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Archive for January, 2012

Mark Your Calendars – Week of January 30, 2012

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email info@modernizeaid.net.

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events during the week of January 30, 2012:

 

MFAN’s Co-Chairs Note Progress, Look to Opportunities Ahead

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
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To the MFAN Network:

The past year was undoubtedly a challenging one for supporters of global development and foreign assistance reform. Abroad, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the famine that continues to devastate the Horn of Africa, and democratic revolutions throughout the Middle East put new pressures on people, policymakers, and practitioners alike. On the home front, the foreign assistance budget faced the most severe budget cuts proposed since the end of the Cold War, putting in peril not just our programs but the momentum that has been created for strengthening those programs over the last few years.

Thankfully, Members of Congress made the right decision to protect the International Affairs budget and our foreign assistance programs. In the process, they have also begun to embrace some important reform concepts and initiatives. There are opportunities on the horizon for additional progress, but the landscape for budgets and reform will likely continue to be challenging.

Before offering our annual year in review on foreign assistance reform and some detail on MFAN’s priorities for 2012, we wanted to thank you, our partners, for your hard work, without which last year’s accomplishments would not have been possible. We ask for your continued and enthusiastic support in driving the foreign assistance reform agenda forward this year.

2011 in Review

Arguably the most significant progress toward reform came in the fall, as key Members of Congress – House Foreign Affairs Committee members Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) – introduced legislative language that would enshrine elements of the reform agenda in law. Rep. Poe’s bipartisan Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 3159), which currently has 47 cosponsors, calls for stronger monitoring and evaluation guidelines across all U.S. agencies that work on foreign assistance and greater transparency of those programs. Rep. Berman’s comprehensive draft bill, The Global Partnerships Act, overhauls the outdated Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and reconfigures the U.S. foreign assistance system to not only meet modern challenges but ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely and effectively to deliver maximum results.

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Mark Your Calendars – Week of January 23, 2012

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email info@modernizeaid.net.

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events during the week of January 23, 2012:

MFAN Statement: Agency Consolidation Must Be Done Carefully

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
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January 13, 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:

The Obama Administration’s efforts to consolidate U.S. Government trade agencies into a more streamlined, efficient single entity are commendable. The goal of consolidation should be to increase coherence, effectiveness and accountability, and we have long argued that similar activities could strengthen the U.S. development system.

But any actions of this type must be done carefully and deliberately, and we are concerned that elements of the trade agency consolidation plan may hinder progress towards these goals. Two of the agencies in the plan – the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) – are explicitly committed to advancing economic development and opportunity in emerging economies, as a way of promoting U.S. foreign policy. In contrast, the mission of larger agencies such as the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Department of Commerce are to promote exports from the United States, to open markets overseas, to negotiate trade agreements and to enforce existing trade laws and regulations.

We believe it is critical that agencies involved in consolidation share fundamental missions. Taking this into account, it would be more appropriate for OPIC and USTDA to be included in a discussion of reorganizing and consolidating the development system, within which their unique expertise as facilitators with the U.S. private sector is enormously important to the future of our global engagement. We hope to have the opportunity to work with the Administration and Congress on these important issues.

 

At USAID, it’s bye bye bureaucracy, hello local competition

Friday, January 13th, 2012
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Porter McConnell, Policy and Advocacy Manager, Aid Effectiveness Team, Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

As part of a broader reform effort to make U.S. foreign aid more effective, USAID is peeling away layers of bureaucracy, bit by bit. The latest casualty in this battle against obscure and painful regulations that get in the way of helping people help themselves? A little thing called the Source, Origin, and Nationality regulation, or S/O/N. The S/O/N led USAID to buy much of the goods it needed in the field from the U.S., and submitting to a lengthy waiver process when this was impractical or costly. After a year-long public consultation, reforms to this clunker of a rule went live this week.

Wangari Matthai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a PhD, and she went on to become a lifelong environmental activist. She passed away in 2011. Photo: greenbeltmovement.org

Now that USAID has used its authority under law to change the S/O/N rule, it can buy the goods it needs not just from the U.S., but also from the country where the good is being used, or another low income country with a competitive price. But wait, isn’t buying American a good thing, you ask? Well, not always. If it’s ten times as expensive and takes months to get there, it’s probably not the best use of taxpayer dollars, especially when delay could cost peoples’ lives. Also, if your goal is to help people in poor countries help themselves, you probably want to support the local small businesses that employ those people, so they can feed their families, and be less dependent on our aid, right? In that case, buying American is shooting ourselves in the foot.

Fixing the S/O/N is just one regulation peeled back in a much larger battle. There are still plenty of other senseless or antiquated regulations whose demise would make a big difference for the lives of poor people overseas, and also save U.S. taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, the best use of U.S. foreign aid dollars is to invest in genuine partnerships with poor people and their governments, the kind that will put us out of the aid business for good. But make no mistake: this one little reform will make a big difference for that small business in Kenya that gets the USAID contract, and can hire more Kenyans, who can send their kids to school. Who knows, maybe one of those kids will grow up to be the next Wangari Maathai or John Githongo.