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Year in Review: A Look Back at Aid Reform in 2015

Friday, December 18th, 2015
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As 2015 comes to a close and we head into the final year of the Obama Administration, we want to take some time to reflect on all that we as a network have accomplished these last twelve months to move the needle on U.S. aid reform. With your energy and support, we continued to push on our pillar issues of accountability and country ownership and the policy priorities we laid out in these areas in our paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond.

MFAN’s Continued Work to Strengthen Accountability & Country Ownership

MFAN hit the ground running in 2015 on accountability and country ownership. MFAN partner Save the Children released a new report early in the year tracking USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in six countries. MFAN and Brookings hosted an event to highlight the findings of a new policy paper from the MCC, Principles into Practice: Transparency. Continuing on the transparency and data use track, MFAN in partnership with AidData, the State Department, and USAID hosted Do More With Data: Moving U.S. Government Aid Transparency Forward, an event that brought together internal and external drivers of USG foreign aid transparency to explore ongoing and new efforts to make data more accessible.

This year we welcomed Dr. Patricia Morris to the MFAN Executive Committee. Pat took over as the new President of Women Thrive Worldwide, a longtime MFAN partner, in January. We also welcomed a new staff member in 2015, as Stephanie Cappa joined the MFAN hub as our Senior Government Relations Manager.

Heading into the Spring, MFAN and Devex launched Reform for Results, an online series to engage the broader development community on progress made and emerging opportunities on MFAN’s policy priorities from The Way Forward. The series featured a video interview with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, OpEds from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, Honorary Co-Chair Senator Richard Lugar (Ret.), and Executive Committee members Ben Leo, Tom Hart, and Tessie San Martin.

MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group released a policy brief outlining recommendations for how to better measure country ownership, which, for example, can be applied to USAID’s Local Solutions initiative. The paper was met with enthusiasm by USAID, as they are currently working on developing and integrating new metrics into their ownership work. The Country Ownership Working Group also welcomed Save the Children’s Nora O’Connell and Oxfam’s Greg Adams as its new co-chairs in 2015, following on the great leadership of Tessie San Martin of Plan and Rodney Bent.

In July, MFAN launched its new ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign aid. The campaign will take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and outline further steps that can be made before the end of the 114th Congress and the Obama Administration. Also in July, coinciding with the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, MFAN released its Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resources Mobilization, outlining how the U.S. government can effectively help partner countries mobilize domestic resources for development.

As part of our continuing work to highlight MFAN’s policy priorities and engage with the Obama Administration, the Co-Chairs sent letters to OMB Director Shaun Donovan, outlining our priorities and how the Administration can make progress on them in its final year, and MCC CEO Dana Hyde, outlining our recommendations for the MCC’s forthcoming five-year strategic plan. In addition, MFAN Honorary Co-Chair The Honorable Jim Kolbe testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the value of the MCC.

The Obama Administration’s Second-to-last Year

Early in the year, President Obama demonstrated his enduring commitment to development and effective foreign assistance in his State of the Union address and, following shortly after, his FY16 budget request. In the State of the Union address, the President called for a “more effective global effort” to combat development challenges like the Ebola crisis. The budget request included a number of provisions to help advance reform, including additional flexibility for food aid, a funding boost for the MCC, and an increase in USAID’s Operating Expenses budget.

Also early this year, USAID Administrator Raj Shah stepped down from his post after leading the agency for five productive years. Administrator Shah was a long-time champion for effective development, spearheading efforts such as USAID Forward, the Local Solutions initiative, and the establishment of USAID’s evaluation policy. In April, we released an MFAN-led community sign-on letter calling for a new USAID Administrator. Just two weeks later the announcement was made that MFAN co-founder Gayle Smith was nominated.  As the community anxiously awaited Gayle’s confirmation, MFAN organized another community sign-on letter in June to urge the Senate to confirm her as USAID Administrator.

At the end of April, the much anticipated second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was released. We were pleased to see the document focus on transparent and accountable governance and the better use and analysis of data, and the emphasis on building internal capacity at State and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation. We look forward to continuing to work with the State Department on the implementation of this QDDR in the New Year.

This fall marked the much-anticipated launch of the Sustainable Development Goals at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. President Obama strongly endorsed the ambitious in his address during UNGA.

Foreign Aid Reform on Capitol Hill

The year was also an active time in the fight to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in Congress. This spring the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a landmark hearing on food aid reform, convened by SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD).  The hearing was an opportunity to highlight the importance of legislative efforts like the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Senate champions Bob Corker and Chris Coons (D-DE) earlier in the year, and to make the case for why the current systems to needs to be improved in order to deliver more for hungry people around the world. To capitalize on the moment, MFAN, as part of a broad coalition of international development organizations, signed on to a statement of support for food aid reform.

In October, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 was introduced in the House by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Just a few weeks after introduction, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up and approved the bills. MFAN and InterAction also organized a community sign-on letter in support of the bill and the MFAN Co-Chairs sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging his support, recognizing that the State Department has been a hurdle to getting the bill passed in previous congresses.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Gayle Smith as the new USAID Administrator in November, seven months after being nominated. MFAN and our partners were pleased that the Senate finally took action to fill this important position.

Onward to 2016

We are rounding out 2015 on a high note, as the House of Representatives recently unanimously passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. In the New Year, we hope to see the Senate take similar action so that we can see this legislation enacted. We look forward to a busy 2016 as MFAN and our partners continue to push Congress and the Administration to prioritize accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and sustainable. Early next year we will be holding our next public check-in on our ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign and will continue to update our ACCOUNTdown Dialogue Series, so stay tuned!


Community Letter to Congress: Pass the Foreign Aid Transparency & Accountability Act

Monday, December 7th, 2015
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Dear Representative:

On behalf of both the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network – a coalition of international development practitioners and foreign policy experts committed to strengthening development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy – and InterAction – the largest alliance of U.S.-based international development and humanitarian NGOs, with over 180 member organizations operating in every developing country – we are writing to express our strong support for the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015” (H.R. 3766) sponsored by Representatives Ted Poe and Gerry Connolly.

U.S. foreign assistance budgets and programs should be transparent and based on rigorous evidence and learning to ensure the effectiveness of every dollar spent. H.R. 3766 would both establish evaluation guidelines for U.S. international development and economic assistance programs and centralize public access to data and reports through the existing aid transparency website. This legislation unanimously passed the House in 2012 and was again approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2015. A companion bill sponsored by Senators Rubio and Cardin was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013 and again in 2015.

Specifically, the legislation would: 1) require the President of the United States to establish and implement uniform monitoring and evaluation guidelines – with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans – across U.S. international development and economic assistance programs; and 2) require the Secretary of State to ensure the website contains detailed information regarding U.S. foreign assistance on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis that is updated quarterly.  It would further require that analysis be undertaken by the Government Accountability Office to inform Congress on relevant agencies’ adherence to these benchmarks.

While some progress has been made in recent years, today fewer than half of the more than two dozen federal departments and agencies involved in delivering U.S. foreign assistance have published data to, and not enough meaningful aid information has been included. The time has come for the President to issue and oversee a set of common guidelines on the monitoring and evaluation of these programs and ensure that important aid information is available to the public. American taxpayers, along with partner country governments and citizens, deserve to have the ability to access comprehensive, timely, and comparable data on U.S. international development and economic assistance.

Given its strong bipartisan support in the previous sessions of Congress, we urge you to support and swiftly pass the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” to maximize the impact of our foreign assistance.


George Ingram
MFAN Co-Chair
Brookings Institution

Carolyn Miles
MFAN Co-Chair
Save the Children

Connie Veillette
MFAN Co-Chair
The Lugar Center

Sam Worthington
President & CEO

Endorsing Organizations (37):

Alliance for Peacebuilding
Alliance to End Hunger
Bread for the World
ChildFund International
Congressional Hunger Center
Data Transparency Coalition
Global Health Council
Global Poverty Project
Global Witness
Government Accountability Project
Habitat for Humanity International
Helen Keller International
International Youth Foundation
Mercy Corps
Millennium Water Alliance
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
Oxfam America
Pathfinder International
PCI (Project Concern International)
Plan International USA
Save the Children
Smith Contracting
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
USAID Alumni Association
VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance)
WASH Advocates
WaterAid America
Women Thrive Worldwide

U.S.-based NGOs to Appropriators: Oppose Increase to Cargo Preference Requirements

Friday, December 4th, 2015
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December 2, 2015

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Senate Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Harold Rogers
House Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Nita Lowey
Ranking Member
House Appropriations Committee
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairmen Cochran and Rogers and Ranking Members Mikulski and Lowey:

As international humanitarian and development organizations addressing global hunger and malnutrition, we strongly oppose any provision in the omnibus appropriations bill that increases the percentage or portion of U.S.-sourced food aid commodities that must be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels.

In April 2014, the Department of Homeland Security warned that increasing agriculture cargo preference (ACP) restrictions on U.S. food aid from 50 percent to 75 percent would increase transportation costs for U.S. international food aid programs by $75 million annually, and result in up to 2 million vulnerable people losing access to life-saving food aid from the United States. This proposed change to cargo preference follows the Budget Act of 2013, which eliminated mandated reimbursements to USAID from Department of Transportation intended to offset part of the ocean freight cost of international food aid programs.  The cumulative effect drastically increases the cost of shipping U.S. food and will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the ability to operate food aid programs efficiently.

As you know, U.S. international food aid supports the food and nutrition needs of 56 million children and families on average each year and, consequently, helps to stabilize situations that can become threats to our national security. We strongly believe that funding for humanitarian food assistance should be used for its intended purpose: to provide lifesaving emergency and development assistance to the most vulnerable.  Evidence shows that ACP restrictions on U.S. food aid are inefficient and costly, and result in considerable reductions in the volume of food aid provided to populations in need.

Given the current number of global food security emergencies, it is more important than ever that U.S. food aid use taxpayer money responsibly by reaching as many people as possible. We urge Congress to reduce the burden of ACP on humanitarian food aid, and reject any efforts to increase agriculture cargo preference (ACP) requirements on U.S. food aid.


Action Against Hunger
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
Catholic Relief Services
ChildFund International
Church World Service
Concern Worldwide US
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Feed the Children
Global Poverty Project
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN)
Oxfam America
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
World Food Program USA

MFAN Applauds Long-Awaited Confirmation of Gayle Smith as USAID Administrator

Monday, November 30th, 2015
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November 30, 2015

WASHINGTON – Seven months since her nomination by President Obama and nearly one year since the announcement that Administrator Rajiv Shah was stepping down, MFAN is pleased to see the Senate take action today to confirm Gayle Smith as USAID Administrator. Having a permanent USAID Administrator in place for the final 14 months of the Obama Administration is vital to sustaining strong U.S. leadership on development programs that are essential to our national interests and an expression of our core values.

“At a time when we are responding to major crises in places like Syria and Yemen, having a confirmed USAID Administrator could not be more urgent. While it has been disappointing that this nomination was held up for this long, putting those in need at risk, we are excited to now be moving ahead with such a strong leader,” said Carolyn Miles, MFAN Co-Chair and President and CEO of Save the Children.

Gayle Smith is a strong and experienced leader and, as a Co-Founder of MFAN, has long been a champion of the aid effectiveness agenda while ensuring development is an equal pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

“We know that Gayle is eager to hit the ground running and we look forward to working closely with her to continue to strengthen the capacity of USAID to deliver results,” said George Ingram MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at Brookings.

“Gayle Smith understands the importance of effective foreign aid and we fully expect her to speed up the momentum around institutionalizing key reforms, such as those included in the USAID Forward agenda and USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty,” said Connie Veillette, MFAN Co-Chair and Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center.

Under former Administrator Shah and Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt, USAID has proven the critical role that foreign assistance plays in these challenging times. Now under the leadership of Gayle Smith, the Agency can move towards fulfilling the “long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. Government’s lead development agency and as the world’s premier development agency,” as articulated by the 2010 policy directive on global development.

Congress Eyes Greater Transparency in Foreign Aid, This Time the Timing Could be Right

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Lori Rowley, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group and Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center. This post is part of MFAN’s ACCOUNTdown to 2017 Dialogue Series.


From the perspective of both U.S. taxpayers and recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, it’s been a very positive few weeks on both sides of the Capitol. Legislation to advance greater transparency of U.S. foreign assistance programs has now been approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), I staffed the Senator when he authored the Senate companion bill  that Congressman Ted Poe introduced in the 112th Congress and has continued to introduce in every Congress since then, The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. The bill narrowly missed enactment in the waning days of that Congress – late in December of 2012 – despite a unanimous vote by the full House.

Since that time, interest in the topic of foreign aid effectiveness has not waned. Neither has the need for it. In fact, in today’s world, maintaining the effectiveness of our taxpayer dollars in keeping starving people alive with critical food aid, investing in women, smallholder farmers so they can improve their crop production and in turn feed their families, and supporting  HIV/AIDS victims with life-saving medical treatment is more vital than ever.  Our financial resources in supporting people in the developing world be able to move from living in crisis to living in stability are stretched to their maximum, with destabilized governments, drought and continued lack of access to water and basic education a constant across much of the world. We need to see where we’re investing, what we’re getting in return, and how we can make progress to move these countries and their citizens from being dependent on our aid to becoming our trading partners.

In my current position at The Lugar Center, we continue to endorse the critical investment in developing countries in order to promote a more prosperous and stable world.  We believe that an important component of this investment is ensuring its effectiveness through transparency, and we work to promote it. The Obama Administration took important steps in this area, with the creation of the webpage, Here taxpayers are now able to see how much of their taxpayer dollars go to a specific country and for what purpose. Further, the transfer of this data to the International Aid Transparency Registry provides even greater transparency regarding the flow of aid funds into each developing country by a host of donors, NGOs and others from across the globe.

While some federal agencies responsible for administering U.S. foreign aid are already living up to executive branch commitments to be more transparent about where and for what purpose taxpayer dollars are being spent, regrettably not all of them are. The posting of this information to, is uneven and often incomplete. Only the Millennium Challenge Corporation has received a rating of “Very Good” on the Publish What You Fund 2014 Aid Transparency Index.  Frankly, all 22 federal agencies providing foreign assistance need to do better.

Here is where the Congress can play a critical role. By enacting legislation that requires all federal agencies providing foreign assistance to publish their data to the webpage, the legislative and executive branches of government become partners in working to ensure transparency, and thus accountability in our foreign assistance. That is a win-win for both U.S. taxpayers and people across the globe who receive our aid. Locking in important steps to improve our foreign assistance seems ripe for action now, and I am hopeful that as we approach December of 2015, enactment of the Foreign Aid Accountability and Transparency Act won’t be a narrow miss as it was when I staffed this bill, but rather a full endorsement of foreign aid transparency and accountability by both the House and the Senate.