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Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

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.

Letter to Secretary Kerry: Support the Foreign Aid Transparency & Accountability Act

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
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November 11, 2015

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a coalition of international development practitioners and foreign policy experts committed to strengthening development as a key component of U.S. foreign policy, we are writing to urge your active support of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the Senate (S. 2184) by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) and in the House (H.R. 3766) by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA). This bicameral, bipartisan legislation recently passed out of both the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and is worthy of the Administration’s strong endorsement. Specifically, the bill seeks to embed transparency and evaluation practices in the work of all agencies that administer U.S. foreign aid – longstanding priorities for both you and President Obama that would deliver greater impact in the developing world and in the lives of those we are trying to reach with our assistance.

The United States has made strides in recent years in improving the quantity and quality of U.S. foreign assistance data available to the public. President Obama’s sweeping Presidential Policy Directive #6 in 2010 declared accountability as a priority of his administration, stating “The United States will…Set in place rigorous procedures to evaluate the impact of policies and programs, report on results and reallocate resources accordingly, incorporate relevant evidence and analysis from other institutions, and inform the policy and budget process” as well as “Undertake a more substantial investment of resources in monitoring and evaluation, including with a focus on rigorous and high-quality impact evaluations.”

The establishment of the Open Government Partnership and the website to centralize U.S. foreign assistance information continues to demonstrate this Administration’s commitment to openness and accountability, both to the American public and beneficiaries of U.S. assistance around the world. All three U.S. Open Government National Action Plans[1] have called for agencies administering foreign assistance to publish their aid information in line with the internationally agreed-upon standard, which is consistent with the U.S. commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Yet to date, only ten of the more than 22 agencies that manage foreign assistance programs have published any data to since the launch of the website five years ago.

We know that improved oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance has been a personal priority for you. Under your leadership, the State Department’s recent 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review affirms the importance of data-driven decision-making for diplomacy and development. In addition, the State Department’s recently updated evaluation policy includes publication of full evaluations of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis beginning this year.

We are grateful for your engagement on the aid effectiveness agenda over the years, including helping to approve similar legislation in both the 112th and 113th Congresses when you served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Given your commitment to accountability and effectiveness, both as Secretary of State and previously as United States Senator, we ask you to make known your strong support for passage of this sensible but critical legislation in order to sustain the ongoing efforts of this administration for years to come.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to continuing our work together to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. 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



[1] “As outlined in past OMB guidance to Federal agencies, by December 2015, agencies managing or implementing U.S. foreign assistance will establish an automated and timely process for publishing foreign aid data to Throughout 2014, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, and other agencies will work to add or expand detailed, timely, and high-quality foreign assistance data to” (2nd Open Government U.S. National Action Plan, 2013)


The Time is Now: Delivering on the SDG Agenda

Friday, September 25th, 2015
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This is a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 9/25.


There’s no way around feelings of euphoria today.

World Leaders at the United Nations are ringing in a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promise to end extreme poverty and the scourge of hunger and preventable deaths of infants and children around the world.

At the same time, the Pope is calling for solidarity with the most deprived and those displaced by conflict and climate change.

Over the coming days, millions of people globally – from youth in Ghana to Shakira — are taking part in the “world’s largest” prayers, lessons, and ceremonies to light the way for the SDGs. It’s one of those rare moments in which governments, faith institutions, everyday citizens and popular idols unite around a common cause to forge a historic moment.

Three years of debate among UN diplomats and millions of citizens voicing their priorities has culminated in the approval today by 193 nations of new Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000. Negotiations on the SDG agenda have been among the most collaborative in UN history. It is truly a global vision for a better world.

Furthermore, the SDGs comprise a holistic agenda – 17 goals rather than 8 – with ending extreme poverty at its core supported by a healthy planet in a peaceful world.

The goals are bold and ambitious. The trick will be maintaining the momentum once the speeches end, the crowds disperse, and the cameras turn their focus elsewhere.

It will take a collective effort to achieve this, but the most defining players will be governments who will bring political will and resources to deliver a better future for their people.

Here are six actions that all governments can take to make the SDGs real for their countries:

1) Create national action plans to implement the SDGs. Each government should take the SDGs back home, consult widely with local actors, and make policy and programmatic decisions to put the goals into practice in their country. The entire SDG agenda of 17 goals and 169 targets may not be applicable to every country but there are a core set – namely, the “unfinished business of the MDGs”– like health, education and poverty, which do apply to every country and can be acted upon starting today.

2) Commit financing to the SDGs. Countries should align their budgets to achieve these outcomes. For the United States, this may mean more investments to reduce deaths caused by obesity, heart disease, or automobile accidents, while for poor countries global health dollars could be invested in community health workers to reduce deaths associated with childbirth and malnutrition.

3) Assign a high-level government lead on the SDGs. To ensure rigorous monitoring and accountability, it is important to put in place a focal point on the SDGs who can reach across ministries and carry political weight to ensure action and coordination.

4) Communicate a clear commitment to the SDGs. Heads of state can take these goals home and share them with Parliament or Congress and speak to citizens, private companies, and others to contribute financing, technical know-how, and new ideas and innovations to deliver on the SDGs. Citizens should also play a role holding governments’ “feet to the fire” to be accountable for achieving this agenda over the next 15 years.

5) Prioritize action to “leave no one behind.” Many times on large agendas such as this one, people try to attain the easy solutions and quick wins. This time, however, the world pledged to achieve progress for the poorest and most vulnerable groups first. This requires investments in gathering and disaggregating data to ensure that all groups benefit from progress and no one is being “left behind,” such as girls living in poverty.

6) Publish an annual whole of government report on the SDGs and participate fully in the global follow up and review process. Every country should create progress reports on the SDGs and encourage citizen participation to leverage all resources and people-power in fulfilling the 2030 agenda. This will demand that we work together to strengthen our systems for evaluation and learning in order to scale projects that work and end those that don’t.

With the new SDGs, we can build a world in which no child lives in poverty, and where each child has a fair start and is healthy, educated, and safe. But progress toward meeting these goals in each country will depend on more government investment, open and transparent country institutions, participation by a diverse cross-section of civil society, and effective partnerships between government, civil society, private sector, and donors.

In 2030 we will judge success by what has been delivered, rather than by our declarations today. Let’s use this historic moment to pave the way for concrete action for children around the world.

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.


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.