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Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.”

NGO Community Shows Broad Support for Transparency & Accountability Bill

Friday, July 12th, 2013
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This week, a bicameral, bipartisan piece of legislation was introduced to strengthen transparency and evaluation of U.S. foreign assistance. The bill, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2638; S. 1271), was introduced by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). An earlier version of the legislation was introduced last year and passed the House with a unanimous vote of 390-0. The legislation establishes uniform interagency guidelines – with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans and also requires the President to maintain and expand the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

MFAN is pleased to see that the legislation has been reintroduced with bipartisan backing in both the House and Senate as well as strong support from the NGO community. Brookings and Oxfam put out blog posts applauding the bill’s introduction, and in addition to MFAN’s statement, below you will find additional statements of support from MFAN partners.

  • “We thank Reps. Poe and Connolly and Sens. Rubio and Cardin for introducing this important bipartisan legislation that will enact common-sense reforms to improve U.S. foreign assistance programs. We appreciate their hard work and dedication to reforming and improving foreign assistance through greater transparency and accountability measures. Ultimately, these reforms will empower us to better serve the world’s poor, as well as American taxpayers.” – Samuel A. Worthington, President & CEO, InterAction
  •  “It took great bipartisan effort to move this bill forward and we hope it sets a constructive precedent for further reform. When people in developing countries know what the US is doing in their communities, they can take action themselves to amplify the results. And when the US government has better information and tools for measuring the impact of our programs, we can help make sure they are delivering better results for America and our partners.” – Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness, Oxfam America
  •  “This bill is an important step toward increasing the transparency, accountability and impact of foreign aid. With upwards from 22 agencies currently implementing U.S. foreign assistance, the bill aims to streamline and clarify how programs across federal agencies deliver aid.” – Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement and Policy, Mercy Corps
  •  “This legislation demonstrates a real desire in Congress to make our foreign assistance programs, which are saving millions of lives around the world, even better by making them more effective, efficient and transparent. We look forward to working with Members of both chambers to enact this legislation during the 113th Congress.” – Tom Hart, U.S. Executive Director, ONE
  •  “The USGLC commends Congressmen Poe and Connolly and Senators Rubio and Cardin for their leadership on this bipartisan legislation to further enhance the accountability and effectiveness of foreign assistance programs.  In addition to ensuring ample funding and resources for development and diplomacy, it’s vital that we ensure the highest standards for transparency and results.” – Liz Schrayer, Executive Director, USGLC

On Development Policy, Congress Looks Functional

Monday, July 1st, 2013
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See below for a new op-ed from MFAN’s Co-Chairs: Rev. David Beckmann, Jim Kolbe, and George Ingram. This piece originally ran in Roll Call.

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Something peculiar has happened around President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa: a famously dysfunctional Congress actually sent a constructive, bipartisan message to the president about the future of engagement with the continent and other developing countries.

Two weeks ago, a group of Republicans and Democrats led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, sent a letter to the Obama administration calling for more aggressive efforts to bolster foreign assistance transparency. In the letter, they argued that transparency provides “the critical information needed to achieve better coordination with other donors, avoid duplication and waste, and provide Congress the means to oversee” U.S. foreign assistance programs. Then last week, an amendment to the House farm bill authored again by Royce and Engel, which would have overhauled the U.S. food aid system to purchase more resources locally and build greater self-sufficiency in poor countries, came within a surprising inch of passing. And, thanks to the leadership of Poe and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., bipartisan, bicameral legislation will soon be introduced to require greater transparency and accountability in foreign assistance.

The Congress is overdue in its focus on foreign assistance reform, which the Obama administration has admirably invested in to build on efforts by the administration of George W. Bush. But a late start is better than no start at all, and progress is there for the taking. Transparency and local self-sufficiency and ownership are the most important elements of reform to advance.

Transparency is the touchstone of effective development. In bilateral and multilateral collaboration, it is a critical component for maintaining trust between partners and a clear focus on results and accountability. Even more importantly, it is the bridge between development programs and the citizens those programs purport to empower. Fortunately, in 2011 the Obama administration took a number of important steps to strengthen transparency by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the Open Government Partnership. The administration also introduced the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which has finally begun to streamline data and centralize information across all U.S. agencies involved in aid, though more compliance is needed. The U.S. Agency for International Development has played a key role as well. The agency recently completed an unprecedented analysis of U.S. aid through 186 in-depth evaluations to develop the proper metrics for measuring the effects of assistance.

In Africa, Obama can tout these improvements to show that the U.S. is committed to being a better development partner. At the same time, the president would be wise to urge African leaders to make greater commitments of their own to transparency and accountability. This is critically important for a continent that is just beginning to experience democracy and in a world where a lack of accountability is at the root of widespread discontent and upheaval.

Turning transparency into impact requires additional action in other areas, and one of the key pathways to effective development that has emerged is increasing local ownership of the development process, which leads to a greater sense of responsibility on the part of both governments and local civil society to deliver results and, over time, better results.

The Obama administration, through the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development of 2010, has made local ownership a core piece of its development agenda. In 2010, only 9.7 percent of USAID funding directed in missions was awarded to local institutions. Today, that number is 14.3 percent and the goal is to increase local awards to 30 percent of outlays by 2015.

Local ownership is critical, but host countries must also contribute greater resources from their own budgets. A recent report by Oxfam and Development Finance International found that developing countries are on track to miss every domestic spending target of the Millennium Development Goals. The global economic crisis is partly to blame as it led to revenue losses of $140 billion in poor countries. However, in 2012, developing countries will only be spending 0.5 percent of gross domestic product more than in 2008 and much of it is because of expensive borrowing. There are some bright spots, including Ethiopia’s decision earlier this week to allocate $38 million from its treasury to support nutrition programs. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that in 13 countries more people are newly receiving treatment than are newly infected from HIV and AIDS. However, he also cautioned that in order for progress on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to continue, host countries will have to assume more responsibility, as the model shifts “from merely providing aid to co-investing in host countries’ capacity.”

The true opportunity at hand is for Obama to provide concrete evidence to Africans and citizens of other developing countries that the U.S. is invested in their well-being as a partner, not a patron, as he has said in the past. At the same time, he can send a strong signal to multilateral partners and the American public that accountability and results from both donor and recipient countries are at the core of the U.S. development enterprise.

The president should rightly highlight during his trip to Africa a decade’s worth of global progress on development, with millions more being lifted out of the depths of extreme poverty, so much so that the World Bank has set a target of ending extreme poverty by 2030. But he should also focus his remarks on reform, transparency and local ownership, where on the home front, he can make good on those commitments by working with Congress to pass sensible reform legislation, including the bill to-be-introduced by Poe and Rubio.

The 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-chairmen of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.