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

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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.