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MFAN Statement: Rubio-Cardin Foreign Aid Transparency Bill Moves Forward in the Senate

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
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November 14, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN applauds the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for unanimously approving the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 1271) introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). This bipartisan legislation would strengthen U.S. development programs in an era of constrained budget resources by directing U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance to focus on more coherent, consistent, and transparent monitoring and evaluation to ensure that we get the most out of every dollar we spend on foreign assistance.

While the Obama Administration has emphasized its commitment to greater transparency and efficiency, as is evidenced in efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State to implement new evaluation policies, as well as by the U.S. committing to participate in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), there is still more work to be done. In the recently released 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) by Publish What You Fund, the Millennium Challenge Corporation was ranked as the most transparent donor among the 67 global donors assessed; however, other U.S. agencies did not fare as well. Most notably, the Department of State and PEPFAR were ranked 40th and 50th respectively, falling into the ATI’s “Poor” and “Very Poor” categories.

The legislation would improve accountability, transparency, and overall effectiveness first by requiring the President to establish uniform interagency guidelines—with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans—across all U.S. foreign assistance programs.  The bill would require that comprehensive, timely, and comparable data on all U.S. foreign assistance be made publicly available on the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. This would reinforce the good intentions of the Obama Administration, but also drive broader compliance from agencies and departments, as only six to date have posted information to the Dashboard since its launch in 2010. In addition, it would hold the Administration to account on its own existing policies, requiring that the uniform guidance be inclusive of security sector assistance as defined by the Security Sector Assistance (SSA) Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-23).

An earlier version of the legislation was introduced in the 112th Congress where it received an encouraging response. The bill was unanimously passed by the House with a vote of 390-0, and was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but did not receive floor consideration before the session came to a close.

MFAN is strongly supportive of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 1271) as an important step forward to codifying reforms that will ensure U.S. foreign assistance programs are more transparent, accountable, and effective and we commend Sens. Rubio and Cardin for their leadership on this issue. However, we feel the legislation must be rigorously applied to all foreign assistance programs, including those defined as security sector assistance by PPD-23. MFAN would also like to see the legislation track more closely with the commitment made by the U.S. to IATI, which would include publishing data on a quarterly basis, rather than a semi-annual basis as the bill currently prescribes.

MCC Named Most Transparent Donor in 2013 Aid Transparency Index

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
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Today Publish What You Fund released their 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) and out of the 67 donors worldwide assessed, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) tops the list. The 2013 ATI is the third annual index, and this year marks the first time a U.S. Government agency has taken the top spot. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations comes in at Number 2, while the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) takes third.

2013 ATI Ranking

The index is based on information donors publish about their development projects and is then scored on 39 indicators divided into three categories: commitment to aid transparency; organization-level publication of financial information and general plans; and the availability of country-specific project activities. Format of the data also played a major role in this year’s rankings. Donors that publish data in machine-readable formats such as XML, per the IATI Standard, are rewarded because it makes the data easier to compare and use.

Five other USG agencies were among those assessed by the index, though none made it into the top tier “Very Good” category with the MCC. The Treasury Department came in at #19 and USAID came in at #22 in the “Fair” category, showing quite a bit of improvement in comparison to last year’s rankings. The Department of Defense came in at #27 and the Department of State at #40, both in the “Poor” category and PEPFAR in at #50 in the “Very Poor” category.

U.S. progress in terms of making aid data available is notable—and the State Department announced this week that the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) joined State, DOD, USAID, MCC, and Treasury in adding data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. But it is essential that the data be useful. Publishing to the IATI Standard, the only open data standard for aid information, ensures that data is comparable and usable for donors and recipients of aid.

The U.S. has set a goal of publishing 70 percent of its aid data to IATI by the end of the year and has pledged full implementation of its IATI commitment by 2015, though it seems unlikely they will meet these goals at the current pace.

2013 Aid Transparency Index

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Co-Chair and Brookings senior fellow George Ingram on today’s release of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. The post originally appeared on Brookings Up Front blog. Be sure to watch the public event hosted by Brookings, which will be live streamed beginning at 3:30 pm EST.

***

Today Brookings hosts the public release of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index—the only global measure of donors’ aid transparency.

A big hurrah to the MCC and congratulations to Treasury and USAID! 

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, is to be celebrated, not just for leading the American pack, but for coming in first in the overall global rankings.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Treasury Department are to be congratulated for showing significant improvements since 2012.  The Department of State, Department of Defense and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) clearly have a lot of catching up to do.

At the policy level, the commitment and leadership of the Obama administration—through several White House directives  instructing all agencies to embrace open government and open data that is machine readable and readily usable—has been superb.  It has demonstrated it understands the value of making U.S. assistance data publicly available through the innovative Foreign Assistance Dashboard and subsequent agreement to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Why, and for whom, is making assistance data publicly available so important?  Publicly available data:

  • Helps donors make more informed decisions, manage their programs better and coordinate their aid efforts with other donors’ assistance.
  • Enables recipient governments to know where assistance is going in their country so they can better allocate their own budget resources.
  • Allows citizens to be better informed on government decisions and therefore better able to hold government accountable.
  • Feeds the private sector with a new resource on which to create new business services. Publication to IATI is picking up steam.

Donors accounting for 86 percent of official development finance (ODF) are committed to publishing to IATI by the end of 2015 and those accounting for 69 percent are now reporting some information to the IATI registry.  Only a relatively small number of U.S. civil society organizations, such as Plan USA, have committed to publishing their data to IATI.  A few leading foundations such as Gates and Hewlett have joined IATI as well.

As aid transparency is a departure from business as usual (the typical opaqueness of government), the initial decision to make U.S. assistance data publicly available was not an easy one, and the Obama administration deserves due credit.  With more than 25 U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, implementation, despite considerable effort, has been more difficult.  This is where attention now needs to double down.

In the first three years of the dashboard, a mere five agencies—USAID, MCC, State, Treasury and Defense—have posted only partial data.  They were joined just this week by the African Development Foundation.  Where is the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture and data-driven PEPFAR?  Where is activity level data, so that users can determine where and how the aggregate level assistance is being used?  Where are the links to planning and evaluation documents?

The U.S. has pledged full implementation of its commitment to IATI by 2015.  At the current pace it likely will miss that goal.  The MCC and Treasury, admittedly with more simplified data sets, have demonstrated that compliance with IATI is possible.  USAID has also provided evidence of the results of good effort.

There are three problems.  One, most agencies have not made their data public, either to the dashboard or to IATI.  Two, the U.S. has not committed to providing data for some of the most relevant IATI fields, such as activity budgets and results and links to project and performance documents, although agencies have the data and can publish it.  MCC has done so already.  Three, the current process for posting U.S. data to the IATI registry is for the data to first go to the dashboard. However, data that agencies are providing are not being posted to the IATI registry in either a timely fashion or in complete, data rich form—the dashboard is not using the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s XML format but, rather, spreadsheets that lose some of the detail of the data.

The U.S. can fulfill its obligations through three steps:

  • Establish precise plans and timetables for each agency to publish its assistance data to the dashboard and IATI.
  • Provide data for the full range of IATI fields, including data at the activity level and on results, as the MCC has done.
  • Allow full data sets to be posted to IATI.  There are two alternatives for accomplishing this goal. One, the dashboard can adopt the IATI standard.  Alternatively, eliminate the requirement that agencies send their data through the dashboard.  Accept the fact that the dashboard is valuable for what it was originally designed for—collecting and presenting U.S. assistance data—and remove it as a hindrance to agencies publishing their data directly to IATI.

Finally, nongovernment aid providers and implementers need to step up and join the transparent data era.  In this day, opaqueness should be a thing of the past for all of us.

The (Re-)Birth of the Rethinking US Development Policy Program

Monday, September 9th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Ben Leo, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. This post outlines CGD’s new Rethinking US Development Policy program–formerly the Rethinking US Foreign Assistance program–which will explore the full range of development tools the US can use to achieve greater aid effectiveness. This post originally appeared on CGD’s blog.

***

The day of reckoning has finally arrived. The Rethinking US Foreign Assistance’s director, Sarah Jane Staats, has officially left the building. All of us are anticipating amazing things from her at the MCC; just as she delivered during her time at CGD.

I now have the humbling opportunity to take the reins of this well-established and influential program. [Along with the unenviable task of meeting the high standards of those who rode before – Sheila Herrling, Connie Veillette, and Sarah Jane.] Thankfully, I am inheriting a wonderful team that Sarah Jane built, including Sarah Rose (formerly of the MCC and USAID) and Will McKitterick.

I arrive at this task just as US development policy is approaching a crossroads. The days of expanding, altruistic U.S. aid budgets are gone. The US political environment demands value, impact, and strategic relevance. Beyond our borders, the development finance landscape has changed even more dramatically. Many developing economies have boomed over the past decade – along with the availability of domestic revenues and private capital. Developing countries are much less interested in aid than they are in U.S. investment, trade, and technology. This means that grants have already become a smaller tool for executing US development policy (and foreign policy too). At the same time, the US will continue to use foreign assistance to confront fragility in places like Haiti and Pakistan. As my colleagues have pointed out, it’s essential that the US government does a much, much better job at this (see here, here, and here).

To reflect the changing times, the Rethink program will change as well. I will be taking a more expansive view – broadening the program’s scope from a singular focus on U.S. foreign assistance to a wider assessment of U.S. development policy tools. In doing this, I will be drawing upon the Center’s immense in-house expertise across a full range of issues.

My colleagues and I will be launching the new Rethinking U.S. Development Policy program (and revamped webpages) soon. While some things will change, we will continue with CGD’s tried and true monitoring of US aid programs. We’ll be closely watching things such as the MCC , Power Africa, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, and Feed the Future. Rethink’s periodic monitoring products play an important role in the broader policy debate, and I look forward to continuing them in the future.

But beyond this, here’s a sneak peek of the kinds of big questions that we’re kicking around. Please let me know if you have early reactions, suggestions, or ideas.

  • What Does the Growth of Developing Countries’ Domestic Resources Mean For US Policy? According to IMF data, African governments’ domestic revenues (excluding grants) are projected to reach $375 billion next year, up from roughly $90 billion a decade ago. All but three African countries have witnessed at least a doubling of domestically mobilized revenues. What does this mean for a US development model that is still largely based on being a service provider of last resort?
  • How Can US Policy Better Leverage Private Investment Flows? The Obama Administration’s most recent initiatives – such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Power Africa – aim to unlock the development power of private investment. Yet, the preeminent US investment agency (OPIC) remains under-staffed and constrained by outdated authorities. Beyond OPIC, private sector development tools are scattered across countless US agencies. The new Unleashing OPIC proposal from Todd Moss, Beth Schwanke, and me aims to improve this dynamic. Are there other US policy tools that should be pursued more aggressively as well?
  • Has The Time Finally Come For A More Creative Trade Policy and Facilitation Agenda?  The Clinton Administration launched AGOA. The Bush Administration completed free trade agreements with 17 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Since then, US trade policy has been largely stuck in neutral (although Congress did finally approve agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea). Yet, there is an impressive new US Trade Representative and the need to reauthorize preference programs like AGOA soon. Will the US seize this moment with a creative new trade facilitation and trade policy agenda for developing countries (as my colleague Kim Elliott and others have urged)?
  • Does U.S. Assistance Align With What Beneficiaries Care Most About?  Public attitude surveys in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa consistently suggest that people’s most pressing concerns relate to: (i) jobs and income; (ii) economic management; (iii) infrastructure (in Africa); and (iv) crime and security (in Latin America). How much should US policymakers be seeking out and reflecting these widely held local priorities when developing engagement strategies?

Please let me know what you think.  My colleagues and I aim to continue using the Rethink program’s great platform for exchanging ideas and views. I feel honored and humbled for the opportunity to lead the new Rethink into the future.

New CAP Report on Promoting Private-Sector Development Solutions

Friday, August 23rd, 2013
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When it comes to development financing from the U.S., the amount from the government has been steadily shrinking in proportion to the rising amount from the private sector. We have seen this shift occur over the last two decades, and today development financing from the U.S. government accounts for just 13 percent compared to 87 percent from the private sector.

In a new paper from the Center for American Progress, The Role of the U.S. Government in Promoting Private-Sector Development Solutions, CAP Chair John Podesta and MFAN Principal John Norris examine this “seismic shift” and how it should affect the mindset and policies of both public and private development practitioners. They note that the share of development financing coming from the U.S. government will only continue to decline as other sources of funding such as private sector flows and domestic resource mobilization grow. In order to adapt to this change, the U.S. government must become more flexible and realize that its funding needs to be complementary of the ever-expanding crop of new donors.

There is a growing recognition that public-private partnerships (PPPs), or as Podesta and Norris note, what should really be seen as private-public partnerships, are now more important than ever. This is evident from a global perspective, as it has been a core part of discussions around the post-2015 development agenda, as well as from a U.S. perspective, as the Obama administration highlighted PPPs in the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development released in 2010. Since then, the Obama Administration has embraced PPPs creating initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the Child Survival Call to Action, and most recently, Power Africa.

Despite these positive steps to embrace the changing development landscape, especially the growing role of the private sector, Podesta and Norris say that U.S. development policies and programs have not yet “sufficiently evolved.” They make several key recommendations as to how the U.S. can become a better development partner, including:

  • Apply constraints to growth analyses on a regional basis, noting the work of the Partnership for Growth program;
  • Work with multilateral and private sector partners to spur investment in post-conflict and transition countries; and
  • Support and fund “early-stage, market-based solutions.”