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Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

From day one: Transparency at the heart

Monday, April 8th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Ben Leo, ONE’s global policy director, and Lauren Pfeifer, ONE’s policy associate on the Transparency and Accountability Team.

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On President Obama’s first day in office, he signed an executive order that called for open, transparent government.

The order is based on the principles that openness should be the default position of the US Government, citizens should be given more opportunities to participate in and collaborate with the US Government, and the data the US government collects is a national asset that should be accessible to its citizens.

Photo credit: The White House

Photo credit: The White House

That the order was signed on Day 1 was a symbolic gesture, of course, but its impetus was, I believe, the President’s belief that openness and access can generate a level of trust through accountability that no amount of rhetoric and reassurance can replicate. It is a testament to his desire to change the view that our government is a secretive bureaucratic system, one difficult to hold to account.

The President’s commitment to open and accountable government isn’t limited to our own borders. The Obama administration has also taken concrete action to increase the transparency of our foreign assistance, a potentially game-changing step. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gave a keynote speech at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, late 2011, in which she announced that the US would sign the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the global standard of aid transparency. As the largest donor of development assistance, transparent US programs have the potential to be transformative, giving developing nations a more complete picture of their revenue streams.

But plans released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that outline how the US will implement IATI’s aid transparency requirements – which include reporting project data to an open machine-readable database – show the government may be standing in its own way. The plans show a “whole of government” approach which – while beneficial at the political level – doesn’t take into account the factors that affect the ease of implementation. Certain agencies are ready (and more relevant) to begin reporting to IATI, and each of the 10 plus US agencies that currently disburse development assistance have their own systems, and as such, different capacity for converting the data into IATI’s format. Agencies, such as USAID and the MCC, should each have their own plans for how best to report to IATI. This would allow them to be tailored to their various systems and ensure that information is as specific as possible. Useful aid transparency information illuminates projects and transactions at the local level. This project-level information’s specificity is critical. OMB’s plans are lacking in other areas. Geo-coding of data and reporting results are called “supplemental” and left optional. Lastly, the most obvious information is perhaps the least likely to be available. US agencies are only required to publish 1-year forward-looking budget information, rather than the suggested 3 to 5-year forward-looking information that would enable recipient governments to plan ahead.

In order to maintain the momentum that was so inspiring at the start of the President’s first term, his administration should encourage agencies to accelerate the timeline outlined by OMB’s implementation schedule – empowering those who lead our development agencies to publish their agency’s data in IATI format on their websites as soon as they can. This would encourage agencies to be ambitious and speed up implementation, while providing useful data to developing countries.

The principles the President championed the first day of his Presidency are reflected in the reform and evaluation processes undertaken by key US development agencies – new and better data enables citizens to hold their governments to account, and transparency helps to make programs more efficient. But the commitments the US has made to aid transparency are stifled by the approach it has chosen to meet them. US development agencies need to be encouraged to publish what they can, as soon as they can. Perhaps they can take the President’s advice, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This IATI data is transformative, and will provide a fuller picture to countries who receive sometimes unpredictable assistance from many different countries. The administration should provide clear and strong encouragement to make transparent, as soon we can, the data that has the potential to accelerate progress in the fight against poverty.

Want to know more? Read the US Aid Transparency Report Card.

 

Groups Welcome the Release of Administration Proposal for International Food Aid Reform

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
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Below is a joint statement, which was released earlier today on the rumored changes to the U.S. approach to food aid in President Obama’s FY14 budget request. The statement welcomes reports that these changes may include useful reforms and is endorsed by 12 organizations, including MFAN.

food aid groups

Washington, DC, February 26, 2013 - The above groups welcome reports that the Administration may propose helpful reforms to the U.S. food assistance program in its FY2014 budget submission to Congress. We urge the Obama Administration to include a bold reform proposal that builds upon the United States’ historic leadership as the world’s most generous donor of food aid.

When 870 million people around the world go hungry every day, making every food aid dollar count is not only a responsible use of taxpayer money, it is a moral imperative. For that reason, it is critical that any reforms seek efficiencies rather than cuts, and do not alter the basic programmatic focus of the U.S. food aid program. These programs help to feed 55 million people in need around the world, supporting both emergency responses and addressing chronic hunger.

Our organizations strongly support effective foreign assistance to address humanitarian crises and development challenges. We know from our work on the ground that this aid saves lives.  That is why we have advocated for common sense reforms to our outdated food aid system that would allow the United States to continue providing life-saving assistance for millions of people around the world, even in this period of a constrained federal budget.

Making every dollar count for hungry people means adding flexibility to our overseas food assistance so that proven methods such as local and regional purchase (LRP) are part of the food aid toolbox. The recent release of an independent evaluation report of the USDA LRP Pilot Program, established under a provision of the 2008 farm bill, confirms that this approach is a triple win: providing considerable cost savings, faster humanitarian response, and support for the local farmers and agricultural markets that are the key to providing long-term global food security.

Making every dollar count for hungry people also means reducing the inefficient and potentially market distorting practice of selling U.S. commodities to fund non-food components of programs designed to support agriculture, nutrition and food security. It would be far more efficient to fund these activities directly, instead of through circuitous and inefficient route of monetizing food aid.

In a June 2011 report, the Government Accountability Office found that the use of monetization resulted in at least a 30 percent loss of resources to non-emergency food aid projects conducted from 2008-2010.

In the current budgetary climate, policymakers cannot afford to ignore any credible proposal to maximize the use of taxpayer dollars while maintaining and even increasing program reach and impact. Our organizations stand ready to work with the Administration and Congress to reform our international food aid system so that we can continue to respond to the scourge of global hunger today and build toward a hunger-free future tomorrow.

 

Tweet Stream: Panel Explores Future of U.S. Development Efforts

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
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Yesterday, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion on the U.S. global development reform agenda, with participants noting opportunities and challenges for future reform efforts. The event, “The United States and Global Development: An Approach in Transition,” was moderated by MFAN co-chair and Brookings senior fellow George Ingram. Panelists included: Sheila Herrling, vice president in the Department of Policy and Evaluation at the Millennium Challenge Corporation; Steven Radelet, distinguished professor in the practice of development at Georgetown University; Susan Reichle, assistant to the administrator at the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning at the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Connie Veillette, consultant and MFAN principal.

Watch a video or listen to audio of the event here.

In case you missed the event, take a look at MFAN’s live tweet stream (@ModernizeAid) in reverse chronological order:

  • Reichle @USAID hopes that we strengthen a constituency for US development over the next four years #USDevReform
  • Connie Veillette’s 1 wish is a well-written foreign assistance authorization bill #USDevReform
  • Reichle @USAID asks how do we connect youth around the world and help them to focus to achieve big results together #USDevReform
  • Radelet: challenge is to move from model where traditional development funders are the risk-sharers. #USDevReform
  • Connie Veillette makes call for coalition to support more effective & efficient food aid, and not give in to special interests #USDevReform
  • Conversation switches gears briefly to address food aid reform #USDevReform
  • Herrling says President’s state of the union speech was huge moment for development #USDevReform
  • Reichle @USAID says the agency will move 11 missions into new engagement strategy in FY14 budget #USDevReform
  • Veillette: unless experts make decisions about what should/should not be cut, the non-experts will make those decisions #USDevReform
  • Connie Veillette: admin has not made great strides in being more selective with development programs #USDevReform
  • Radelet: (2/2) and have these agencies, USAID & MCC, be seen as stronger, more effective in the eyes of taxpayers & the Hill #USDevReform
  • Radelet: (1/2) model for change is to focus on a set of key reforms…#USDevReform
  • Reichle @USAID says reform efforts are really taking hold in the field and they are institutionalizing core competencies #USDevReform
  • @GMIngramIV asks for a preview of the upcoming USAID Forward progress report — coming mid-March! #USDevReform
  • Herrling: we see a real focus on monitoring and evaluation and being transparent about this, even when it comes with risks. #USDevReform
  • Sheila Herrling @MCCtweets talks about partnership for growth initiative and figuring out “how” to implement reform #USDevReform
  • Veillette: need more clarification about how development is distinct from diplomacy and defense, esp for Congress #USDevReform
  • Connie Veillette: I don’t think reforms are spreading beyond USAID to other agencies #USDevReform
  • Radelet @georgetownsfs says to stop calling for USAID admin to have seat on natl security council; have strong representation #USDevReform
  • Radelet: final issue is transparency and openness #USDevReform
  • Radelet: second issue is procurement reform. If done right, this could fundamentally help our partners in developing countries #USDevReform
  • Steve Radelet: most important thing is to ensure strong implementation of reform agenda already in place #USDevReform
  • Reichle @USAID: we elevated development by focusing on results, take Feed the Future for ex #USDevReform
  • Susan Reichle @USAID says we need to strengthen core capacities incl budget and policy shops #USDevReform
  • First question: what further can be achieved to elevate development in the US? #USDevReform

MFAN Statement: Food Aid Reform Necessary; Administration Urged to Release Proposal

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
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February 19, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network is intrigued by reports that the Obama Administration may propose changes to the U.S. approach to providing overseas food assistance, including reforms that could make this assistance more cost effective and allow us to reach more people around the world in need of help.  While we don’t yet have details of these proposed changes, we believe strongly that improving the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. food aid is long overdue and could provide millions more people with life-saving assistance—all without increasing the budget for these programs.

The current approach to delivering food aid is outdated and in need of reform.  In an era of decreasing budgets, policymakers simply can’t afford not to consider any credible proposal to maximize the impact of taxpayer dollars.  We urge the Administration to make its proposal public and include it in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, and we urge Congress to give it careful and complete consideration.

EVENT – The United States and Global Development: An Approach in Transition

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
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The United State and Global Development: An Approach in Transition 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 2:00 — 3:30 pm

The Brookings Institution, Saul/Zilkha Rooms, 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC

As President Barack Obama begins his second term, the U.S. global development community is taking stock of the reform efforts that began in 2010 to elevate development—joining defense and diplomacy—as a core pillar of U.S. national security and foreign policy, while advancing proposals for what the administration should focus on going forward. In January 2013, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a reform-minded coalition that is focused on advancing the effectiveness and impact of U.S. global development efforts, submitted its recommendations to President Obama.

On February 19, the Development Assistance and Governance Initiative at Brookings and MFAN will co-host a discussion on the current status and future of the U.S. global development reform agenda. Panelists will include: Sheila Herrling, vice president in the Department of Policy and Evaluation at the Millennium Challenge Corporation; Steven Radelet, distinguished professor in the practice of development at Georgetown University; Susan Reichle, assistant to the administrator at the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning at the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Connie Veillette, former director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program at the Center for Global Development. Brookings Senior Fellow George Ingram will moderate the discussion.

After the program, the panelists will take audience questions.

Moderator

George Ingram, Senior Fellow

The Brookings Institution

 

Panelists

Sheila Herrling, Vice President

Department of Policy and Evaluation, Millennium Challenge Corporation

 

Steven Radelet, Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Development

School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

 

Susan Reichle, Assistant to the Administrator

Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, U.S. Agency for International Development

 

Connie Veillette, Consultant 

 

To RSVP for this event, please call the Office of Communications at 202.797.6105 or click here.