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Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

On Evaluations, State Steps Up to the Plate

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from Diana Ohlbaum, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group.

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The State Department is accustomed to taking physical risks.  Political risks, not so much.

Foreign Service Officers work in all the world’s most dangerous and difficult places.  They promote judicial and security sector reform to prevent conflict, join with the international community to protect refugees during crises, and support reconstruction and stabilization once violence abates.  But taking a close, hard look at how well their own programs are working, and making those findings public, has been a much harder pill to swallow.

Last week marked a big step forward in the State Department’s commitment to evaluations and transparency.  With little fanfare, the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources announced on its website that it will publish full texts of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis.  This is a significant improvement from its most recent evaluation policy, issued in January, which had required only that summaries of evaluations be posted publicly, and that the site be updated only once a year.  State also made the list of evaluations much easier to browse, and included a new link to PEPFAR’s evaluations.

Compared with USAID, or the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which have far more demanding evaluation requirements, these may be small steps.  But State is still transitioning from a secretive, cable-writing culture to one of sharing and learning.  The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), released this spring, seeks to thrust State into the 21st century by, among other things, enhancing its use of data and analytics and bringing more rigor to its evaluations.

Even before the QDDR was finalized, however, State had conducted 138 foreign assistance funded evaluations, with 38 more in progress and 71 planned.  It had revised its evaluation policy to ensure that it took account of the legitimate differences between evaluating foreign assistance programs and evaluating diplomatic operations.  While some of the changes appeared to be steps backward from the 2012 policy, the very fact that the evaluation requirements were made permanent should be seen as a victory.  Many State Department officials reportedly had believed, or hoped, that the mandate would be allowed to quietly expire.

Still, hard work remains to be done at State.  The QDDR pledged that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs would develop “a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluating security assistance,” which we at MFAN hope will conform to industry standards of scientific rigor, independence, and transparency.  State should commission, as USAID has done, an assessment of the value and quality of its evaluations to date, as well as an analysis of how the evaluations are being used to inform policy and program decisions.  More thought must be given to involving local participants and beneficiaries in deciding what counts as success and whether it has been achieved.  Most importantly, the Secretary should give his blessing to legislation, now being developed in the House and Senate, to codify the evaluation requirements and ensure that security assistance is not let off the hook.

The fear of conducting evaluations and making them public is understandable, since some – particularly on Capitol Hill – see them as a political bludgeon instead of as a learning tool.  But while audits and investigations tell us whether funds were properly spent, evaluations help us understand how and why a particular outcome was achieved.  Without that knowledge, we are left to swing blindly at problems and hope for the best.

Now that the State Department has scored a base hit on evaluations, who’s next at bat?  All eyes are on you, Department of Defense!

Round-up: Community Welcomes News of the Nomination of Gayle Smith as Next USAID Administrator

Friday, May 1st, 2015
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President Obama announced this week that Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council, has been nominated as the next USAID Administrator. We are pleased to see the White House nominate a strong and experienced leader to take the helm at USAID. See below for a round-up of MFAN partner statements. In addition, see here for a blog post from Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien and here for a Devex article featuring MFAN Honorary Co-Chairs and former Representatives Jim Kolbe and Howard Berman and MFAN Principal Ritu Sharma.

USGLC CEO Liz Schrayer: Gayle Smith is the right person to continue the game-changing transformations at USAID that are critical to advancing America’s economic and security interests. Throughout her career, and particularly over the past six years at the National Security Council, Gayle has played a critical role in driving reform-minded policies that are central for delivering results to American taxpayers while making a world of difference.

CGD President Nancy Birdsall and Senior Policy Analyst Casey Dunning: We hope for the same sense of urgency from the US Senate in confirming the President’s nominee. It’s critical to have an Administrator with a Congressional mandate and development expertise. Smith knows development after years working in Africa, and she knows how the US government works – or not – after years in the White House. She was a key architect of signature initiatives, like Feed the Future and Power Africa, that a revitalized USAID launched in the last several years — initiatives designed to crowd-in private sector investment to poor countries prepared to undertake business-friendly reforms.

Bread for the World President David Beckmann: I expect the Senate to move quickly to approve Gayle Smith’s appointment. It’s important to the implementation of urgently needed aid programs, and global poverty is an issue on which Congress and the president are on the same page.

Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser: We are eager and ready to work with Ms. Smith to continue the modernization efforts afoot at USAID that will have a lasting impact on global poverty and that, over time, will enhance US moral standing and national interests and ultimately build a safer world for all. Ms. Smith will bring a powerful voice, vision and leadership to the agency.  We urge the Senate to quickly confirm her to ensure American leadership in fighting poverty does not suffer.

The Lugar Center President Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ret.): I was pleased to learn from the White House today that the President will nominate Gayle Smith, currently a Senior Director at the National Security Council, as the next Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Smith’s experience and expertise in both international development and in reforming aid to strengthen its impact make her an excellent selection for this important post.

Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles: Gayle Smith has a wealth of experience, both from inside and out of government, to bring to bear in shaping USAID’s leadership for these summits. We look forward to working with her, and the rest of the Obama Administration, to support bold American leadership on ending extreme poverty and the preventable deaths of children, as well as ensuring the world does much more to prevent and respond to the suffering of people in Nepal, Syria, and the many other humanitarian crises around the world. Gayle Smith has been a leader on initiatives to make US international development assistance more efficient and effective, and she reflects the compassion that all Americans have for children and families in need.

Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer: Gayle Smith distinguished herself during the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. But that’s just the most recent example in her long and distinguished career as an effective policy maker and advocate on humanitarian and development issues. Her combination of policy, advocacy and operations makes Smith an especially strong leader for USAID. We are living in a particularly challenging time, in which the number and intensity of humanitarian crises is stretching our community’s ability to respond,” says Keny-Guyer. “Because of her experience, Gayle understands that the U.S. government must renew its focus on holistic, multi-sector, multi-year programs that address the root causes of vulnerability.

MFAN Welcomes Second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
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April 29, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. MFAN welcomes the new QDDR and is pleased to see a strong emphasis on enhancing the use of data to promote “greater accountability for strategic planning and programs” and the reaffirmation of USAID as the U.S. government’s lead development agency.

The 2015 QDDR builds on the work of the last review with an aim of prioritizing reforms that will make U.S. development and diplomacy “stronger and more effective for years to come,” said Secretary Kerry at Tuesday’s launch announcement. The review focuses on four key areas: preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism; promoting open, resilient, and democratic societies; advancing inclusive economic growth; and mitigating and adapting to climate change. Strengthening U.S. policies and programs in these areas will make U.S. diplomacy and development more effective at advancing U.S. interests.

What is especially innovative in this second QDDR is the focus on the use of data, diagnostics, and technology, which comprise a cross-cutting theme in each of these four areas. The review states that data “will play a greater role in policy and decision-making, planning, monitoring and evaluation, and program development.” In addition, the review highlights the importance of improving expertise in strategic planning, budgeting, project management, and monitoring and evaluation.

In addition to the clarion call for State and USAID to better use and analysis of data, the report prioritizes advancing transparent and accountable governance.  Both agencies should immediately put these policies into action, and demonstrate their commitment to data and transparency.  An easy first win is to take the steps necessary for them to meet their commitments to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to make U.S. assistance data publically available, comprehensive,  and easily accessible.

It is promising to see this new QDDR emphasize the importance of building internal capacity at the State Department and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation, and the value of harnessing knowledge, utilizing data, and promoting innovation and learning to improve our development and diplomacy. MFAN hopes that this focus on data use will also include greater information sharing with U.S. taxpayers and beneficiaries in our partner countries in particular, so that citizens can hold their own governments to account in leading their own development. As USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt said on Tuesday, USAID is now seeing unprecedented levels of transparency, which is helping to drive greater accountability. We have been encouraged by USAID’s efforts to utilize and share data and hope to see the State Department take similar steps in implementing the second QDDR.

MFAN would also like to recognize the manner in which Tom Perriello, former member of Congress and, for the past year, Special Representative for the QDDR, carried out the review.  We were pleased to see an open, consultative process that reached out to a broad range of stakeholders beyond the U.S. government to seek their ideas and input.

Broad Coalition Calls for Urgent Food Aid Reforms for Efficiency, Effectiveness

Monday, April 13th, 2015
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As a diverse coalition from the nonprofit sector, we are strongly in favor of U.S. food assistance that delivers results faster, more effectively, and more efficiently. We applaud the leadership of the Chair and Ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Bob Corker and Ben Cardin, for elevating the importance of the life-saving Food for Peace program and the need to maximize its reach and efficiencies.

For more than five decades, U.S. food aid programs have been assisting the poorest, most vulnerable people in the wake of disasters and other crises. We urge Congress to pursue common-sense reforms that increase the ability to reach more vulnerable people with both emergency and non-emergency assistance.

These common-sense reforms would come at no additional cost: In fact, increasing the flexibility of existing funding and delivery mechanisms can significantly increase the reach of our current programs to millions more people at no additional cost. The United States should be empowered to better utilize the tools necessary to respond to hunger and to match the type of assistance with the reality of any situation – including utilizing cash transfers, local and regional procurement, vouchers, and the delivery of U.S. commodities.

Small increases in flexibility in the 2014 Farm Bill and the FY2014 appropriations bills have already benefitted vulnerable people around the world. In the past year alone, these reforms have reduced costs, allowed a wider range of programming options to improve program outcomes, helped achieve more sustainable results, and reached 800,000 additional people, more quickly.

Flexibility in food aid has helped feed millions of refugees and internally displaced persons affected by the crisis in and around Syria. This includes a wide range of programs such as a U.S.-funded food voucher program for Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as distributing life-sustaining food bars purchased in the U.S. to Syrian refugees in Erbil, Iraq.

This is an important opportunity to expand the impact of one of our most vital international programs. We stand ready to work with Congress to ensure these gains can be realized.

ActionAid USA
Action Against Hunger
Alliance to End Hunger
American Jewish World Service
Bread for the World
CARE USA
Church World Service
Convoy of Hope
Edesia
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Feed the Children
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Poverty Project
Helen Keller International
InterAction
Maryknoll Office For Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
ONE
Oxfam
Save the Children
The Borgen Project
The Hunger Project
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
USAID Alumni Association (UAA)

MFAN Welcomes Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the Newest Executive Committee Member

Friday, March 13th, 2015
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March 13, 2014 (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 is pleased to welcome Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Dr. Morris joined Women Thrive in January, coming from Development and Training Services, where she focused on promoting accountability and sustainability in development projects. Prior to that, Dr. Morris managed nine country offices for Women for Women International and worked at InterAction and Creative Associates International. She has worked closely with the U.S. government to advance initiatives empowering women and girls throughout her career.

Women Thrive Worldwide has long been committed to MFAN’s reform agenda. Their continued support, and the experience and expertise they bring to our network, is invaluable. Their work for women living in poverty worldwide is focused on advocating for the priorities that women decide are best for them. We look forward to Women Thrive’s contributions as we continue to push for greater accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in helping developing countries access a path to prosperity.