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Archive for December, 2011

It All Starts with Training: New CAP Report Calls for Better Crisis Prevention Training

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
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Last week the Center for American Progress (CAP) published a report, “It All Starts with Training: Crisis Prevention and U.S. Foreign Affairs Agencies,” that explores the need for improved training courses and professional development opportunities at core U.S. foreign affairs agencies. John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP, Abigail Long, associate for policy and government relations at Humanity United, Sarah Margon, Associate Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at CAP and David Abramowitz, vice president for policy and government relations at Humanity United all contributed to the report. The paper states that “without enhanced training, diplomats will continue to lack the broad range of tools they need to deal with the many complicated and challenging global issues they regularly encounter whether on the ground or back in Washington.” The goal is with improved training, diplomats and development experts can advance democracy, stimulate economic growth, and strengthen the rule of law prior to a possible emerging conflict that could end with direct military combat.

The Obama Administration has launched a series of reviews on how U.S. embassies and development offices operate. One such review, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), concluded that the U.S. is not adequate in preventing and managing crises. A few statistics included in the QDDR underscore how important conflict prevention is to the U.S.: close to 60 percent of State and USAID’s foreign assistance goes to 50 countries that are in the midst of, recovering from, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure; more than 25 percent of State and USAID’s personnel serve in the 30 countries classified as highest risk for conflict and instability; and more than 2,000 civilian personnel are currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In part to turn the system around, the QDDR established an Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and the New Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (COS) to “lead, coordinate, and institutionalize U.S. government civilian capacity to prevent or prepare for post-conflict situations and to help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife.”

As the authors note, looking at statistics from similar reports, it seems as though crisis prevention is a priority for the U.S. government. However, the findings from these reports indicate that significant institutional and cultural change is needed in order for the President’s rhetoric to become reality.

CAP’s key recommendations to improve crisis prevention training include:

  • Tying promotions directly to conflict prevention training;
  • Giving post bid preference to those Foreign Service officers who complete a certified core curriculum in conflict prevention training;
  • Requiring all incoming State and USAID officers to take a basic course on conflict prevention;
  • Providing for additional training for Foreign Service officers deploying to a conflict-prone country;
  • Requiring Foreign Service officers to complete a year of advanced training to be eligible for promotion to Senior Foreign Service;
  • Establishing the personnel capacity for civilian international affairs agencies to do better training;
  • Creating a new cone within the Foreign Service dedicated to conflict prevention; and
  • Synchronizing USAID’s operating expenses with its program budget.

To download a PDF of the report, click here.


Aiding Stability: Brookings Policy Brief Explores Development in Fragile States

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
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MFAN partner the Brookings Institution has released a policy brief on the need for aid in fragile states, titled, “Aiding Stability: Improving Foreign Assistance in Fragile States.”

Over the last 20 years, donor agencies have sought out partner countries based on critical development needs as well as institutional strength and governance. Fragile states, however, lack the integrity to govern themselves effectively. In the brief, Laurence Chandy, fellow with the Global Economy and Development Program at Brookings, writes: “The term ‘fragility’ captures a range of different country conditions, but in each case there is a failure of the state to perform some of its most basic functions either due to lack of political will, capacity or a combination of the two, creating significant challenges for development.”

The paper points out the difficulty in fostering political and private sector support when reports of corruption and misused aid money reach the ears of legislators and potential donors. In a time of budget austerity, and with an increasingly weary donor base, NGOs, non-profits, and politicians gravitate toward demonstrable success in order to avoid the criticism of “wasting” money on the “unaffordable” liability of fragile states.

“Aiding Stability” claims that fragile states can no longer be ignored: “As the group of stable low-income countries diminishes in size and the needs of fragile states loom ever larger, this approach to allocating aid is no longer feasible.” For example, two-thirds of low income countries are now fragile, a growing percentage of the world’s poor now reside in fragile states – doubling from 20% to more than 40% since 2005 – and fragile states have yet to achieve a single Millennium Development Goal.

Despite misgivings about aid effectiveness in fragile states, “Aiding Stability” cites examples of demonstrable progress. The World Bank IEG reports that outcome ratings in fragile states are nearly equal to that of the institutional average, with a 70% rate of approval compared to 76% overall. Similarly, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria project grants have achieved an average of 83% of their targets in fragile states compared to the 88% average for stable countries.

In order to expand the scope and scale of successful development in fragile states, “Aiding Stability” outlays areas for focus and re-evaluation. The 2011 World Development Report recommends “a focus on establishing security, justice and jobs and the institutions which are responsible for their provision.” Building state legitimacy and strengthening institutions is a common goal for most aid projects, but fragile states must see improvements in these sectors before other development projects may take hold. The development community must look into better donor coordination, risk management, accommodating timeframes, and metrics capable of demonstrating progress and identifying long-term risks in conflict-ridden states.

Brookings’ report called upon donors and partners to focus on fragile states at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, with some notable outcomes. Conflict and Fragility is one of eight building blocks for post-Busan implementation, and sustainable development in fragile states is discussed in the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.


MFAN Statement: Congress Avoids Catastrophic Aid Cuts, Advances Reform in FY12 Budget

Monday, December 19th, 2011
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December 19, 2011 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

We are pleased that Congress avoided making catastrophic cuts to foreign assistance in the Fiscal Year 2012 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.  We appreciate the efforts of the policymakers who fought to protect these critical programs, and we commend them for using the bill to advance some key foreign assistance reform priorities that will lead to better results for U.S. taxpayers and people in developing countries.

The $42.1 billion base funding level represents a continued and troubling downward trend, which remains a major concern as Congress and the Administration turn to the Fiscal  Year 2013 budget in February.  However, when the core budget is taken together with increased funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, our development-focused programs weathered what could have been a disastrous and irreversibly damaging budget cycle. We hope Members of Congress will maintain their support for these critical programs in the difficult budget negotiations in coming years.

Certain elements of the bill advance key foreign assistance reform priorities, including increasing transparency and accountability, strengthening country ownership, empowering a 21st-century U.S. development agency and encouraging more strategic and effective program design in the field:

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Operating Expenses, which largely fund the landmark internal reform agenda underway at the Agency, only suffered a small reduction, far less than what had originally been proposed in the House Committee-passed version of the bill.
  • Per the Obama Administration’s pledge to restore USAID’s standing as the premier global development agency, the bill draws explicit attention to the need to undertake a transparent process of transitioning full responsibility for the marquee Global Health Initiative (GHI) to USAID, as called for in the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).
  • In an effort to make U.S. development efforts more sustainable on the ground, we applaud the bill’s support for a pilot program to reform procurement practices by increasing opportunities for indigenous organizations to compete for grants.
  • We support the bill’s language promoting gender equality and the meaningful participation of women in all development efforts.
  • We also commend the provision of assistance to improve fiscal transparency standards for developing country budgets and contracts, including support for civil society organizations to promote transparency.

We look forward to working with the Administration and the Congress to strengthen these and other reforms, including through specific reform legislation next year, building on leadership efforts by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) this year.


Congressman Ted Poe Talks about New Bill at Oxfam Event

Friday, December 16th, 2011
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Earlier this week, Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX-2) addressed members of the development community about the need for accountability and transparency in U.S. foreign assistance. His speech was part of an event hosted by MFAN partner Oxfam America titled “Be Bold! Risk and Reward in U.S. Foreign Assistance.” Poe spoke about his new bill, The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, which currently has 45 bipartisan cosponsors and how he envisions the legislation will help to advance reform and build broad support for foreign assistance.

Citing the countless agencies and offices who deal with foreign assistance, the uneven and incongruous monitoring and evaluation processes, and an overall lack of transparency Poe explained why he introduced the legislation. He referenced the Center for Global Development/Brookings QuODA report in which the U.S. ranks 22 out of 31 countries on transparency, adding our “aid programs operate in the dark.”  Though Poe noted some progress has been made at reforming the U.S. approach to foreign assistance with the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, there is still much more to be done.

From this argument about the need for m&e, Poe said we should not hide what we’re doing with foreign aid and that if we were more honest with taxpayers about how the money is spent, there will be more support for aid programs. Poe closed by talking about his hopes to get the bill passed and urged the audience to call their congressman and ask them to sign on as a cosponsor.

Oxfam America continued its panel discussion on partnership following Poe’s remarks. Oxfam hosted the event to launch their new report, “The Politics of Partnership: How Donors Manage Risk while Letting Recipients Lead Their Own Development.” Greg Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam, summarized the theme of the report: development hinges on maintaining and strengthening the compact between citizens and their governments. The report argues donors are inherently disruptive to this compact because they introduce an element of accountability outside the citizen-government relationship. This does not necessarily mean aid is bad, but that donors need to invest in ways that do the least to undermine the relationship between citizens and their government. Adams noted that while this may seem obvious, it is quite difficult to do in practice.

The panel included the Honorable Albert Kan-Dapaah, Member of Parliament of Ghana and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and Evans Rweikiza, Executive Director of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation. Both spoke about their experiences in battling corruption – both inside and outside of government – and the donor-recipient relationship. Kan-Dapaah, in particular, argued donors should find ways to encourage civil society to become a more effective watchdog over government.


Crafting Modern Legislation

Friday, December 16th, 2011
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In From Policy to Practice, MFAN argued, “U.S. policy should be guided by modern legislation that codifies a shared Executive-Legislative vision for the U.S. approach to poverty-focused development.”

Six months later, two key initiatives in Congress have been released, both of which build on the reform efforts started under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In September, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) released draft legislation of The Global Partnerships Act of 2011 – a rewrite of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Berman and his staff developed this discussion draft aimed at overhauling the foreign assistance system to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, deliver maximum results, and advance U.S. interest.

Meanwhile Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2011 in October. This bill – which currently has 45 bipartisan cosponsors – would require the President to establish monitoring and evaluation guidelines for all U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance and call for such information to be publicly available on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. In an op-ed written in conjunction with MFAN Co-Chair and former GOP Congressman Jim Kolbe, Rep. Poe concludes: “Given the challenges that our country faces domestically and around the globe, it is necessary that we modernize and reform our foreign aid system…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.”

Underscoring the need to craft modern legislation and as a show of support for these bipartisan initiatives in Congress, MFAN produced an infographic which lays out the five pillars of reform that modern legislation would address. Download a PDF of the infographic here and see it below.

Further exploring how modern legislation would advance foreign assistance reform, MFAN launched a four-part blog series over the summer, featuring Ranking Member Berman. In his guest post, Congressman Berman wrote, “Although foreign assistance accounts for less than 1 percent of our national budget, we must insist that every penny is used wisely. To do that, we need to develop strategic planning processes that set clear goals and measurable indicators of success; work with partner governments and local communities to make sure they have the will and the ability to keep projects going with their own resources; coordinate our activities with those of other donors and focus on the areas where we have a comparative advantage; and institute robust mechanisms for transparency, monitoring, and evaluation.”

Other contributors to the Modern Legislation blog series included: former Congressman and Ambassador to Tanzania Mark Green; Connie Veillette, Director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Project at the Center for Global Development; and Larry Nowels, an independent consultant. Click the links below to read the full guest blogs.

Click here to download the full infographic