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

Monday, May 13th, 2013
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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
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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
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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.

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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.

 

 

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.