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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

Questions for Congressional Consideration: Our Budget Hearing Wish List

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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Beginning this week, Congress will be calling administration officials up to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the President’s FY2016 Budget Request, which was released earlier this month. In advance of the hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry and USAID Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt, we’ve given some thought to what issues we’d like to see come up and learn more about. See below for some of the questions on foreign aid reform that we’re itching to ask the Secretary and Acting Administrator… and we hope Congress is as well.

On accountability:

1)      Is the USG going to meet its commitment to full compliance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative? If not, which agencies/departments are lagging behind? What will the Secretary and Administrator do to exert the political leadership in order ensure their agencies meet the year-end deadline? [See more on this from Publish What You Fund and Brookings]

2)      How will the Secretary ensure that the evaluations now being conducted will (a) be methodologically rigorous and of good quality; (b) be made public in their entirety, and not just their summaries; and (c) be used to guide decision-making, and not just put on a shelf somewhere?

3)      Will the Secretary commit to working with Congress to lock in important reforms such as the Dashboard, the IATI commitment, and the requirement for all foreign assistance agencies to establish and implement evaluation policies? [See more on this from MFAN’s Co-Chairs]

On country ownership:

1)      How is the administration planning to continue and expand its support for initiatives like USAID’s Local Solutions that emphasize the importance of designing and implementing inclusive Country Strategies and programs that work with local partners to build local country ownership?

2)      What is USAID’s current progress towards meeting the goals of Local Solutions? How is Local Solutions being operationalized in-country and what are the outcomes and lessons learned to date? [See more on this from MFAN Co-Chair Carolyn Miles]

3)      In advance of this summer’s Financing for Development conference and in recognition of the changing landscape of development finance, how is the administration considering leveraging alternative finance mechanisms like domestic resource mobilization and co-financing? [See more on this from CGD and Oxfam]

On other reform issues:

1)      When will the second QDDR be released, how will accountability and country ownership be reflected in its recommendations, and who will be in charge of ensuring that it gets implemented?

2)      What progress has been made toward implementing the Partnership for Growth program in the four pilot countries of El Salvador, Ghana, Philippines, and Tanzania? Is the administration planning to expand the use of joint constraints to growth analyses in partner countries, which are a key component of PFG, with other partner governments? [See more on this from CGD]

MFAN Statement: President Obama’s FY16 Budget Shows Continued Support for Foreign Assistance Reform

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
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February 4, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

MFAN welcomes the Obama Administration’s FY2016 budget request, which includes several important reform elements and increased resources for initiatives that will improve aid effectiveness.  The $54.8 billion request, which allocates $47.8 billion for base funding and $7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), is a 7.7% increase from current spending, not including supplemental spending for the Ebola crisis. The base funding request is $6.1 billion higher than current spending levels, a 14.7% increase, as funds are shifted from the OCO fund back to the base budget.

In addition to the strong base funding request, MFAN is pleased to see the inclusion of key provisions that would help advance reform and overall effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid in the request.

  • MCC Funding Gets a Boost: The MCC request comes in at $1.25 billion, a 39% increase over FY15. The MCC’s innovative approach to development prioritizes transparency and country ownership, which are key pieces of MFAN’s policy agenda, to reduce poverty and promote economic growth.
  • Increase in USAID Operating Expenses: Operating Expenses are essential for providing adequate personnel and training to implement and monitor programs and institutionalize USAID Forward reforms. In this request, OE receives a 17% boost, which is expected to help offset projected decreases in other sources of funding to maintain current operations.
  • Authorization for a USAID Working Capital Fund: The establishment of a USAID WCF would help increase procurement flexibility, in line with the USAID Forward agenda.
  • Additional flexibility for International Food Aid: While the overall Food for Peace Title II request is down from FY15, the request includes the authority to use up to 25% (or $350 million) of Title II resources for cash-based food assistance for emergencies. With this increased flexibility, USAID can reach approximately 2 million more emergency beneficiaries a year.
  • More Funding for Foreign Assistance Program Evaluation in State’s F Bureau: Within the Economic Support Fund (ESF), State has requested $2.4 million for Foreign Assistance Program Evaluation in the F Bureau, an increase of $900,000 from FY14 spending. This increase in funding can help ensure better training for staff and better quality evaluations to help inform program decision-making.
  • PEPFAR Impact Fund: The request includes $300 million to be set aside for a new PEPFAR Impact Fund, aimed to support more targeted efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. The fund would be allocated to countries with “the greatest need and ability to realign resources based on evidence to reach epidemic control, increase their own share of HIV budgets, and take greater ownership of data collection and expenditure analysis.”

While MFAN believes that the FY16 international affairs budget request demonstrates a continued commitment to aid effectiveness, we were concerned to see a decrease in the funding request for the Foreign Assistance Dashboard from FY14 levels. Given the U.S. commitment to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the amount of work left to meet that commitment by the end of this year, a decrease in funding for the Dashboard could hurt our efforts for greater aid transparency. We will be watching closely for these reform elements as the request moves through Congress.

State of the Union 2015: What “Smart Development” Means for Reform as the Clock Winds Down

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his next-to-last State of the Union address in which he laid out an ambitious, and largely domestic, agenda for his last two years of office. While the foreign policy pieces of the address were more concerned with defense (mostly) and diplomacy (occasionally), we were pleased to hear the President highlight the importance of development and ending extreme poverty.

In discussing the Ebola crisis, which began spreading through West Africa this time last year, President Obama noted that we need to be investing “in smart development” and building “a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics.” Countries hardest hit by Ebola are those lacking the domestic health systems to effectively deal with the disease — a problem that could be mitigated by focusing more resources on strengthening local systems and broadening health services.

President Obama also made the case for acting on climate change or we risk increasing “massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.” This need to address climate change and integrate climate resilience into our development work has been echoed by the discussions around the Post-2015 agenda and is likely to be a key theme in the forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

We thank President Obama for pointing to the need for smarter, more effective development, and recognize that this administration has implemented a number of important reforms. Efforts like USAID Forward and the Local Solutions initiative are helping to ensure that we are looking for locally led solutions to development problems. The State Department and USAID have established and implemented evaluation policies to improve agency M&E practices. USAID’s reconstituted policy shop encourages learning. PEPFAR and the MCC have prioritized open data and transparency to drive better development programs.

We call on the administration to institutionalize these reforms so that their benefits are sustained. And we ask that commitments made with regard to transparency and country ownership are met. Above all, we call on the President to quickly appoint a capable development leader as USAID administrator in order to sustain and further these gains before he leaves office.

This Administration has made strides to change the narrative on U.S. foreign assistance, but as President Obama said last night, “the job is not yet done.” We look forward to working with the Administration over these final two years to institutionalize this important progress.

Transforming U.S. Foreign Aid through Country Ownership

Thursday, January 15th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.

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Throughout my life, and particularly in my work with Save the Children, I have seen examples of where aid has made a powerful difference in helping to transform people’s lives; and I’ve seen it fail.

When it works, whether it comes in the form of health, nutrition, or humanitarian projects that prevent thousands of deaths or in education that provides children the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, aid can play a crucial role in meeting the needs of billions of children and families around the globe and literally changing the future.

And when it fails, its impacts range from insignificant to actually leaving communities worse off in a range of ways.

Because of this, an important part of our advocacy at Save the Children is directed at improving the way aid is delivered to maximize its positive impact.  Research has shown time and time again that foreign assistance is more effective and sustainable when those local governments and communities on the receiving end have a strong voice in deciding and developing the relevant projects, using their vast local knowledge and skills.   When developing countries are in the driver’s seat and leading the design, implementation, and management of development activities we are closer to achieving country ownership.

Country ownership has become an increasingly important aspect of U.S. development projects.  In 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched USAID Forward, a set of policy reforms, to strengthen the agency and restructure its approach to aid.  The Local Solutions initiative is a key aspect of USAID Forward that focuses on bolstering local capacity, promoting country ownership, and increasing sustainability of program results.  The initiative has the potential to transform the way aid is administered, implemented, and ultimately the effects it has on millions of lives in developing countries.

However, the initiative currently uses a single indicator to track progress – percentage of USAID Mission funds provided directly to local institutions.  This single measure is insufficient to evaluate such a multi-faceted effort.

Save the Children has recently released a report entitled, Tracking USAID’s Efforts on the Local Solutions Initiative: A Review of Select Procurements in Six Countries.  For this research, Save the Children looked at the procurement documents that so often shape how policies at the headquarters level translate into programs in the field.  Based on the content of these procurements, our researchers scored USAID’s efforts to promote county ownership across the six countries.  They found that in all six countries reviewed, USAID integrates country ownership principles satisfactorily.  Moreover, USAID collects a wealth of data through its programs that could be analyzed to assess its multi-faceted effort more comprehensively and used more strategically to inform its operations – particularly its engagement with local institutions.

The report recommends three action for USAID: 1) conduct a more comprehensive review of efforts across all countries implementing the Local Solutions initiative to report on progress and identify and scale up promising practices; 2) adopt additional standardized indicators to complement the current single indicator and expand the agency’s ability to track more broadly its efforts to promote country ownership; and 3) pay more attention to the local institutions working on agency-funded activities as sub-grantees or sub-contractors.

Effective tools to evaluate country ownership can impact the way USAID does development and could shift the entire sector towards practices that advance countries’ local priorities and ownership over decisions about their own development.  Similarly, adopting a consistent set of indicators would ensure that all USAID Missions around the world “speak the same language” and learn from each other.

The procurements reviewed show that USAID is prompting movement in the right direction with the Local Solutions initiative.  In Uganda, USAID is emphasizing the need for its projects to be measured against the goals of the Government of Uganda, not just its own goals.  Furthermore, USAID is recommending that monitoring and evaluation of project activities be carried out with participation from local organizations.

Country ownership – and USAID’s Local Solutions initiative – can transform the way aid is delivered while upholding human dignity and supporting people to become agents of their own development.  Save the Children’s report attempts to fill crucial information gaps in the implementation of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative and draw the aid community’s attention to the urgent need for a comprehensive progress update as the initiative enters its fifth year of implementation.

A Race to the Top: The 2014 Aid Transparency Index and Why it Matters

Friday, October 17th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Sarah Lucas, Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This piece originally appeared on the Hewlett Foundation’s blog on October 16.

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The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) won the race to the top in 2014. But if the past few years are any indication, it won’t hold onto the top spot for long. Last year the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation took top honors, and in 2012 it was the UK Department for International Development. The fact that the race is on—for increased transparency in foreign assistance—is a huge tribute to Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index (ATI). The Index, in its fourth year of publication, ranks an ever-growing number of global donors (currently 68) on how transparent their spending is.

Last week’s launch of the 2014 ATI at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC offered four very different leaders in transparency a chance to talk about how ATI is inspiring agencies to action, and why that matters—one each from a multilateral donor, a bilateral donor, a civil society network, and a ministry of finance.

Ranking tenth in 2012, and forth in 2013, UNDP crept their way up to #1 on the Index in 2014. They took the long-view, built the necessary systems, and in the words of Haoliang Xu, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, they made a deliberate decision to change their culture and mindset toward openness—not just at headquarters, but across their 140 country offices.

If UNDP ran a marathon to the top spot, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) ran a sprint. PEPFAR ranks only 30th on the 2014 Index, so why the hype? Well, just last year they were number 50. PEPFAR is a clear case of what you can achieve if you have a real champion for open data in the drivers’ seat. Ambassador Deborah Birx, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and head of PEPFAR, is just that. With three decades working in HIV/AIDS immunology, vaccine research, and global health, she came into office with a clear-eyed and heartfelt interest in data. She started at PEPFAR in April 2014, just three months before the cut-off for data collection for the 2014 ATI. After the launch event, a representative of Publish What you Fund mentioned that Birx has asked them what she could do to improve on the Index. No one believed she could move the needle in 2014 because she had so little time. But in the course of just a few weeks, she took the program up 20 spots. Proof positive that political will is more important than the technical or administrative complications of opening the books.

As interesting as the horserace is, it is not nearly as interesting as why UNDP and PEPFAR made these moves. Why do these agencies want to be in the race at all?

The most common “whys” behind aid transparency center on two principles:

Facilitate accountability—If citizens (in both donor and recipient countries) have more information about aid flows, they can better hold their governments accountable for using it well. Dalitso Kubalasa, Executive Director of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, made this case clearly at the launch event. For years he and his colleagues have literally had to knock on the doors of donors and their own government to eke out data about who is spending what in his country. That’s definitely one way to slow him down in holding his government accountable!

Improve planning—How can country governments, and their donor partners, plan interventions and allocate resources if they don’t have a clear picture of what others are doing? How do you know whether to allocate your scarce education resources to teacher training, building classrooms, or school feeding programs if you don’t know who is doing what in the sector?

These reasons are compelling enough. But Birx and Xu took it a big step further. At the launch, they told us why increased transparency matters for their ability to get their jobs done. Together, they argued that more transparency helps them:

Build a base of support—Xu noted that UNDP relies on voluntary contributions and being transparent about what they do makes it easier to attract support. Birx pointed out that in the face of so many domestic priorities, the American people deserve to know how aid dollars are being spent. She also argued that only with hard data can you make the case that we are not “done” with HIV/AIDS even though global advocates have partly moved on to other things.

Promote innovation and learn from failure—Subject yourself to scrutiny, Xu argued, and you’ll learn how to improve. “There is a lot of self-interest in this,” he said. And while most data agencies don’t yet release much data on program results (focusing first on the more universally comparable financial data), Publish What You Fund hopes they will in the future. Birx is on board with that. “Negative results would be great,” she said, because they give you a chance to build on lessons, do better in the future and help others avoid your mistakes.

These additional “whys”—as compelling as they are—are inwardly-focused. All of the speakers, including keynote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance from Nigeria, encouraged us to dream even bigger. The future vision for aid transparency includes being able to:

Spend more time doing good work, and less time tracking down the dollars—Several audience members rightfully asked, who is actually using aid data in developing countries? I’llnever forget meeting the poor guy in Malawi charged with tracking and coordinating across donor-funded health programs. Tucked away in a basement office in the Ministry of Health, he had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stacked with binders, each labeled for a different donor—PEPFAR, Global Fund, JICA, UNDP, USAID, SIDA, AFDB, DFID, and on and on. Imagine if instead of riffling through all these binders to answer the question, “how much are donors spending on malaria prevention and treatment in Malawi?” he could go to a one-stop-shop for data online? That vision is why the ATI not only measures if agencies make their data public, but also whether they report it to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)’s Registry.

Set a high bar for developing governments too—Both Minister Okonjo-Iweala and Kubalasa were passionate on this point. Aid is only one piece of the puzzle, and for some, at least, an increasingly small one. There is a collective responsibility for development outcomes and transparency of financial flows. By getting their own houses in order, donors set an example for partner countries to publish their budgets as well. Minister Okonjo-Iweala said, almost to herself, “I haven’t published all the aid we have received . . . maybe I should do that. It would be a good complement to publishing our own budget.” She then added more firmly, “We are moving, but haven’t reached Nirvana yet!”

Better target resources to needs—Birx got practically giddy when she described what’s next for PEPFAR: site-level data (think villages or communities). She said all partner organizations funded by PEPFAR in 2014 had to agree to produce site-level data. Why is Birx pushing for this? If you look at average values for resources or results across all program sites, you won’t know which are under/over resourced relative to need. But if you can triangulate site-level data—for example, on resource flows, rates of counseling and testing services, results in prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and HIV positivity levels, you could seriously tailor your interventions, use your more money more wisely, and save more lives.

Attract creative minds to solve complex problems—In another call for multi-dimensional analysis, Birx expressed frustration at not being able to bring together economic, demographic, health, and financial data to really understand complex development problems and the resources dedicated to solving them. However, there are surely data-savvy, service-minded people who can do this. The key, she argued, is to make databases “appealing and discernable” enough to attract attention. It’s not enough to put gobs of data on a website. People need help navigating the data and understanding why they’re important. That’s why the ATI measures not only availability of data, but its accessibility too. Six of the seven top performers in 2014 have open data portals that promote access to and use of their data. For example, check out portals for DFIDSweden,UNDPMCC and the World Bank.

These speakers made a compelling case for why aid transparency matters, and why they will continue to push their own agencies to improve. With all this motivation, let’s hope we see even more donors jockeying to move up the Index in 2015.