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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.

Letter to OMB Director Donovan on MFAN Priorities

Thursday, November 19th, 2015
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November 17, 2015

Shaun Donovan, Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Donovan:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a reform coalition of international development advocates and practitioners focused on strengthening U.S. development policy and results, we urge you to solidify this Administration’s legacy of improved aid effectiveness.

President Obama’s sweeping Presidential Policy Directive #6 in 2010 declared that the U.S. government would “underscore the importance of country ownership and responsibility” and “pursue development through partnership, not patronage.” To implement this vision, the President vowed to “[work] closely with the Congress to establish a shared vision of the way forward on global development…[by seeking] greater flexibilities, including a reduction in earmarks and the ability to reallocate funding from less to more effective programs, while committing departments and agencies to a much higher standard of accountability for results.”

As you consider Presidential priorities for the final year of this administration, we urge you to renew political leadership for this agenda and further embed aid accountability through: enhanced transparency, monitoring, evaluation, and learning; and country ownership through the increased utilization of local institutions, systems, and resources to achieve local priorities.

In particular, we write to draw your attention to three critical areas where your immediate leadership is needed:

1.Catalyze Local Ownership of Resources, including Domestic Resource Mobilization

Where countries are willing, United States assistance can be transformational: encouraging them to generate more of their own revenue and spend it on development priorities, paving a path toward long-term poverty reduction and self-reliance. Recognizing the catalytic impact of such investment, at the 2015 Financing for Development Conference Treasury Secretary Jack Lew committed the U.S. to doubling support for public sector domestic resource mobilization over the next three years. To ensure the success of this important commitment, President Obama’s FY17 budget request should put the U.S. on a transparent path to fulfill its Addis Tax Initiative commitment to double total support for public sector domestic resource mobilization – in agencies including USAID, Treasury, and PEPFAR – in three years, aligned with MFAN’s principles of public sector domestic resource mobilization and without establishing additional earmarks or directives.

In keeping with the President’s vision, the U.S. government should also better align investment with country priorities by increasing the flexibility of programming funds instead of carving up aid into Washington-driven Congressional directives and Presidential initiatives.

2.Partner with Congress and Fulfill Major Commitments to Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability

In 2011, the Obama Administration committed to reporting to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and subsequently directed through OMB Bulletin No. 12-01 that federal agencies managing or implementing U.S. foreign assistance establish an automated and timely process for publishing foreign aid data to by December 2015. Yet to date, only ten of the more than 22 agencies that manage foreign assistance programs have published any data to, falling far short of meeting the OMB standard that “Data should be published with the level of detail, quality, and speed needed to enhance government development planning and empower citizens to hold their government accountable,” including “detail on where, when, on what, and to what effect (i.e. results) assistance is planned, obligated, and spent.”

We strongly urge you to redouble efforts to meet this commitment and endorse the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” (H.R. 3766/S. 2184) to advance this goal. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation was developed in consultation with multiple foreign assistance agencies and was recently approved unanimously by both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Enactment of this legislation would advance this administration’s mandate in the OMB bulletin that “The USG should institutionalize a process that facilitates the collection and dissemination of data on international assistance flows across agencies.”

3.Continue to Prioritize Food Aid Reform

Reform of U.S. food assistance that enables greater reach and impact would be a profound legacy of this administration. We urge you to once again make U.S. food aid reform one of your budget and legislative priorities and maintain the high-level leadership that is critical to delivering food assistance more effectively and efficiently in reaching millions of additional vulnerable people worldwide.

We thank you for your consideration of each of these recommendations and look forward to collaborating with you further to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. 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

Letter to Secretary Kerry: Support the Foreign Aid Transparency & Accountability Act

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
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November 11, 2015

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a coalition of international development practitioners and foreign policy experts committed to strengthening development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy, we are writing to urge your active support of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the Senate (S. 2184) by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and in the House (H.R. 3766) by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA). This bicameral, bipartisan legislation recently passed out of both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and is worthy of the Administration’s strong endorsement. Specifically, the bill seeks to embed transparency and evaluation practices in the work of all agencies that administer U.S. foreign aid – longstanding priorities for both you and President Obama that would deliver greater impact in the developing world and in the lives of those we are trying to reach with our assistance.

The United States has made strides in recent years in improving the quantity and quality of U.S. foreign assistance data available to the public. President Obama’s sweeping Presidential Policy Directive #6 in 2010 declared accountability as a priority of his administration, stating “The United States will…Set in place rigorous procedures to evaluate the impact of policies and programs, report on results and reallocate resources accordingly, incorporate relevant evidence and analysis from other institutions, and inform the policy and budget process” as well as “Undertake a more substantial investment of resources in monitoring and evaluation, including with a focus on rigorous and high-quality impact evaluations.”

The establishment of the Open Government Partnership and the website to centralize U.S. foreign assistance information continues to demonstrate this Administration’s commitment to openness and accountability, both to the American public and beneficiaries of U.S. assistance around the world. All three U.S. Open Government National Action Plans[1] have called for agencies administering foreign assistance to publish their aid information in line with the internationally agreed-upon standard, which is consistent with the U.S. commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Yet to date, only ten of the more than 22 agencies that manage foreign assistance programs have published any data to since the launch of the website five years ago.

We know that improved oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance has been a personal priority for you. Under your leadership, the State Department’s recent 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review affirms the importance of data-driven decision-making for diplomacy and development. In addition, the State Department’s recently updated evaluation policy includes publication of full evaluations of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis beginning this year.

We are grateful for your engagement on the aid effectiveness agenda over the years, including helping to approve similar legislation in both the 112th and 113th Congresses when you served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Given your commitment to accountability and effectiveness, both as Secretary of State and previously as United States Senator, we ask you to make known your strong support for passage of this sensible but critical legislation in order to sustain the ongoing efforts of this administration for years to come.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to continuing our work together to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. 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



[1] “As outlined in past OMB guidance to Federal agencies, by December 2015, agencies managing or implementing U.S. foreign assistance will establish an automated and timely process for publishing foreign aid data to Throughout 2014, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, and other agencies will work to add or expand detailed, timely, and high-quality foreign assistance data to” (2nd Open Government U.S. National Action Plan, 2013)


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



Statement: MFAN Applauds President Obama’s Commitment to New Global Development Agenda

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015
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MFAN Applauds President Obama’s Commitment to New Global Development Agenda

September 28, 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

In the first of two addresses to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama announced the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a sweeping global development agenda to end extreme poverty and hunger. MFAN is encouraged by President Obama’s strong commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and his recognition of how integral development aid has been and will continue to be to promote democratic governance and strong institutions, decrease hunger and deaths by preventable disease, increase the number of boys and girls in schools, and lift people out of extreme poverty.

The adoption of this ambitious global agenda is a reminder of how critical accountable, locally-led development is to combatting poverty and suffering and reducing inequality around the world. MFAN is pleased to see that the President specifically mentioned the importance of using our development resources more effectively, learning from our successes and failures, and helping build the capacity of recipient countries to “do more with what they receive.”

The President’s speech endorsing the 2030 Agenda comes on the heels of the release of USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty, the agency’s plan to accelerate progress to end extreme poverty by 2030. MFAN applauds USAID for the release of the vision document, which tackles not only why ending extreme poverty is an important development objective, but also begins to looks more tactically at how to do it. It is particularly encouraging to see the document make specific reference to the link between accountability and country ownership and how the two together “help create a world in which developing country stakeholders have the tools to make smart decisions about their own development priorities and power to implement those decisions.”

Five years after President Obama pledged to the United Nations that the United States would remain the global leader in development, MFAN is encouraged that the President and his Administration are reaffirming this commitment by backing the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now that these commitments have been made, we look forward to working with the Administration as they begin to tackle the implementation of the global goals and measure its progress. As President Obama said in his remarks on Sunday, “supporting development is not charity, but is instead one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future.”