blog logo image

Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

Foreign Assistance Dashboard Adds Treasury and Defense Data

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Last week, the Departments of Treasury and Defense added data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. See below for a guest post from MFAN Principal Sarah Jane Staats, coauthored by Will McKitterick, that explains what information has been added and what this means in terms of transparency. This post originally appeared on the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistance blog.

***

A Good Day to Bury Good News? US Foreign Assistance Dashboard Adds Defense and Treasury Data

The US Foreign Assistance Dashboard has a habit of quietly releasing good news just before Washingtonians leave for long holiday weekends. It added Millennium Challenge Corporation data two days before Thanksgiving in 2011. State and USAID announced aid data standards and a reporting schedule the Thursday before the 2012 Christmas holiday. And lest you miss it before skipping town for this Memorial Day weekend holiday, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard has new data from the departments of Defense and Treasury.

Five US agencies that have a role in US foreign aid now have some—but not all—data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. These five agencies accounted for roughly eighty-six percent of aid spending in  2011. The Foreign Assistance Dashboard expects twenty-two separate US federal agencies and departments to report data.

USFApercentages2011

Source:  U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook). FY 2011 economic assistance obligations. http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/ *Other includes: Peace Corps, Department of Interior, Department of Labor, United States Trade Development Agency, United States African Development Foundation, Inter-America Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

It’s great to see Defense and Treasury data on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, including Treasury’s planned technical assistance and multilateral development and trust fund contributions over a nine year period plus obligated and spent data from FY2006-FY2012. Defense data is limited to FY2011 and FY2012, but includes planned, spent and obligated numbers. The State Department, by contrast, has posted planning data but no obligated or spent data. Treasury also joins MCC in providing forward-looking FY2014 budget numbers—an important feature if the Foreign Assistance Dashboard aims to inform current spending decisions.

We’ll dig into the data in more detail over the coming days. There is still a long way to go before the Foreign Assistance Dashboard has the complete picture of where and how the United States invests its aid dollars, but new Treasury and Defense data are good steps in the right direction. I’ll be on the lookout for more good news to sneak out just before the next holiday. July 3rd,  anyone?

 

President Notes Value of Foreign Aid in Major Speech

Friday, May 24th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

President Obama delivered a major speech Thursday at the National Defense University in which he outlined the future of US counterterroism efforts. In so doing, he highlighted the importance of other tools in our national security arsenal, including foreign aid. See below for an excerpt from his speech in which he talks about this new strategic framework and the value of foreign assistance.

“So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism — from North Africa to South Asia.  As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking.  We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred.  Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better.  But our security and our values demand that we make the effort.

This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya — because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists.  We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements — because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism.  We are actively working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians — because it is right and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region.  And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship — because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with people’s hopes, and not simply their fears.

And success on all these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources.  I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is.  That’s true for Democrats and Republicans — I’ve seen the polling — even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget.  In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets.  Less than one percent — still wildly unpopular.  But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity.  It is fundamental to our national security.  And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism.

Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.  That has to be part of our strategy.”

Obama NDU speech

The Bar on Food Aid Reform has been Raised: The Senate and House Must Act.

Monday, May 13th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Food aid reform coalition

May 10, 2013 (Washington, DC)- American Jewish World Service, Bread for the World, CARE, The Modernizing Assistance Network, Oxfam America and Save the Children released the following statement today in advance of the Senate and House committee mark-ups of the 2013 Farm Bill:

With more than 870 million people suffering from hunger worldwide and Congress looking to ensure wise use of taxpayer funds at home, the 2013 Farm Bill represents a crucial opportunity to make our international food aid programs both more efficient and more cost-effective.

Unfortunately, the current Senate draft Farm Bill, due to be marked up this week, includes the same incremental steps toward reform as last year, but fails to address the fundamental changes that are so badly needed. We urge Senate leaders to work with the Administration to achieve stronger reforms in food aid programs so that American tax dollars can go farther and American compassion can reach more people in need. On the House side, we remain disappointed that the House Agriculture Committee draft once again fails to incorporate any reforms.

In his 2014 budget request, President Obama proposed common sense reforms that would feed millions more people and save lives by delivering aid faster with no additional cost to the taxpayer. This proposal sets an important precedent in building a more modern food aid program. Proposed reforms include allowing for greater flexibility in how the U.S. delivers food to hungry people overseas and ending the inefficient method of having aid groups sell food aid overseas to fund development programs, a practice known as “monetization.” This increased flexibility is a part of a package that would allow food aid to go farther, feeding 2-4 million additional people. These reforms have been greeted with interest by members on both sides of the aisle.

While we are supporting the Administration’s request that the FY 14 Appropriations bills be the vehicle for food aid reform, we recognize that there are several potential paths forward for Congress to achieve these much needed improvements to our international food aid program, and we are fully committed to working with leaders in Congress, including members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, to get it done this year.

Get the Facts on Food Aid Reform

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Bookmark and Share

President Obama’s FY2014 budget request proposal to reform food aid has sparked renewed debate on whether the current system could provide food to those in need more effectively and efficiently. The President’s proposal aims to improve the Food for Peace program that distributes emergency food assistance by providing more flexibility to purchase food locally and regionally in addition to shipping commodities from the U.S. Moreover, the proposal would eliminate inefficient practices such as the “monetization” of food aid that occurs when NGOs are provided commodities to sell in local markets in order to fund development projects, rather than funding these projects directly. In the weeks and months to come, the many stakeholders in the agriculture, cargo shipping, and development communities will continue to debate how to strike an appropriate balance between reaching as many people in need as possible as quickly as possible and allowing traditional U.S. domestic interests that are proud to contribute to feeding hungry people around the world to continue to play a role in international food assistance.

As U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah explained in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “If we can bring efficiency and effectiveness to this work; if we can save more lives without asking for more money; if we can freely and flexibility harness the tools we’ve developed and the knowledge we’ve gained, then we can do just that.”

Since the proposal was released last month, Members of Congress have begun to weigh in. In a joint statement, Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel—Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively—responded, “U.S. international food aid programs have long embodied the compassion of the American people.  After nearly 60 years of experience, we are encouraged by the President’s proposal to fundamentally alter our food aid program to reach more people, more quickly, at less cost.  Several recent studies have highlighted the need for reform.  We look forward to working with the Administration and our colleagues in Congress to modernize US food aid programs while ensuring maximum impact and efficiency.” Representative Nita Lowey, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, commented, “In a time of tight budgets, it is critical to get the best value possible for services and investments, including relieving hunger. This is an important proposal, and I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues to move toward more efficiency in food aid.”

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a public letter to the President, saying, “While it is imperative that measures be taken to improve the program, your Administration should instead focus on greater coordination, transparency, and accountability among the agencies that administer this program.  Eliminating in-kind food assistance will be disastrous for many US jobs and the domestic sealift capacity provided by the US Merchant Marine, on which our US military depends.”

MFAN is among a group of organizations that is supportive of the reform proposal. To ensure that those following this debate fully understand the broader issue and the proposed changes, below are important links to fact sheets and other documents created by USAID.

Key Resources on Food Aid Reform

Transforming foreign assistance

Monday, April 15th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

See below for an op-ed from MFAN’s co-chairs Rev. David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe. This piece first appeared in Politico.

***

The amount of good our nation has done for poor and hungry people around the world over the last ten years is astounding. We have saved and improved millions of lives through programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was launched by former President George W. Bush to battle the disease in Africa, and the Feed the Future initiative, which President Obama started to support small farmers and the growth of local economies in developing countries.

Behind these big ticket initiatives, our foreign assistance approach has also been transformed into a more rigorously evaluated, strategic and selective one that is focused on helping developing countries and citizens take control of their own future. Completing this transformation must be a foreign policy priority for Obama and his successors because effective and robust development efforts will have to play a larger role in U.S. foreign policy if we are to maintain a strong global presence as our major military engagements end.

Recently, the United States Agency for International Development released the results of an extensive internal evaluation that provided the first evidence that reform is making the machinery of U.S. foreign assistance work better. The USAID Forward Progress Report provides a look at how the agency is implementing the reforms that Obama outlined in his landmark Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD) in 2010. The PPD, the first government-wide development policy reform guidance ever issued from the White House, mapped out the transformation agenda and highlighted a “long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. government’s lead development agency and as the world’s premier development agency.”

In the years since, USAID has focused on reforming key areas:

Evaluation and Selectivity: The creation of both the new USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the position of Chief Economist have had clear impact on the agency’s ability to plan and to measure programs and thus make more strategic decisions. The report notes that since 2011, 186 in-depth program evaluations have been completed and published for public review. Furthermore, thanks to a more concerted use of strategic planning, the agency reduced total numbers of program areas by 22 percent and phased out agricultural programs and global health programs in 21 and 17 countries, respectively, where local institutions are in position to take charge.

Country ownership: USAID’s launch of a process to develop Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) – which involve close and cross-sectoral collaboration with recipient countries to set goals and adapt programs – is an important step towards giving partners and citizens more responsibility and accountability within the development process. Twenty CDCS processes were completed in 2012. Efforts to expand country ownership were further strengthened by the agency’s efforts to direct more resources to local institutions. The report notes a 50 percent increase in funding to local organizations since 2010, from 9.7 percent in 2010 to 14.3 percent this year.

Economic Growth and Innovation: The report outlines that strengthening the Development Credit Authority (DCA) has allowed USAID to leverage more private capital – $524 million in 2012 alone – to support entrepreneurship and growth in developing countries. A premium has also been put on new technology: six USAID missions are now actively using and supporting mobile applications to catalyze development.

Partnership: In addition to strengthening relationships with recipient governments, institutions, and citizens, USAID has developed new partnerships with universities and other private sector organizations in order to build local capacity and improve program outcomes.

Transparency: USAID has established a rigorous, multi-step risk assessment mechanism for determining host country governments’ readiness to receive government-to-government assistance from the U.S. If at any point in this process a government fails to meet those eligibility criteria, it is disqualified from further consideration. Similarly, the Obama administration launched the Foreign Assistance Dashboard over two years ago to make information about U.S. assistance more accessible to both American citizens and those of recipient countries, and has committed to publish its assistance data with the International Assistance Transparency Initiative (IATI).

In addition to increased diligence and resolve by the Obama administration and USAID, congressional engagement is needed to solidify these reforms. The president’s budget includes strong reform elements, including a proposal to reshape the inefficient U.S. food aid system to reach more people and save more taxpayer dollars, and we urge Congress to support this and other proposals, like transparency legislation introduced by Rep.Ted Poe (R-Texas).

Completing the transformation of U.S. foreign assistance will reposition the U.S. as not just the most generous, but also the most strategic, innovative, and effective player in global development. We have saved and improved millions of lives over the last ten years and our efforts have helped strengthen our image abroad: a new field survey of aid recipient countries by Oxfam America finds that 83 percent of respondents believe the U.S. is a better development partner now than five years ago. The opportunity at hand for the next ten years is to turn progress into lasting change by helping those people take control of their own lives.

Rev. David Beckmann, a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, is the president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona, is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. They are co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.