blog logo image

Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

The Time is Now: Delivering on the SDG Agenda

Friday, September 25th, 2015
Bookmark and Share

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
Bookmark and Share

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
Bookmark and Share

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
Bookmark and Share

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
Bookmark and Share

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
Church World Service
Convoy of Hope
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Feed the Children
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Poverty Project
Helen Keller International
Maryknoll Office For Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Mercy Corps
Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network
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)