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Archive for the ‘House’ Category

Statement: MFAN Applauds Important Reform Elements in the Global Food Security Act of 2015

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
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March 25, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

MFAN is pleased to see that the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (H.R. 1567), recently reintroduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), includes important reform elements that would help strengthen accountability mechanisms and promote greater country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance programs related to food security and global agricultural development.

MFAN believes that accountability is best achieved through transparency, evaluation and learning, which is why it is encouraging to see the Global Food Security Act of 2015 incorporate components of all three areas. The legislation promotes transparency by requiring that indicators and benchmarks be established to measure progress, and that results and spending information be reported publicly in a transparent and timely manner. It also calls for a whole-of-government approach to establishing coherent and coordinated monitoring and evaluation systems; and it states that strategies, partnerships, and programs be regularly reviewed and updated and that lessons learned be shared with a wide range of stakeholders.

The legislation also demonstrates a commitment to principles of country ownership. It requires that U.S. government agriculture, nutrition, and food security strategies align with country-owned strategies, and that plans be developed with input from relevant stakeholders in partner countries. It also calls for a USG strategy on building local capacity in order to support the long-term success of programs.

We applaud the bill sponsors for the inclusion of these elements as they are crucial to ensuring greater effectiveness and sustainability of U.S. global food security and agriculture programs. However, we believe the legislation could be made even stronger in several ways. First, the coordinating function within the U.S. government should lie with the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), our principal development agency, rather than the White House. USAID has been leading the development programming for the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative since its inception and has the requisite expertise and experience to lead coordination across U.S. agencies. Second, reporting on spending and project data should be done in accordance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which the U.S. has already committed to implementing, and measures should be included to ensure that this data is accessible by all development stakeholders, especially the beneficiaries. Third, the legislation should specify that local, developing country institutions be the first option for implementing programs where appropriate capacity and conditions exist.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the reform elements in the bill are strengthened.

Questions for Congressional Consideration: Our Budget Hearing Wish List

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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Beginning this week, Congress will be calling administration officials up to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the President’s FY2016 Budget Request, which was released earlier this month. In advance of the hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt, we’ve given some thought to what issues we’d like to see come up and learn more about. See below for some of the questions on foreign aid reform that we’re itching to ask the Secretary and Acting Administrator… and we hope Congress is as well.

On accountability:

1)      Is the USG going to meet its commitment to full compliance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative? If not, which agencies/departments are lagging behind? What will the Secretary and Administrator do to exert the political leadership in order ensure their agencies meet the year-end deadline? [See more on this from Publish What You Fund and Brookings]

2)      How will the Secretary ensure that the evaluations now being conducted will (a) be methodologically rigorous and of good quality; (b) be made public in their entirety, and not just their summaries; and (c) be used to guide decision-making, and not just put on a shelf somewhere?

3)      Will the Secretary commit to working with Congress to lock in important reforms such as the Dashboard, the IATI commitment, and the requirement for all foreign assistance agencies to establish and implement evaluation policies? [See more on this from MFAN’s Co-Chairs]

On country ownership:

1)      How is the administration planning to continue and expand its support for initiatives like USAID’s Local Solutions that emphasize the importance of designing and implementing inclusive Country Strategies and programs that work with local partners to build local country ownership?

2)      What is USAID’s current progress towards meeting the goals of Local Solutions? How is Local Solutions being operationalized in-country and what are the outcomes and lessons learned to date? [See more on this from MFAN Co-Chair Carolyn Miles]

3)      In advance of this summer’s Financing for Development conference and in recognition of the changing landscape of development finance, how is the administration considering leveraging alternative finance mechanisms like domestic resource mobilization and co-financing? [See more on this from CGD and Oxfam]

On other reform issues:

1)      When will the second QDDR be released, how will accountability and country ownership be reflected in its recommendations, and who will be in charge of ensuring that it gets implemented?

2)      What progress has been made toward implementing the Partnership for Growth program in the four pilot countries of El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines, and Tanzania? Is the administration planning to expand the use of joint constraints to growth analyses in partner countries, which are a key component of PFG, with other partner governments? [See more on this from CGD]

The 114th Congress and Prospects for International Development

Friday, November 14th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on November 13.

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Conventional wisdom has it that foreign assistance is best supported by a Republican president and a Democratic Congress—Democrats are generally supportive of foreign assistance and a Republican president can convince his party’s legislators to support his foreign assistance programs. Add to that the dysfunction of recent congresses and the continued heightened partisanship, and the prospects for the newly elected 114th Congress taking constructive action on foreign assistance would appear dim.

For three reasons, I believe this pessimistic structural assessment does not reflect current reality, though it’s true that funding levels will remain a struggle and could be a target of a future budget battle.

International Crises Remind Us of the World

Turning to the old adage of “never waste a crisis,” the inward-looking turn reflected in opinion polls at the beginning of the 2014 election cycle was reversed by early fall—likely due to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and Ebola, which, by reminding the body politic that we ignore the world at our own peril, returned the American public to its more historical position of supporting international engagement. Further, as analyzed by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, “isolationism” was the big loser in the campaign. While there candidates advocating for retrenchment from international affairs, few of those articulating a “closed door” were elected and a number of the new members have international experience through the military, business, and other venues (full disclosure: I serve as honorary chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition).

Strong Leadership on Committees to Continue

The congressional committees with jurisdiction over international affairs are likely to be under the leadership of committed internationalists who understand and support foreign assistance. Where the leadership will change in the Senate, the incoming chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, are strong supporters of foreign assistance and they and their staffs have demonstrated interest in legislation to modernize foreign assistance policy and programs. Their predecessors, Senators Bob Menendez and Patrick Leahy, respectively, also are strong supporters of foreign assistance and likely to serve as the ranking Democrats on the committees. In the House, Nita Lowey is slated to retain her position as the ranking Democrat on the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee and the candidates to succeed subcommittee Chair Kay Granger also are supporters of foreign assistance. On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman Henry Royce and ranking Democrat Elliot Engel will retain their positions.

Less Partisanship, but Resources Remain in Jeopardy

Most of the current issues involving foreign assistance fly under partisan radar. Sure, there will be the perennial contest around family planning policies and struggles around funding for a few less favorite accounts like the United Nations and the multilateral banks. Members will disagree on the nature of and how exactly to confront the Islamic State and Ebola, but at the end of the debates they will support U.S. policies and resources to confront these two scourges.

Just as the Obama Administration has supported and continued key Bush Administration initiatives—notably PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—so, too, has the Republican Congress generally supported Obama initiatives in the foreign assistance realm.

There are ongoing and new efforts to write some of the initiatives into law, specifically in three areas. There has been strong support for legislation to authorize Power Africa; the bill has passed the House and has good support in the Senate. In recent months Obama’s Feed the Future has been the subject of serious administration/Congress/civil society deliberations to draft implementing legislation, and those discussions are expected to result in a bill with strong bipartisan support. The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act would write into law the Administration’s policy initiatives on data transparency and evaluation. It has bipartisan support and is the subject of discussions to move the current bill in the lame-duck session or a revised draft in the new Congress. That consideration of moving the legislation to the next Congress conveys legislators’ comfort with the idea that bipartisan cooperation is possible.

There is reason for concern on the matter of resources. Not from immediate action, as both House and Senate appropriations committees have marked international affairs for fiscal year 2015 at $49.9 billion, just below the FY 2014 level of $50.6 billion and $1.6 billion shy of the administration’s request of $51.5 billion for FY 2015. The current continuing resolution is actually at $50.4 billion. And the Congress is likely to support most or part of the administration’s emergency request for Ebola of $6.4 billion.

The greater concern is for FY 2016 and 2017. Sequestration kicks back in next year and there will be efforts to protect defense, possibly at the expense of non-defense accounts. And, while the appropriators will remain advocates of foreign assistance funding, the House and Senate budget committees have traditionally not been so supportive. Incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Jeff Sessions is in keeping with this mold. Back to not wasting a crisis—Ebola, the Islamic State, and the continuing uncertainty through much of the Middle East should be enough to keep members focused on the importance of the ability of the U.S. to be an active participant in world events.

The Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Two related international affairs matters to keep an eye on are the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). EXIM does not traditionally fall under the development rubric, but the export finance agency is slated under the administration’s plans to provide $5 billion of the $7 billion of U.S. government funding for power projects under its signature initiative Power Africa. Over the past several years EXIM has been a prime target of conservative Republicans. Rejecting the arguments that it creates jobs, levels the playing field for U.S. exporters, and pays its own way, they attack the agency as corporate welfare. Anticipating Republican control of the Senate in the new Congress, they orchestrated a temporary extension of EXIM’s authorities to June 2015, so reauthorization of EXIM will likely be a donnybrook battle for the new session.

Reauthorization of OPIC is less controversial. A temporary extension is in the continuing resolution and will be carried forward in whatever replaces the continuing resolution (it expires December 11), either a new continuing resolution into early next year or an omnibus appropriations bill for the entire fiscal year 2015. A permanent reauthorization has been part of the Power Africa legislation and could be carried there or in other legislation.

Engage the Congress

Bottom line: it’s worth our time to engage with the 114th Congress, as there will be opportunities to improve our foreign assistance policies and programs and funding levels will need our support.

International aid groups applaud bipartisan legislation to reform international food aid programs

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
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Washington, D.C.- This statement is delivered on behalf of the endorsing organizations: American Jewish World Service, Bread for the World, CARE, Church World Service, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, Oxfam America, Presbyterian Church USA, Save the Children, The Borgen Project, United Methodist Church: General Board of Church and Society.

As leading organizations working to fight hunger, poverty and malnutrition around the world, we welcome the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 proposed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) and African Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons (D-DE). If enacted, this bipartisan legislation would provide up to 9 million more people with lifesaving aid at no additional cost by using taxpayer dollars more efficiently.

The bill modernizes U.S. food aid programs, removing outdated red tape and ensuring the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can reach more of the world’s most vulnerable children and families quickly and effectively during times of crisis. The bill places food aid authorities into the Foreign Assistance Act while maintaining the objectives and core structures of the original program. It would allow USAID to run a 21st century food aid program with the flexibility needed to meet increasing demand from humanitarian crises. We urge members of the Senate to swiftly pass this bill and ensure it is signed into law.

“With a growing number of crises around the world and volatile food and fuel prices stressing aid budgets, it is imperative to build on the momentum achieved through reforms included in the Farm Bill and FY14 appropriations and maximize flexibility to ensure tax dollars get a bigger bang for their buck. We look forward to working with members of both parties to ensure long overdue reforms are passed into law.”

The United States is the world’s most generous donor of food aid, and U.S. international food assistance is one of the most important expressions of American leadership and values abroad. Food aid helps feed 55 million people in need around the world every year, supporting both emergency responses and programs that tackle chronic hunger and malnutrition. This Act responds to the numerous studies and reports that conclude that our system for delivering food aid is plagued by inefficiencies that, if improved, would result in reaching more hungry people more quickly and at no additional cost. One Government Accountability Office study found that because of existing outdated rules, it can take four to six months for U.S. food aid to be procured, shipped and distributed in recipient countries. During urgent crises, these delays can be a matter of life and death.

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Charting A Way Forward on U.S. Development Policy

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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The U.S. has an important leadership role to play when it comes to supporting development and reducing poverty around the world. Foreign assistance serves our national interests by enhancing national security, expanding global economic opportunities, and promoting American values. In 2008, MFAN was established because of the growing recognition that U.S. foreign assistance and development policy needed to be strengthened and modernized in order to confront today’s challenges and bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Since MFAN’s founding we have seen the Administration and Congress take actions to improve development policy and practice and make U.S. assistance dollars work smarter. Today, with the launch of our new policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, we both reflect on past achievements and humbly recognize there is much more work to be done.

MFAN’s new agenda outlines two powerful and mutually reinforcing pillars of reform – accountability through transparency, evaluation and learning; and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development. These pillars are vital to building capacity in developing countries to enable leaders and citizens to take responsibility for their own development.

We applaud the many actions that have already been taken or put in motion to advance accountability and country ownership. For the Obama Administration, these include the commitment to fully implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative, USAID’s Partnership for Growth and Local Solutions initiatives, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s commitment to transparency reflected by its top ranking on the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. In addition it is particularly encouraging to see that transparency is embedded in the recommendations of the Global Development Council that were released this week. Congress has also taken up the reform cause with the creation of the Congressional Caucus on Effective Foreign Assistance, the introduction and reintroduction of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, and recent efforts to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of international food aid.

These next two years are an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform. The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress. In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes in Congress.  We urge the Administration and Congress to work together to institutionalize the important reforms that have already been introduced and continue to push forward on strengthening country ownership and accountability. The profound changes in international aid globally make the focus on these changes even more important to ensuring US aid effectiveness.

We will be tracking progress made on the key reform actions we outline in the paper and sharing our thoughts with the community, the Administration, and Congress. We invite – and look forward to – the dialogue that these recommendations will generate.