging examples of effective monitoring and evaluation programs to be found, such as the Millennium Challenge Corp.’s Impact Evaluations and USAID’s new Evaluation Policy, but there is no clearly defined set of standards that is applied to all foreign assistance programs that would allow policymakers to make rational choices in a world of limited resources.

What’s more, most foreign assistance programs operate in the dark. No one really knows how the money got there in the first place or where it is going. In a recent comparative study by the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development, the U.S. ranked 22nd out of 31 countries when it came to transparency of its foreign assistance programs.

On Jan. 11, the State Department and USAID launched the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a public, online resource that allows users to examine foreign assistance investments in an accessible and easy-to-understand format. Although the site is a good start, by USAID’s own admission, it is incomplete — the site includes only aid programs from two of the 25 federal agencies that administer aid.

The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act gets at both of these problems. First, it requires the president to establish — and the heads of federal agencies to implement — guidelines on establishing measurable goals, performance metrics and monitoring and evaluation plans for all foreign assistance programs. Second, it codifies what is currently being done through the State Department and USAID’s Dashboard initiative. It would make foreign aid more transparent by increasing the amount of information available to the public, including country-development plans, Congressional budget justifications, actual expenditures and reports and evaluations by subjecting all agencies responsible for aid programs to exposure on the Dashboard.

There is growing bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for other reform ideas, as well. Research has shown that the earlier a government-administered program engages the private sector, the more likely it is that the program is going to lead to sustainable economic improvement. It is also common sense to require that recipient countries take proactive measures to combat corruption and promote financial transparency so that we have some assurance our foreign assistance dollars are not being diverted or wasted. These are just a few examples of reforms that have the support of taxpayers, the administration and nongovernmental organizations.

Many of these reform proposals would enhance the efforts that the Obama administration has undertaken through two forward-looking initiatives — the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Congressional action is needed, however, to ensure that the reforms enjoy bipartisan political support and have a lasting effect by codifying them into law.

Given the challenges that our country faces domestically and around the globe, it is necessary that we modernize and reform our foreign aid system, which is a relic of the Cold War. We need a leaner system where money is spent strategically in places where it is in the national interest of the United States. There must be measureable goals and ways to monitor the success (or lack thereof) of the assistance. We must make the foreign aid process more efficient and stretch our dollar further. Making the United States’ foreign aid process more strategic and efficient will strengthen our ability to confront global problems, overcome them and help lead the world to a brighter future.

Rep. Ted Poe (R) represents Texas’ 2nd district. Former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R), a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, represented Arizona’s 8th district from 1985 to 2007.