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Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

From day one: Transparency at the heart

Monday, April 8th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Ben Leo, ONE’s global policy director, and Lauren Pfeifer, ONE’s policy associate on the Transparency and Accountability Team.

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On President Obama’s first day in office, he signed an executive order that called for open, transparent government.

The order is based on the principles that openness should be the default position of the US Government, citizens should be given more opportunities to participate in and collaborate with the US Government, and the data the US government collects is a national asset that should be accessible to its citizens.

Photo credit: The White House

Photo credit: The White House

That the order was signed on Day 1 was a symbolic gesture, of course, but its impetus was, I believe, the President’s belief that openness and access can generate a level of trust through accountability that no amount of rhetoric and reassurance can replicate. It is a testament to his desire to change the view that our government is a secretive bureaucratic system, one difficult to hold to account.

The President’s commitment to open and accountable government isn’t limited to our own borders. The Obama administration has also taken concrete action to increase the transparency of our foreign assistance, a potentially game-changing step. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gave a keynote speech at the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, late 2011, in which she announced that the US would sign the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the global standard of aid transparency. As the largest donor of development assistance, transparent US programs have the potential to be transformative, giving developing nations a more complete picture of their revenue streams.

But plans released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that outline how the US will implement IATI’s aid transparency requirements – which include reporting project data to an open machine-readable database – show the government may be standing in its own way. The plans show a “whole of government” approach which – while beneficial at the political level – doesn’t take into account the factors that affect the ease of implementation. Certain agencies are ready (and more relevant) to begin reporting to IATI, and each of the 10 plus US agencies that currently disburse development assistance have their own systems, and as such, different capacity for converting the data into IATI’s format. Agencies, such as USAID and the MCC, should each have their own plans for how best to report to IATI. This would allow them to be tailored to their various systems and ensure that information is as specific as possible. Useful aid transparency information illuminates projects and transactions at the local level. This project-level information’s specificity is critical. OMB’s plans are lacking in other areas. Geo-coding of data and reporting results are called “supplemental” and left optional. Lastly, the most obvious information is perhaps the least likely to be available. US agencies are only required to publish 1-year forward-looking budget information, rather than the suggested 3 to 5-year forward-looking information that would enable recipient governments to plan ahead.

In order to maintain the momentum that was so inspiring at the start of the President’s first term, his administration should encourage agencies to accelerate the timeline outlined by OMB’s implementation schedule – empowering those who lead our development agencies to publish their agency’s data in IATI format on their websites as soon as they can. This would encourage agencies to be ambitious and speed up implementation, while providing useful data to developing countries.

The principles the President championed the first day of his Presidency are reflected in the reform and evaluation processes undertaken by key US development agencies – new and better data enables citizens to hold their governments to account, and transparency helps to make programs more efficient. But the commitments the US has made to aid transparency are stifled by the approach it has chosen to meet them. US development agencies need to be encouraged to publish what they can, as soon as they can. Perhaps they can take the President’s advice, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This IATI data is transformative, and will provide a fuller picture to countries who receive sometimes unpredictable assistance from many different countries. The administration should provide clear and strong encouragement to make transparent, as soon we can, the data that has the potential to accelerate progress in the fight against poverty.

Want to know more? Read the US Aid Transparency Report Card.

 

USAID Administrator Should be Given Seat on NSC

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
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Last week, Foreign Policy’s “Best Defense” blog had a guest post from Major Jaron Wharton, U.S. Army. In the piece, Maj. Wharton makes a compelling case for the USAID Administrator to be granted a seat on the National Security Council given the increased role development plays in our national security. MFAN has long held the position that the USAID Administrator should hold a seat on the National Security Council, especially with the emphasis on smart power seen during the Obama Administration. Read the full piece here and see key excerpts below:

“Because we are living in times that require a fully integrated national security approach, the USAID administrator should become the president’s principal advisor for development and assistance (akin to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff role and associated linkage to the secretary of defense, but concomitant to the secretary of state) and a permanent member on the National Security Council. This elevated position will provide the president with unfettered development advice, while codifying the position that development is on par with defense and diplomacy. Maintaining USAID’s intimate relationship with State recognizes the inherent ties of development assistance to foreign policy.”

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“USAID should take internal steps to reinforce its relevance and further professionalize its engagement in the national security apparatus. However, as in Goldwater-Nichols, where the ramifications for the professionalization of the Joint Staff were extreme, USAID is already fully-capable of the increased level of responsibility. There is no longer a dichotomy within USAID between those focused on altruistic development and assistance and those who understand the necessity, practicality, and Hill-emphasized need for more targeted work to support national security objectives.

Indeed, the development portfolio is now facing critical challenges and is at significantly increased risk given growing fiscal constraints. Despite being elevated by the Global Development Policy to be on par with defense and diplomacy, elements of any effort by the agency to demonstrate true relevancy in national security must include improved and sustained engagement in the NSS. This inherently makes the case USAID’s activities are considered in the national interest. Elevation of the administrator as a permanent member on the NSC provides an additional forcing function on the broader USG to recognize this point. At a minimum, the USAID administrator should be elevated and maintain his presence at the principals’ committee level beyond an “informal member as appropriate.”

On the Record: Senator Kerry on Foreign Aid Reform

Thursday, January 24th, 2013
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During his time as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry (D-MA) became a vocal proponent for effective foreign assistance. As his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of State gets underway, we wanted to take a moment to look back on some supportive statements made by Chairman Kerry over the last four years. We hope that Kerry will continue to hold onto his support for foreign assistance and the International Affairs account and look forward to seeing what his leadership may bring for U.S. development efforts.

The following are excerpts from a speech made by Senator Kerry titled “Diplomacy and Development in the 21st Century” delivered at the Brookings Institution on May 21, 2009:

  • “So these realities really do present a brave new world for which we have to dramatically redesign our foreign policy. If we are to meet these challenges, this much is clear: development and diplomacy have to retake their rightful place alongside defense at the heart of American’s foreign policy. And yet today, for all of our past successes, there’s a growing realization that our diplomatic and development capacities are simply not prepared for the task ahead. And when you consider our meager investment in it, it’s easy to understand why.”
  • “We need to clarify the policies and the goals of our foreign assistance. There is no overarching policy for U.S. foreign aid today or for development today.”
  • “Second, we need to bring greater coordination to those aid efforts. We have over 20 agencies implementing a slew of aid programs, often with very diffused and even conflicting goals.”
  • “Third, we must strengthen our professional expertise in capacity and the delivery of aid. The need has never been greater to train and cultivate a generation of highly skilled public servants.”
  • “To attract top talent, we need to promote a results-based culture of accountability in transparency and we need to restore intellectual capacity in policy and strategic planning to ensure that USAID is a place where innovative ideas can take shape and take hold.”
  • “Fourth; we need to streamline outdated laws and heavy bureaucracy in order to untie the hands of workers. The last time the United States Senate authorized the Foreign Assistance Act was the year I arrived in the Senate in 1985. That Bill runs over 400 pages long and is full of confusing directives, reporting requirements, and procedural roadblocks.”
  • “We need to empower country teams to shape programs, to determine needs, and even take calculated risks if they see a real strategic opportunity.”
  • “We need cutting edge programs that push the envelope on ending global poverty and other problems and our development agencies ought to be leading the charge in that effort.”
  • “To that end, we are going to support efforts in legislation to promote the accountability to enhance transparency, to track performance with benchmarks or otherwise, and to distill the lessons that have been learned in a more comprehensive institutionalized way so that it’s not haphazard when you’re recommitting the next error and suddenly someone comes in and you say oh, God, we’ve got to look at what we did.”

 

The following quote is from Chairman Kerry on the release of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD-6) in September, 2010:

  • “I am pleased to join with the President in support of a new development vision to address the leading moral, strategic and economic challenges of the 21st century.  The President has outlined a comprehensive development policy based on measurable outcomes, country ownership, sustainable economic growth and multilateralism – a policy that will build capacity in the developing world, not dependence.”

 

The following quote by Chairman Kerry comes from a committee statement on the introduction of the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, of which Kerry was a lead author:

  • “I believe this legislation will go a long way toward improving our immediate ability to deliver foreign aid in a more accountable, thoughtful and strategic manner. We need cutting edge programs that will push the envelope on ending chronic poverty, combating global climate change, reducing hunger, supporting democracies, and offering alternatives to extremism.” “We need cutting edge programs that will push the envelope on ending chronic poverty, combating global climate change, reducing hunger, supporting democracies, and offering alternatives to extremism.”

 

The following are excerpts from a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on the Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act:

  • “A viable whole-of-government approach demands a lead actor who is able to tap into a wide range of capabilities and expertise, but ultimately has the authority to make final decisions about programs, resources, and implementation objectives. The committee believes a more optimal way to ensure whole-of-government expertise while providing for proper coherence and coordination is to consider a ‘centers of excellence’’ approach, which would house specialized capabilities and resources focused on a discrete set of objectives in a specific institution.”
  • “Streamlining, flexibility and prioritization are essential so that agencies know where to focus resources and efforts. The committee believes that streamlining procurement rules, earmarks and restrictions is equally important in order to allow greater discretion and authority for civilian agency leaders.”
  • “Country teams should have a much greater role in determining programmatic and funding priorities in partnership with local actors.”
  • “Development requires better coherence, stronger inter-agency coordination and improved rationalization to determine which agencies will undertake different foreign aid programs. The U.S. needs to provide a unified development voice to demonstrate our commitment to development issues, fighting poverty and hunger and engaging with the world.”
  • “…It is increasingly important that we have the means to evaluate and measure cases of development successes and failures, and to better understand what programs work, which do not, and what are the conditions that determine effectiveness.”
  • “Finding a way to better integrate evaluation with innovation and program design would improve the effectiveness, impact, scope and creativity of our development efforts.”
  • “In order to best achieve foreign assistance objectives, maximize the resources of the United States Government, ensure programming coherence, avoid duplication and fragmentation, and enhance an effective whole-of-government approach, direct responsibility for coordinating all development and humanitarian efforts of the United States Government in a country shall reside with the USAID mission director, under the overall direction of the chief of mission.”
  • “The committee strongly feels that U.S. citizens and recipients of U.S. foreign assistance should, to the maximum extent practicable, have full access to information on U.S. foreign assistance and development programs.”

MFAN Statement: Dr. Eric Goosby’s Appointment as Global Health Ambassador

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
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December 18, 2012 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe:

We congratulate Ambassador Eric Goosby on his appointment to lead the State Department’s new Office of Global Health Diplomacy. He has proven to be a strong public health advocate for poor and minority populations, and his successful stewardship of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator prepares him well for the task ahead.

We are concerned, however, that the continued consolidation of power over health and development programs in the State Department threatens to undermine our overall efforts to achieve greater impact in alleviating poverty, eradicating disease, and fostering inclusive economic growth. MFAN’s position has been, and remains, that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) should be the lead agency on global health policy and implementation in the field when the programs being implemented have a significant development impact.  This view is echoed in President Obama’s landmark Policy Directive on Development (PPD), which seeks to “Reestablish the United States as the global leader on international development.  This entails a long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. Government’s lead development agency—and as the world’s premier development agency.” Ambassador Goosby’s description of the new office’s mandate would appear to contradict the PPD, because he indicates that it will play a broad internal U.S. government coordination role in addition to external coordination and diplomatic support—in essence, it will replace the former Global Health Initiative Secretariat with a new secretariat, also based at the State Department.

We welcome the State Department’s commitment to elevate global health as a diplomatic priority, but we believe it is the wrong approach to embed health and development programs so heavily in a diplomatic power structure. The risk is that decisions about these programs will, in some cases, be driven by the short-term politics, instead of by the long-term focus that is needed to drive sustainable health and development results. We also remain puzzled that the State Department has not done more to recognize and enhance the role of USAID as the U.S. government’s lead policy and implementing agency on all development issues, including global health, as laid out in the PPD. We encourage Ambassador Goosby and his team to fully integrate the expertise of development professionals into their activities as the office begins its work.

 

Secretary Clinton talks development at the MCC

Thursday, November 29th, 2012
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Secretary Clinton addressed the MCC this week, commending the agency for their strong leadership in U.S. development efforts, saying the “MCC’s model showcases some of our best thinking about how to do development for the 21st century, and has helped to set the stage for the Administration’s approach for development, because at a time when we must look for the way to maximize the impact of every dollar that we spend on development, we often turn to MCC for information and inspiration”.

She also hinted as to what the development agenda under President Obama’s second term may hold, emphasizing that partnership and accountability will continue to be  priorities over the next four years.