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Year in Review: A Look Back at Aid Reform in 2015

Friday, December 18th, 2015
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As 2015 comes to a close and we head into the final year of the Obama Administration, we want to take some time to reflect on all that we as a network have accomplished these last twelve months to move the needle on U.S. aid reform. With your energy and support, we continued to push on our pillar issues of accountability and country ownership and the policy priorities we laid out in these areas in our paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond.

MFAN’s Continued Work to Strengthen Accountability & Country Ownership

MFAN hit the ground running in 2015 on accountability and country ownership. MFAN partner Save the Children released a new report early in the year tracking USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in six countries. MFAN and Brookings hosted an event to highlight the findings of a new policy paper from the MCC, Principles into Practice: Transparency. Continuing on the transparency and data use track, MFAN in partnership with AidData, the State Department, and USAID hosted Do More With Data: Moving U.S. Government Aid Transparency Forward, an event that brought together internal and external drivers of USG foreign aid transparency to explore ongoing and new efforts to make data more accessible.

This year we welcomed Dr. Patricia Morris to the MFAN Executive Committee. Pat took over as the new President of Women Thrive Worldwide, a longtime MFAN partner, in January. We also welcomed a new staff member in 2015, as Stephanie Cappa joined the MFAN hub as our Senior Government Relations Manager.

Heading into the Spring, MFAN and Devex launched Reform for Results, an online series to engage the broader development community on progress made and emerging opportunities on MFAN’s policy priorities from The Way Forward. The series featured a video interview with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, OpEds from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, Honorary Co-Chair Senator Richard Lugar (Ret.), and Executive Committee members Ben Leo, Tom Hart, and Tessie San Martin.

MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group released a policy brief outlining recommendations for how to better measure country ownership, which, for example, can be applied to USAID’s Local Solutions initiative. The paper was met with enthusiasm by USAID, as they are currently working on developing and integrating new metrics into their ownership work. The Country Ownership Working Group also welcomed Save the Children’s Nora O’Connell and Oxfam’s Greg Adams as its new co-chairs in 2015, following on the great leadership of Tessie San Martin of Plan and Rodney Bent.

In July, MFAN launched its new ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign aid. The campaign will take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and outline further steps that can be made before the end of the 114th Congress and the Obama Administration. Also in July, coinciding with the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, MFAN released its Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resources Mobilization, outlining how the U.S. government can effectively help partner countries mobilize domestic resources for development.

As part of our continuing work to highlight MFAN’s policy priorities and engage with the Obama Administration, the Co-Chairs sent letters to OMB Director Shaun Donovan, outlining our priorities and how the Administration can make progress on them in its final year, and MCC CEO Dana Hyde, outlining our recommendations for the MCC’s forthcoming five-year strategic plan. In addition, MFAN Honorary Co-Chair The Honorable Jim Kolbe testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the value of the MCC.

The Obama Administration’s Second-to-last Year

Early in the year, President Obama demonstrated his enduring commitment to development and effective foreign assistance in his State of the Union address and, following shortly after, his FY16 budget request. In the State of the Union address, the President called for a “more effective global effort” to combat development challenges like the Ebola crisis. The budget request included a number of provisions to help advance reform, including additional flexibility for food aid, a funding boost for the MCC, and an increase in USAID’s Operating Expenses budget.

Also early this year, USAID Administrator Raj Shah stepped down from his post after leading the agency for five productive years. Administrator Shah was a long-time champion for effective development, spearheading efforts such as USAID Forward, the Local Solutions initiative, and the establishment of USAID’s evaluation policy. In April, we released an MFAN-led community sign-on letter calling for a new USAID Administrator. Just two weeks later the announcement was made that MFAN co-founder Gayle Smith was nominated.  As the community anxiously awaited Gayle’s confirmation, MFAN organized another community sign-on letter in June to urge the Senate to confirm her as USAID Administrator.

At the end of April, the much anticipated second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was released. We were pleased to see the document focus on transparent and accountable governance and the better use and analysis of data, and the emphasis on building internal capacity at State and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation. We look forward to continuing to work with the State Department on the implementation of this QDDR in the New Year.

This fall marked the much-anticipated launch of the Sustainable Development Goals at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. President Obama strongly endorsed the ambitious in his address during UNGA.

Foreign Aid Reform on Capitol Hill

The year was also an active time in the fight to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in Congress. This spring the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a landmark hearing on food aid reform, convened by SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD).  The hearing was an opportunity to highlight the importance of legislative efforts like the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Senate champions Bob Corker and Chris Coons (D-DE) earlier in the year, and to make the case for why the current systems to needs to be improved in order to deliver more for hungry people around the world. To capitalize on the moment, MFAN, as part of a broad coalition of international development organizations, signed on to a statement of support for food aid reform.

In October, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 was introduced in the House by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Just a few weeks after introduction, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up and approved the bills. MFAN and InterAction also organized a community sign-on letter in support of the bill and the MFAN Co-Chairs sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging his support, recognizing that the State Department has been a hurdle to getting the bill passed in previous congresses.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Gayle Smith as the new USAID Administrator in November, seven months after being nominated. MFAN and our partners were pleased that the Senate finally took action to fill this important position.

Onward to 2016

We are rounding out 2015 on a high note, as the House of Representatives recently unanimously passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. In the New Year, we hope to see the Senate take similar action so that we can see this legislation enacted. We look forward to a busy 2016 as MFAN and our partners continue to push Congress and the Administration to prioritize accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and sustainable. Early next year we will be holding our next public check-in on our ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign and will continue to update our ACCOUNTdown Dialogue Series, so stay tuned!


MFAN Community Reacts to House Passage of Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act

Thursday, December 10th, 2015
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Less than three months after being introduced, the House of Representatives passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 3766). This bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) would codify important reforms to ensure that U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance are doing rigorous and consistent monitoring and evaluation and are making comprehensive, timely, and comparable aid data publicly available. MFAN and our partners are pleased to see both the House and Senate taking swift action to move this important bill through.

See below for a roundup of reactions from around the MFAN community to the news of House passage, and also check out blogs from Oxfam and ONE.

MFAN: MFAN commends the bill sponsors Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) for their continued leadership on aid effectiveness and their effort to see this bill signed into law. We also thank Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for moving swiftly to pass this important legislation.

The Lugar Center’s Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ret.): More than ever the expenditure of every U.S. taxpayer dollar must be effectively spent in the development space, not just for taxpayer accountability, but also for greatest impact for those receiving our assistance.  Legislation requiring increased accountability of these funds, both by requiring greater transparency and strengthened systems for monitoring and evaluating these programs, takes an important step in ensuring effectiveness. I applaud the U.S. House of Representatives in recognizing the important role that they play in bringing greater transparency and accountability to U.S. foreign assistance and congratulate my former colleague, Congressman Poe, on his continued leadership of this important policy.

USGLC’s Liz Schrayer: We applaud the House of Representatives for unanimously passing important legislation today that continues our efforts to ensure the accountability and effectiveness of our nation’s foreign assistance programs. This bipartisan legislation will further strengthen America’s global leadership and advance our interests and values around the world. We urge the Senate to join the House by passing the companion legislation sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin before the end of the year.

Bread for the World’s David Beckmann: Making all U.S. foreign assistance more transparent and accountable will help certify that our tax money is used efficiently,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “This legislation is especially important now that the global community has embraced new global goals that would virtually end hunger and poverty by 2030. It’s clear that more openness and transparency are key to helping the U.S. achieve better results and lead the charge of ending global hunger and poverty.

Oxfam’s David Saldivar: Even in these highly partisan times, Congress today has found that transparency in foreign aid is in everyone’s interest. We hope the Senate quickly follows suit since greater transparency and accountability in our foreign aid will help people in developing countries do more to lead their own development, and use US help more effectively to fight poverty.

InterAction: This bipartisan bill makes U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, and has had strong support in both the House and the Senate under the leadership of Sens. Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin and Reps. Ted Poe and Gerry Connolly. In November, the bill was unanimously passed by both the House Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. InterAction thanks the House for moving quickly to pass this important legislation that is supported by a coalition of more than 35 NGOs, and looks forward to working with the Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible.

A Win for Aid Effectiveness: House Passes Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
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December 8, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

Today the House of Representatives overwhelmingly demonstrated bipartisan commitment to making U.S. foreign assistance more accountable by passing the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 3766) by voice vote. MFAN commends the bill sponsors Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) for their continued leadership on aid effectiveness and their effort to see this bill signed into law. We also thank Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for moving swiftly to pass this important legislation.

MFAN strongly supports this bipartisan legislation, which would codify important reforms to ensure that U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance are focused on rigorous and consistent monitoring and evaluation of programs and on making comprehensive, timely, and comparable aid data publicly available. By reinforcing its existing commitments to transparency and evaluation through legislation, the U.S. government can better track, measure, and allocate scarce aid resources. At a time when the U.S. is facing an unprecedented number of humanitarian and development challenges around the globe, efforts to ensure our foreign assistance is being spent effectively, like this legislation, must be prioritized.

We urge the full Senate take up and pass the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act immediately. A companion bill (S. 2184) was introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 10. Having now passed with resounding bipartisan endorsement from the full House, this legislation should likewise be supported by the Senate and sent to the President for his signature.

U.S.-based NGOs to Appropriators: Oppose Increase to Cargo Preference Requirements

Friday, December 4th, 2015
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December 2, 2015

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Senate Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Harold Rogers
House Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Nita Lowey
Ranking Member
House Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairmen Cochran and Rogers and Ranking Members Mikulski and Lowey:

As international humanitarian and development organizations addressing global hunger and malnutrition, we strongly oppose any provision in the omnibus appropriations bill that increases the percentage or portion of U.S.-sourced food aid commodities that must be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels.

In April 2014, the Department of Homeland Security warned that increasing agriculture cargo preference (ACP) restrictions on U.S. food aid from 50 percent to 75 percent would increase transportation costs for U.S. international food aid programs by $75 million annually, and result in up to 2 million vulnerable people losing access to life-saving food aid from the United States. This proposed change to cargo preference follows the Budget Act of 2013, which eliminated mandated reimbursements to USAID from Department of Transportation intended to offset part of the ocean freight cost of international food aid programs.  The cumulative effect drastically increases the cost of shipping U.S. food and will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the ability to operate food aid programs efficiently.

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.

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 efforts to increase agriculture cargo preference (ACP) requirements on U.S. food aid.


Action Against Hunger
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
Catholic Relief Services
ChildFund International
Church World Service
Concern Worldwide US
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Feed the Children
Global Poverty Project
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN)
Oxfam America
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
World Food Program USA

Congress Eyes Greater Transparency in Foreign Aid, This Time the Timing Could be Right

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Lori Rowley, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group and Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center. This post is part of MFAN’s ACCOUNTdown to 2017 Dialogue Series.


From the perspective of both U.S. taxpayers and recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, it’s been a very positive few weeks on both sides of the Capitol. Legislation to advance greater transparency of U.S. foreign assistance programs has now been approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), I staffed the Senator when he authored the Senate companion bill  that Congressman Ted Poe introduced in the 112th Congress and has continued to introduce in every Congress since then, The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. The bill narrowly missed enactment in the waning days of that Congress – late in December of 2012 – despite a unanimous vote by the full House.

Since that time, interest in the topic of foreign aid effectiveness has not waned. Neither has the need for it. In fact, in today’s world, maintaining the effectiveness of our taxpayer dollars in keeping starving people alive with critical food aid, investing in women, smallholder farmers so they can improve their crop production and in turn feed their families, and supporting  HIV/AIDS victims with life-saving medical treatment is more vital than ever.  Our financial resources in supporting people in the developing world be able to move from living in crisis to living in stability are stretched to their maximum, with destabilized governments, drought and continued lack of access to water and basic education a constant across much of the world. We need to see where we’re investing, what we’re getting in return, and how we can make progress to move these countries and their citizens from being dependent on our aid to becoming our trading partners.

In my current position at The Lugar Center, we continue to endorse the critical investment in developing countries in order to promote a more prosperous and stable world.  We believe that an important component of this investment is ensuring its effectiveness through transparency, and we work to promote it. The Obama Administration took important steps in this area, with the creation of the webpage, Here taxpayers are now able to see how much of their taxpayer dollars go to a specific country and for what purpose. Further, the transfer of this data to the International Aid Transparency Registry provides even greater transparency regarding the flow of aid funds into each developing country by a host of donors, NGOs and others from across the globe.

While some federal agencies responsible for administering U.S. foreign aid are already living up to executive branch commitments to be more transparent about where and for what purpose taxpayer dollars are being spent, regrettably not all of them are. The posting of this information to, is uneven and often incomplete. Only the Millennium Challenge Corporation has received a rating of “Very Good” on the Publish What You Fund 2014 Aid Transparency Index.  Frankly, all 22 federal agencies providing foreign assistance need to do better.

Here is where the Congress can play a critical role. By enacting legislation that requires all federal agencies providing foreign assistance to publish their data to the webpage, the legislative and executive branches of government become partners in working to ensure transparency, and thus accountability in our foreign assistance. That is a win-win for both U.S. taxpayers and people across the globe who receive our aid. Locking in important steps to improve our foreign assistance seems ripe for action now, and I am hopeful that as we approach December of 2015, enactment of the Foreign Aid Accountability and Transparency Act won’t be a narrow miss as it was when I staffed this bill, but rather a full endorsement of foreign aid transparency and accountability by both the House and the Senate.