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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

Statement: MFAN Applauds Important Reform Elements in the Global Food Security Act of 2015

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
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March 25, 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 is pleased to see that the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (H.R. 1567), recently reintroduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), includes important reform elements that would help strengthen accountability mechanisms and promote greater country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance programs related to food security and global agricultural development.

MFAN believes that accountability is best achieved through transparency, evaluation and learning, which is why it is encouraging to see the Global Food Security Act of 2015 incorporate components of all three areas. The legislation promotes transparency by requiring that indicators and benchmarks be established to measure progress, and that results and spending information be reported publicly in a transparent and timely manner. It also calls for a whole-of-government approach to establishing coherent and coordinated monitoring and evaluation systems; and it states that strategies, partnerships, and programs be regularly reviewed and updated and that lessons learned be shared with a wide range of stakeholders.

The legislation also demonstrates a commitment to principles of country ownership. It requires that U.S. government agriculture, nutrition, and food security strategies align with country-owned strategies, and that plans be developed with input from relevant stakeholders in partner countries. It also calls for a USG strategy on building local capacity in order to support the long-term success of programs.

We applaud the bill sponsors for the inclusion of these elements as they are crucial to ensuring greater effectiveness and sustainability of U.S. global food security and agriculture programs. However, we believe the legislation could be made even stronger in several ways. First, the coordinating function within the U.S. government should lie with the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), our principal development agency, rather than the White House. USAID has been leading the development programming for the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative since its inception and has the requisite expertise and experience to lead coordination across U.S. agencies. Second, reporting on spending and project data should be done in accordance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which the U.S. has already committed to implementing, and measures should be included to ensure that this data is accessible by all development stakeholders, especially the beneficiaries. Third, the legislation should specify that local, developing country institutions be the first option for implementing programs where appropriate capacity and conditions exist.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the reform elements in the bill are strengthened.

USAID and PEPFAR: Institutionalizing Local Ownership for Sustainability

Thursday, March 12th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Justin Fugle, Senior Advisor for Policy and Program Outreach for Plan International USA. This piece originally appeared on Plan’s blog on March 9.

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Although the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Local Solutions is often associated with recently-departed Administrator Raj Shah, a panel discussion at Plan International USA’s office in Washington DC on March 3 made it clear that localization has deeper roots in the Agency and will continue. This is good news for aid effectiveness and for USAID itself, for Local Solutions is critical to USAID’s renewed influence in the wider development community.

As Counselor to the Agency, Susan Reichle acknowledged as much when she said, “For USAID to be the lead development agency, we need to put partnering locally front and center.”

Within the U.S. government, both the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) continue to break new ground on local ownership for sustainability. In the wider world, the same principles have been embraced and implemented by the Department for International Development (DFID), other European aid agencies, and in the consensus documents from Paris, Accra, and Busan. Increasingly, partner country governments are insisting that donors align with local priorities, and the in-country USAID Missions hear them. Local ownership is a central assumption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well. With all this in mind, the institutionalization of Local Solutions must be seen as a top USAID priority.

If Plan’s experience is any guide, institutionalizing local ownership requires a significant change in business practices and a radical shift in mindset. As donors and INGOs, we have to be willing to transfer our power to capable local actors and to be driven by their agendas. 

By doing so, we greatly increase the chances that the work will be scaled-up and sustained. Plan’s ex-post evaluations have found that when programs are jointly designed, implemented, and financed by Plan and local actors, the chance of sustainability increases significantly. During the panel, PEPFAR’s Director of Sustainability and Development Dr. Janis Timberlake agreed. 

“Our goal is programs that are locally managed, funded and implemented,” she said.

USAID Local Solutions Coordinator Liz Warfield further outlined the principles at work.

“Local Solutions is not just about [Implementation and Procurement Reform] it is using, strengthening, and partnering with local actors to achieve sustainable impact…. To fulfill USAID’s Mission of ending extreme poverty, we need to work with existing systems and not around them or against them…. In fragile states, they may need capacity development first, but even in fragile states, there are systems and we should use them…. [T]here is a clear role for international partners, but that is moving from a direct service delivery mentality to the role of broker and facilitator,” she said.

Warfield outlined a number of steps underway and planned within USAID to institutionalize this major shift. Among them is the revision of the ADS 200 Series, which is the mandatory and best practice guidance to the Missions on planning, programming, evaluation, and other key topics that significantly influence the final shape of USAID’s funding and management decisions. Other steps include staff training, staff incentives, and collecting evidence of the lasting impact of local ownership.

This last aspect is essential if Local Solutions is to survive into the next administration and beyond. Evidence is critical to support the assertions that local ownership truly increases sustainability, providing lasting benefits to the population. In that sense, one of the most significant announcements during the panel at Plan was Warfield’s explanation that USAID will collect evidence of the results of Local Solutions through mid-term evaluations, meta-evaluations, and ex-post evaluations three to five years after close-out.

As Warfield said, “The idea of ex-post evaluations will influence the way we do programming.” Rather than being satisfied with positive results at close out, USAID will move towards measuring success through sustainability. Quick but rootless gains will be exposed and practices that strengthen local systems will be favored. The axiom that what gets measured gets done mandates that if sustainability is the goal, then ex-post evaluations must join baselines, mid-terms, and finals as a standard part of USAID and PEPFAR’s program designs.

What We Learned: Looking Back at “Do More with Data”

Friday, March 6th, 2015
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Last week, MFAN and AidData, in cooperation with the State Department and USAID, hosted Do More with Data: Moving U.S. Government Aid Transparency Forward, an event that brought together internal and external drivers of U.S. government foreign assistance transparency to explore ongoing and new efforts for making data more readily available for more people. Following the event, we asked three of MFAN’s leading thinkers on transparency and accountability to share their takeaways from the event. See below for thoughts from George Ingram, Lori Rowley, and Diana Ohlbaum and see here for a Storify of the Twitter activity from the event.

George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair

A big takeaway from what was a very open and enlightening discussion is the contrast between the commitment and understanding by U.S. government foreign affairs officials of the importance of open data and the data “disarray” within those agencies.  Officials at the meeting advocated strongly for the value of transparency in foreign assistance data, and this advocacy is seen in the forward position the U.S. is taking in the international discussions around a post-2015 set of sustainable development goals. But, with the possible exception of the MCC, U.S. foreign affairs agencies are incapable of practicing that commitment. Agencies have multiple internal data systems that lack inter-operability and do not allow communication or sharing of data between agencies. U.S. agencies are good at tracking financial data – at feeding the accountants – but wholly inadequate in providing information of what is spent where, how, and with whom – on getting critical program data in the hands of program managers and stakeholders.

As one speaker put it, who are we to be telling developing country officials about open data.  It is good to see officials from the Department of State and USAID taking data transparency seriously, but, as someone suggested, there is still the problem of moving it up the chain of priorities – until it becomes a real priority, progress will be slow and inadequate.

Lori Rowley, Director, Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

There were a host of positives that came out of this event for me. First and foremost was the large number of people who took the time to attend and participate in the event, a reinforcement that data is relevant and useful to a host of people throughout the public and private sectors.  It was a full house!

Next, as the facilitator of a breakout session with Catherine Marschner of the MCC, the agency known as the leader within the U.S. Government on data transparency, I was reminded again of the vital role of leadership in accomplishing open data goals. As far ahead as the MCC is in reporting its data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), Catherine reminded the group that there are technical challenges that take time to work through in order to achieve reporting goals. The opportunity for a dialogue with Catherine among other agency representatives was also a great positive of the event.  Often agency representatives are working in a vacuum with regard to their data and reporting requirements and it is just one portion of their jobs, but the event gave them the venue to ask detailed questions, get recommendations for solutions, and support each other in their common goals.

Finally, just as we at MFAN regularly remind ourselves and others, demand for timely, reliable data must continue to grow in order for government managers to continue to see the relevance of ensuring its openness. This point was reinforced by government data managers at the event.

Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and MFAN’s Accountability Working Group Co-Chair

The event helped crystallize for me four separate types of open data needing focus.

The first is the one we are all familiar with: data that is collected but not published, often due to technical problems in extracting good data from existing systems.  In all likelihood, this will ultimately require the creation of new systems and processes for tracking foreign assistance activities and spending.

The second is data that is collected but not shared, such as the missing data from USDA, the Defense Department, and other agencies that have been less than forthcoming with the Dashboard requirements.  Although there are some technical issues at play here, what seems to be missing is a sense of urgency or priority on the part of these agencies.

The third type of missing data is one we are just beginning to grapple with: data that is not even collected by some agencies, such as project-level data.  This data will be needed not only to fulfill our IATI commitment, but also to provide the types of information that are most useful to local stakeholders, yet there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan in place to begin collecting it.

Finally, there is information that is already available and easily publishable, but not centrally collected, indexed, or linked to the Dashboard.  Most of this is what we call “unstructured data” – things like Country Development Cooperation Strategies, project descriptions, answers to Congressional questions for the record, and the wide variety of informational materials that Missions hand out locally.  Although they are not machine-readable or useful for high-level data analysis, these Word documents and PDFs can be extremely valuable to those trying to understand the granular details of a program, project, or policy.

While there are many small solutions, there is only one big solution: a demonstrated political commitment to open data, to using data as a management tool, and to full IATI compliance from the highest levels of each U.S. government department and agency.

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.