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Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ 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.

MFAN, Devex Launch New Series on Aid Effectiveness: Reform for Results

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
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Today, Devex and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network are launching a new series on U.S. foreign assistance reform, Reform for Results. Last Spring, we released our policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, which laid out concrete goals the U.S. government could take to make U.S. aid work harder and achieve more. With this series, we will examine accomplishments to date and emerging opportunities in 2015. We believe that the time to push the envelope on key reforms is now as the Obama Administration moves into its final years, the U.S. considers its commitment to the next round of global development goals, and Congressional interest in ensuring aid dollars are well spent increases.

We start the series with a piece from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, which can be found here. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing new content to the Reform for Results website on our pillar issues of Accountability and Country Ownership and we encourage the community to engage in the series starting today using #Reform4Results on Twitter.

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]

Making Aid Transparency a Reality

Thursday, February 12th, 2015
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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 February 11.

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With many development organizations, both government and non-government, working to introduce greater transparency—in data, policy formulation, and program assessment—it is an important time for the development community to take stock of the lessons learned by agencies that have lead in this arena.

With this in mind, Brookings and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) recently held a public discussion on aid transparency. The discussion was built around a new paper by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) setting out the organization’s experiences in implementing aid transparency.

We were fortunate to host a panel comprising the key transparency experts in four of the lead organizations—Aleem Walji (World Bank), John Adams (U.K. Department for International Development (DFID)), Theo van de Sande (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MinBuZa)), and Beth Tritter (MCC). For context, in the 2014 Aid Transparency Index, DFID scored second, MCC third, the World Bank seventh, and MinBuZa 19th (out of a total of 68 agencies surveyed).

The session focused on two fundamental aspects of transparency: the value proposition for transparency, and the obstacles and incentives to implementation—the “why” and “how” of aid transparency.

Why Do We Care About Aid Transparency?

The fact that transparency promotes accountability is the most common understanding as to why transparency is important. In development work there are multiple sets of stakeholders to be accountable to, including taxpayers, implementing partners, recipient country governments and citizens, and the agency itself.

Transparency facilitates donor accountability to the most immediate stakeholders by providing taxpayers with information that reveals what the agency is doing and how well it is doing it. Public oversight is most often conducted by researchers, the media, and the legislature. Several of the panelists noted that making data public provides stakeholders—they had in mind the press and parliamentarians—with information that is readily accessible and conveys how assistance is used, allowing them to better appreciate both the specifics and broader context of aid provision, and thereby creating a more supportive environment for assistance.

Increasingly, however, donors are coming to understand that they also are accountable to intended beneficiaries in recipient countries. This same information allows beneficiaries and stakeholders in recipient countries to assess the use of assistance, except that local stakeholders need a greater level of detail about project implementation.

Not only does making data available allow citizens to hold donors accountable, it provides an incentive for donor organizations to hold themselves accountable as they know that what they do and how they make decisions can be reviewed by the public.

Transparency can contribute to better decision-making. It provides information on what agencies are doing so outside experts and stakeholders are more knowledgeable and can provide better informed input. MCC, for example, makes public both the data it uses to determine country eligibility and the results from crunching that data, so anyone can use the same data to check the results and provide feedback. When implemented in a truly open fashion, outside input can produce better informed decisions.

Transparency facilitates local ownership. How can you have real local engagement and ownership of development programs if local organizations and stakeholders lack basic information? Transparency can fill this gap. It provides data and information that allows local entities to be active participants in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of assistance programs. It provides information, not just to citizens, but also to recipient ministries, which often are in the dark on development agency activities in their country.

Transparency promotes market intelligence and facilitates coordination. If all donors share their information, the development community as a whole will have a clearer understanding of what other development agencies are doing and will be able to identify what has worked and what has not worked. Coordination is almost impossible in countries that are the focus of tens of donor agencies and hundreds of projects—it is just not feasible to get all the right people in the same room and sift through all the requisite material. But, if everyone publishes timely, comprehensive data in a common format through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), anyone can learn what other donors are doing in a particular sector or region of a country. Coordination then becomes possible.

Transparency improves competition. More complete market information leads to better, fuller competition. And not just competition in the development arena, but also in the broader marketplace as it provides the private sector with data and information it can deploy in its business operations.

What does all this add up to? More effective use of assistance resources—a goal towards which we all should be striving.

Overcoming Obstacles to Greater Transparency

The discussion of obstacles and incentives to aid transparency focused on political will and organizational culture, reporting systems and technology and software, and costs.

All participants agreed that political leadership was critical to their organizations moving ahead on aid transparency. In each case there was political leadership of the highest order, in one case from the head of state, and for all organizations from the agency head.

While political leadership is essential, it is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by a supportive culture in the organization. It is imperative that the internal audience understands and owns the use of the data—if they do not appreciate that the data and its public availability can be of benefit to them, they will not support transparency. The natural state of bureaucracies is to “hug” data—keep it internal. It is natural for bureaucracies to be fearful of revealing data and information—fearful it will be used by the media and parliamentarians to expose weaknesses. It is essential to (i) overcome this fear, and (ii) demonstrate that the data is useful for agency program management. Overcoming the fear requires leaders who are willing to risk making data public. In the case of the three bilateral agencies represented at the event, the fear dissipated once data was released, including in the case of the MCC evaluations that revealed mixed results. To quote one of the panelists, “the silence was deafening.”

Reporting systems and technology and software to integrate financial and program data are always an issue. But the clear message from the experience of these four organizations is these issues can be difficult but by no means insurmountable, so long as there is strong political leadership and a supportive culture in the organization. An important instrument for overcoming systems and technology hurdles, and at the same time for building a supportive bureaucratic culture, is to ensure that the issues are tackled and solutions found through a team approach that includes experts from the program side who use and analyze data, the data crunchers, and the technology experts. Working together they come to understand the value and role of each party and build an understanding of the value of aid transparency.

In fact, the DFID participant on the panel offered up the DFID transparency tool to anyone who wanted to use it. That is a generous offer that other agencies should consider as a way to build on the DFID experience and knowledge.

A key challenge frequently raised is the potential cost of aligning systems and upgrading technology and software to be able to publish agency data to IATI. Interestingly, when the question was put to the panel, the response was that the cost to implement transparency was minimal to modest, not huge.

The Need for More Political Will

The bottom line for these experienced practitioners of open data is that political will and leadership are critical to transparency efforts, as is the need to foster a culture of collaborative data use. In looking at the principal U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, MCC was fortunate to have had transparency built into its founding structure and strong political leadership on transparency, which the new head of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is now bringing to that program.

There has been good leadership at the highest political level—President Obama has been very clear and articulate on government transparency, and the White House and Office of Management and Budget have issued several directives mandating open data. But evidence of political will and leadership from other U.S. agencies has been worryingly scarce. Until that happens—and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review offers the most immediate opportunity—those agencies will continue to muddle along on aid transparency.

MCC: Moving Forward by Looking Back — Lessons Learned on Transparency

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chairs, Diana Ohlbaum and Lori Rowley. Ohlbaum is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Rowley is the Director for Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center.

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This week one of the federal government’s youngest agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), will once again demonstrate its leadership and forward thinking on accountability and transparency.  After ten years of experience, and with a new Chief Executive Officer at its helm, the MCC is launching a series of events examining what it has learned and what it has accomplished.   This period of reflection will help MCC seize the opportunity to consolidate its gains and stake out the vanguard in data-driven, locally-owned and self-sustaining development.

The test of true leadership, however, is in the extent to which others are motivated to follow.  To inform and inspire the rest of the United States Government, as well as other donors and development practitioners, the MCC this week will release a paper on transparency as part of its “Principles into Practice” series. The new paper details not only the reasons behind making transparency a core principle of MCC operations – such as providing checks against corruption, building public confidence, increasing coordination, and supporting informed participation – but also some of the limits and risks to full disclosure.  For instance, there may be personally identifiable information contained in data sets, national security information contained in meeting notes, or procurement-sensitive information in planning documents.  By demonstrating how it balances these risks, and by describing its systems to ensure that data is reviewed and released in a timely, responsive and accessible manner, the MCC performs a valuable service for governments and civil society alike.

On Friday, February 6, at 10:00 am, MFAN and the Brookings Institution will co-host an event highlighting the MCC’s efforts to make its operations more transparent and accountable.  Following a presentation by Beth Tritter, the MCC’s new Vice President for Policy and Evaluation, representatives of the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs will discuss the challenges they faced, lessons they learned, and best practices they identified for sharing data and opening their processes.  Among the MCC’s key findings are the need for committed leadership and the importance of generating demand for data.  We encourage MCC’s new CEO, Dana Hyde, to carry forward the agency’s high standards in being transparent.  And since accountability requires not only transparency and use of data to support improved outcomes but also feedback, participating in this event and putting MCC’s data and information to the test is one way that we can all help the MCC put its principles into practice.