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Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

U.S.-based NGOs Response to Food Aid Cargo Preference Hearing

Thursday, November 19th, 2015
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November 19, 2015

NGO Response to the Joint Hearing of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture of the Committee on Agriculture and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

As international development organizations addressing global hunger and malnutrition, we are deeply concerned by the misleading information presented in support of agriculture cargo preference (ACP) restrictions on U.S. food aid at the joint hearing entitled International Food Aid Programs: Transportation Perspectives.

As you know, U.S. international food aid supports the food and nutrition needs of 56 million children and families on average each year and, consequently, helps to stabilize situations that can become threats to our national security. We strongly believe that funding for humanitarian food assistance should be used for its intended purpose: to provide lifesaving emergency and development assistance to the most vulnerable.  Evidence shows that ACP restrictions on U.S. food aid are inefficient and costly, and result in considerable reductions in the volume of food aid provided to populations in need.

We therefore support efforts that reduce the burden of cargo preference on humanitarian food aid programs. Current ACP restrictions contribute to significant delays in delivering emergency food aid. The USDA Pilot study on Local and Regional Procurement showed that the combination of U.S. procurement and shipment on U.S. flag vessels increases the average delivery time by two-and-a-half months.[1] The impacts of delays can have severely adverse effects on children and other vulnerable populations.

Moreover, excess costs to U.S. food aid due to ACP restrictions range from $39 million to $50 million annually.[2] These costs divert humanitarian resources away from U.S. food aid that could otherwise assist as many as 1.4 million food insecure children and families. Three recent, detailed analyses of ACP restrictions on food aid demonstrate that the restrictions increase the costs to administer the U.S. international food aid program.[3] A robust econometric analysis found that ACP requirements “increased the total cost of shipping food aid by more than $200 million between January 2012 and May 2015 at an average of more than $50 million a year.”[4] Compounding the impact of these costs is the elimination of reimbursements to USAID to help offset ocean freight costs that was passed in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

The argument that ACP restrictions on food aid are needed to maintain the U.S. maritime fleet for national security purposes are unsupported. In fact, numerous studies conclude that ACP restrictions on food aid do not contribute to the overall stability of the U.S.-flagged fleet. Data shows that the size of the U.S.-flagged fleet is not correlated to the rise and fall of volumes of U.S. food aid. Nor is there evidence that the ACP restrictions on food aid support military capacity. From 2011 – 2013, only 34 of the 74 vessels that carried U.S. food aid were enrolled in the Military Security Program (MSP). However, those 34 ships carried only 18% of all U.S. international food aid during the same period. The vast majority of food aid – 82% – was transported on ships that are not registered in MSP and may not meet Department of Defense criteria as viable for military purposes.[5] Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports have long substantiated this general critique. In its most recent report on the subject, published in August 2015, GAO emphasized that agriculture cargo preference’s “contribution to sealift capacity is uncertain, and available mariner supply has not been fully assessed.”

Claims of negative impacts on the U.S. economy associated with removing ACP restrictions from U.S. food aid are often based on highly questionable methodology and “gross over estimations.”[6]  Potential impacts on jobs in the shipping and cargo industry are very low given that food aid transport is such a small part of the overall equation. U.S.-flagged preferences (including Jones Act trade) represent more than 1 billion metric tons of cargo annually compared to just 1.4 million metric tons from USAID (only half of which are subject to ACP requirements).[7] ,[8] Over the past decade, major ports that move food aid cargo have steadily increased their overall tonnage even while food aid tonnage has dropped by more than 70 percent.[9]

The U.S. government should no longer allow ACP restrictions to undermine the impact of U.S. food aid. Given the current number of global food security emergencies, it is more important than ever that U.S. food aid use taxpayer money responsibly by reaching as many people as possible. We urge Congress to reduce the burden of ACP on humanitarian food aid, and reject any actions that decrease the reach and effectiveness of international food aid programs.

Action Against Hunger
Action Aid USA
American Hindu World Service
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
Church World Service
Concern Worldwide
Faiths for Safe Water
Feed the Children
Global Poverty Project
Hellen Keller International
Islamic Relief USA
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN)
Oxfam America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
World Food Program USA


[1] USDA.

[2] USAID Fact Sheet, “Food Aid Reform: Behind the Numbers”; Mercier, Stephanie and Vincent H. Smith, “Military Readiness and Food Aid Cargo Preference: Many Costs and Few Benefits,” American Enterprise Institute. 2015.

[3] Bageant, Barrett and Lentz, 2010; George Mason University, 2015; Mercier, et al. 2015.

[4] Mercier, et al. 2015.

[5] Button, Kenneth, Wayne Ferris and Phillip Thomas, “The political economy of shipping US Food aid under the cargo preference regime,” George Mason University, 2015.

[6] Mercier, et al. 2015.

[7] U.S. Maritime Administration. “U.S.-Flag Waterborne Domestic Trade and Related Programs,”

[8] USAID.

[9] Ibid.

Welcome to MFAN’s ACCOUNTdown to 2017 Dialogue Series

Monday, November 16th, 2015
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Coverage of the 2016 elections, now just under a year away, is inescapable these days, providing a constant reminder that the clock on the Obama Administration and the 114th Congress is quickly running out. This summer, MFAN launched the ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign as a way to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance. The goal of the campaign is simple: take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and outline further steps that should be taken before the buzzer sounds.

With 15 months to go, today we are launching the ACCOUNTdown Dialogue Series. Over the coming months, we will take a deeper dive into our pillar issues of accountability through enhanced transparency, evaluation, and learning, and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development in order to publicly assess progress in these areas. The Dialogue Series will offer both an MFAN perspective and a U.S. government perspective on the current state of each of the 6 sub-pillars. We hope that you will follow along with the series and engage with us on social media to offer your own thoughts on where progress is being made or lagging, and what you hope to see this Congress and Administration accomplish.

Be sure to check back later in the week as we post our first piece on transparency from Lori Rowley, MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair and Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center. Lori’s piece will discuss the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 3766 / S. 2184), which was recently unanimously approved by both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the upcoming December deadline for the United States to meet its commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Community Letter to Congress: Pass the Foreign Aid Transparency & Accountability Act

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
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MFAN logo with url Print

Dear Senator:

On behalf of both the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network – a coalition of international development practitioners and foreign policy experts committed to strengthening development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy – and InterAction – the largest alliance of U.S.-based international development and humanitarian NGOs, with over 190 member organizations operating in every developing country – we are writing to express our strong support for the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015” (S. 2184), sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin.

U.S. foreign assistance budgets and programs should be transparent and based on rigorous evidence and learning to ensure the effectiveness of every dollar spent. S. 2184 would both establish evaluation guidelines for U.S. international development and economic assistance programs and centralize public access to data and reports through the existing aid transparency website. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved this legislation in 2013 and again in 2015. A companion bill sponsored by Representatives Ted Poe and Gerry Connolly unanimously passed the House in 2012 and was approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2015.

Specifically, the legislation would: 1) require the President of the United States to establish and implement uniform monitoring and evaluation guidelines – with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans – across U.S. international development and economic assistance programs; and 2) require the Secretary of State to ensure the website contains detailed information regarding U.S. foreign assistance on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis that is updated quarterly.  It would further require that analysis be undertaken by the Government Accountability Office to inform Congress on relevant agencies’ adherence to these benchmarks.

While some progress has been made in recent years, today fewer than half of the more than two dozen federal departments and agencies involved in delivering U.S. foreign assistance have published data to, and not enough meaningful aid information has been included. The time has come for the President to issue and oversee a set of common guidelines on the monitoring and evaluation of these programs and ensure that important aid information is available to the public. American taxpayers, along with partner country governments and citizens, deserve to have the ability to access comprehensive, timely, and comparable data on U.S. international development and economic assistance.

Given its strong bipartisan support in the previous sessions of Congress, we urge you to support and swiftly pass the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” to maximize the impact of our foreign assistance.


George Ingram
MFAN Co-Chair
Brookings Institution

Carolyn Miles
MFAN Co-Chair
Save the Children

Connie Veillette
MFAN Co-Chair
The Lugar Center

Sam Worthington
President & CEO

Endorsing Organizations (27):

Alliance to End Hunger
Bread for the World
ChildFund International
Congressional Hunger Center
Global Health Council
Global Poverty Project
Habitat for Humanity International
Helen Keller International
International Youth Foundation
Mercy Corps
Millennium Water Alliance
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
Oxfam America
PCI (Project Concern International)
Plan International USA
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
USAID Alumni Association
VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance)
WASH Advocates
WaterAid America
Women Thrive Worldwide

MFAN Letter to the NSC on the Open Government Partnership U.S. National Action Plan

Friday, October 9th, 2015
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October 2, 2015

Ms. Mary Beth Goodman
Senior Director
National Security Council
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Ms. Goodman:

We at the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network appreciate the open and consultative process led by the White House to gather recommendations for the third Open Government Partnership (OGP) U.S. National Action Plan.  Your leadership has been instrumental in the formation and implementation of the previous two OGP National Action Plans, and we welcome the opportunity to help build on those gains with strong new commitments in the next plan.

We applaud the OGP Steering Committee, of which the U.S. is a part, for its recent adoption of the “Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”  We strongly support the integration of the SDGs into the U.S Government OGP National Action Plan and vice versa — leveraging the OGP plans, platform and principles for the achievement not only of Goal 16, but the entire SDG 2030 agenda.

The inclusion of commitments to improve the transparency of U.S. foreign assistance in the previous two plans has helped motivate the progress agencies have made over the past four years.  However, much work remains to be done. In order to fully deliver on prior commitments, a robust new commitment to improving data quality and data use is needed.

We propose that the U.S. government make the following new commitments in the area of foreign assistance transparency.

1.All U.S. agencies administering foreign assistance will publish data at the activity level and on a quarterly basis, in line with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). By 2017, the data published will represent 100% of U.S. official development assistance (ODA).

This commitment represents full implementation of the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which the U.S. joined in 2011. The 100% figure comes from the implementation schedule presented in December 2012 by the State Department and USAID on behalf of the U.S. Government.[1] Though the previous two National Action Plans called for all agencies administering foreign assistance to publish their aid data to and in line with the international standards, only some data has been published and the quality of the data is generally low.[2]

In order to meet this commitment, each U.S. agency administering foreign assistance should publish a cost management plan that assesses how the agency will collect and publish aid data, what resources the agency will need, and the source of those resources. The U.S. government’s commitment to IATI will only be achieved when responsible agencies have clear plans that identify how they will collect and publish the data. Agency-specific plans should be developed by December 2016 to allow at least one year for implementation. USAID’s publication of such a plan this year demonstrates that this commitment is feasible.[3]

2.The U.S. government will encourage the use of the data it publishes by domestic and international stakeholders. It will develop capacity-building programs within U.S. agencies and with domestic and international stakeholders so the data can be accessed and used for different purposes.

The potential of open data to have a transformative impact on development will not be realized unless the data is used.  Capacity training programs should be developed in the first quarter of 2016 and should continue for the duration of the plan.  During the course of the third National Action Plan, the U.S. government must build on the progress made in opening data by encouraging its uptake and use.  This requires identifying and responding to demand for the data by multiple stakeholders.

The interagency team led by the State Department and USAID responsible for has made some progress over the last two National Action Plans in understanding the information needs of domestic stakeholders like Congress, the academic community, and the public.  Going forward, the attention to data use must expand to include more partner country perspectives.

Partner country governments have a critical need for foreign aid information. Aligning this information with country budget classifications, for example by implementing the IATI budget identifier, will help users bridge the gap between the aid and the domestic budget. It is this more complete picture that can lead to better decision making.  A recent USAID study found that, despite increases in the quantity of data published, the local communities that U.S. foreign assistance serves rarely access or use the data to monitor and give feedback on the development activities of donors and their own governments.[4]  To remedy this, the U.S. should implement capacity building programs within foreign assistance agencies to work with local media and civil society partners as “infomediaries” on innovative ways to effectively communicate U.S. foreign assistance information to local audiences.

We appreciate the effort and attention that will be necessary to realize these commitments, and we look forward to providing assistance and public support to help translate these commitments into outcomes during the course of the third U.S. National Action Plan.

Thank you for your consideration and your leadership in using the Open Government Partnership as a global platform to set a high standard of open and responsive government.  We look forward to your response and continued dialogue.


George Ingram, The Brookings Institution & MFAN Co-Chair

Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant & MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

Lori Rowley, The Lugar Center & MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

Didier Trinh, MFAN Executive Director



Oxfam America

Publish What You Fund

Save the Children




[1] IATI Implementation schedule.

[2] 2015 U.S. Aid Transparency Review.

[3] USAID International Aid Transparency Initiative Cost Management Plan, July 2015.  See



ACCOUNTdown Reviews USAID Effectiveness to Build for Future

Monday, August 10th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children and Co-Chair of MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group.


Recently, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) launched the ACCOUNTdown campaign and scorecard to push for greater aid effectiveness reform by the Obama Administration.  ACCOUNTdown focuses on the U.S. government’s progress to strengthening its international development programs’ accountability and country ownership.

The ACCOUNTdown report highlighted a range of improvements by various U.S. development agencies and departments. We welcome these incremental shifts, but with just less than a year and half left in this Administration, we want to see more.

We know from Save the Children’s own work that embedding accountability and ownership in programs can have an impact on the ground. Whether it is health, education, or nutrition programming, the most lasting impact occurs when local potential is nurtured to enable countries and communities to achieve their own aspirations. Aid can and should do that better. Here are four things that could make a difference now.

  • Too much USAID funding is still being driven by priorities set by the U.S. government in Washington, rather than aligned with host-country strategies. When aid is driven by Washington, then Washington funding goes away, so does a lot of the progress. But when aid is part of a partnership with local communities, governments and civil society, then the results are not only continued by the people in those countries – they are magnified.
  • The introduction of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in 2010 set a target for increased direct flows of U.S. government resources to developing countries. But partnership is more than that; USAID must start measuring how it’s increasing local capacity more broadly.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) was created in 2004 in part to enable more country-driven approaches; their country compact development process is a good example of aligning with host country priorities. MCC should work to increase the use of country systems and local partners in high-performing countries to extend country ownership.
  • The U.S. government has made progress in helping countries finance their own development and should continue to do so. This was illustrated in the announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative and PEPFAR’s launch of the innovative health financing initiative which reflect how the U.S. is supporting domestic resource mobilization for development.

The U.S. government can take many additional steps in the next 18 months to further its commitment to country ownership and accountability to have a greater impact through its on-the-ground programming.

As an active MFAN member, we look forward to future progress reports from the ACCOUNTdown campaign as a way to ensure the Obama administration honors its commitments to aid effectiveness.