blog logo image

Archive for the ‘State Department’ Category

MCC Named Most Transparent Donor in 2013 Aid Transparency Index

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

Today Publish What You Fund released their 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) and out of the 67 donors worldwide assessed, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) tops the list. The 2013 ATI is the third annual index, and this year marks the first time a U.S. Government agency has taken the top spot. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations comes in at Number 2, while the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) takes third.

2013 ATI Ranking

The index is based on information donors publish about their development projects and is then scored on 39 indicators divided into three categories: commitment to aid transparency; organization-level publication of financial information and general plans; and the availability of country-specific project activities. Format of the data also played a major role in this year’s rankings. Donors that publish data in machine-readable formats such as XML, per the IATI Standard, are rewarded because it makes the data easier to compare and use.

Five other USG agencies were among those assessed by the index, though none made it into the top tier “Very Good” category with the MCC. The Treasury Department came in at #19 and USAID came in at #22 in the “Fair” category, showing quite a bit of improvement in comparison to last year’s rankings. The Department of Defense came in at #27 and the Department of State at #40, both in the “Poor” category and PEPFAR in at #50 in the “Very Poor” category.

U.S. progress in terms of making aid data available is notable—and the State Department announced this week that the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) joined State, DOD, USAID, MCC, and Treasury in adding data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. But it is essential that the data be useful. Publishing to the IATI Standard, the only open data standard for aid information, ensures that data is comparable and usable for donors and recipients of aid.

The U.S. has set a goal of publishing 70 percent of its aid data to IATI by the end of the year and has pledged full implementation of its IATI commitment by 2015, though it seems unlikely they will meet these goals at the current pace.

Why Congress Should Care About the International Aid Transparency Initiative

Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from MFAN co-chair and Brookings senior fellow George Ingram on how the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Foreign Assistance Dashboard are the tools Congress has been looking for to prove the value of U.S. foreign assistance programs. This post originally appeared on the Brookings blog

***

As the long-dreaded sequestration process begins to set in, U.S. government programs that have already been feeling the heat of budget pressures are now starting to feel the pinch. Across all agencies and departments, there has never been such heightened vigilance to determine the quality, value, and effectiveness of taxpayer-funded programs in order to save them from landing on the proverbial chopping block. U.S. foreign assistance is no exception, and in fact, is likely to be a popular target despite notable progress over the past decade in how aid is delivered.

One basic tool to help circumvent arbitrary and needless cuts is to make information related to foreign assistance transparent, accessible and comparable with the activities of other international donors. Congress has the important responsibility of choosing how much to allocate for activities that seek to lift millions out of extreme poverty, fight disease, spur growth and restore human dignity. In this challenging budget environment, that responsibility is of even higher consequence, with the potential to affect lives all around the world, either for the better or worse. But to make informed decisions, Congress needs to have at its disposal comprehensive, reliable data that is timely and up-to-date.

The Foreign Assistance Dashboard— a public website launched a little over two years ago by the Obama administration to examine this data— demonstrates a strong commitment to aid transparency. However, compliance from agencies involved in U.S. foreign assistance has been slow; the site still only has partial information (budget plans, obligations and expenditures) for a couple of agencies (USAID and Millennium Challenge Corporation) and just planning data for the State Department, leaving out more than a dozen others as well as critical program and project data that lie beneath the aid-flow surface.

The U.S. made another major commitment to the transparency agenda at the 2011 High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, by joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Meeting the IATI commitments, particularly the publication of comprehensive and timely foreign assistance information, is incomplete and moving slowly.

Congress needs to understand that the dashboard and IATI are the tools it has been searching for. Members continuously complain about the opaqueness of foreign assistance – how much assistance is the U.S. providing, to what countries, for what purposes, in cooperation with whom, to what effect? Where is the information to explain to constituents how their tax dollars are being spent? Together the dashboard and IATI will provide this information.

Even more importantly, while there are varying opinions over the best uses and purposes for foreign assistance, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are united in caring that foreign assistance dollars are used well – that tax dollars are not wasted and that the assistance does help lift individuals and countries from poverty and promote U.S. foreign policy interests.

IATI is a critical tool in contributing to the effective use of foreign assistance funds – and not just government provided assistance, but also that which is provided by private entities such as NGOs, foundations and corporations. It is currently the only place for comparable aid information. While the dashboard is a valuable domestic resource, IATI allows a wide range of stakeholders to know what the U.S. government is doing alongside what others are doing. This is the full aid picture and what recipients want to know on the ground.

As of April 2013, 39 government and multilateral donors, and over 100 private organizations, have committed to IATI. When fully operative and with timely and comprehensive data from all donors, we will have the ability through one website to find all donor activity in a particular sector and a particular locale in a country – a virtual one-stop-data-shop for foreign assistance. So how will this improve aid effectiveness?

Let’s say you are: (1) USAID contemplating investing scarce assistance funds in education in region X of country Y; (2) a congressional staffer whose boss has asked whether donors are helping to expand education opportunities in that region; (3) an NGO contemplating working in that region; (4) a finance ministry budget expert in country Y trying to figure out which school districts are in the greatest need of resources in the next fiscal year. IATI will provide the data to help answer these questions.

Through IATI, USAID will know which other donors are engaged in the region, at what level of funding, with what specific focus, and with whom it might coordinate. The congressional staffer can tell his member what donors and at what level education is being assisted. The NGO can tell if this region is overrun by its sister organizations or ignored and with whom it might partner. The ministry budget expert can better allocate scarce resources and query the education ministry staff as to whether it is integrating donor activity into national education plans.

The administration is to be commended for taking the leading in bringing U.S. assistance into the age of data transparency. It is now time for Congress to become involved, by supporting the administration but also by pushing for more robust implementation. Congressman Ted Poe does this in his bill, the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act”, which passed the House in the waning days of the last Congress but was held up in the Senate. It is expected that he will soon reintroduce the bill. Congress should act swiftly to enact it into law and recommend that IATI be the standard by which all agencies in the aid space publish their data.

 

From day one: Transparency at the heart

Monday, April 8th, 2013
Bookmark and Share

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.

***

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
Bookmark and Share

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.”

[ ... ]

“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
Bookmark and Share

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.”