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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

5 things the US government is doing to make foreign assistance more effective

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Jennifer Lentfer, Senior Writer on the Aid Effectiveness Team at Oxfam America. Lentfer highlights the aid effectiveness principles from Oxfam’s newly released third-edition Foreign Aid 101 report.

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#1 – AFFIRMING AID’S PURPOSE

President Barack Obama issued the US government’s first ever US Global Development Policy in September 2010. The policy clarifies that the primary purpose of US development aid is to pursue broad-based economic growth as the means to fight global poverty.

The US Global Development Policy also offers a clear mandate for country ownership—that is, leadership by citizens and responsible governments in poor countries—is how the US government will support development. The US has been moving in this direction since the George W. Bush administration.

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#2 – MODERNIZING USAID

USAID Forward is a flagship reform agenda designed to make USAID more transparent, effective, and accountable to US taxpayers and to people overseas.

The issue: USAID Forward addresses outdated procurement policies that perpetuate a cycle of aid dependence, rebuilding staff technical capacity, the reduction of overhead costs associated with contracting by 12–15 percent, the need for rigorous program feedback and evaluation, and finally, the role of innovation, science, and technology throughout USAID’s programs. At the heart of this reform process is acknowledging the leading role that local people and institutions have in transforming their countries.

The results: Since USAID Forward began, USAID has increased the amount of direct support to governments and to citizens and other leaders and problems solvers in host countries by almost 50 percent. In fiscal year 2010, only 9.7 percent of USAID mission funding was awarded directly to host country government agencies, private-sector firms, and local NGOs. In 2013, 14.3 percent of mission funds were awarded directly to these local institutions, which is halfway toward USAID’s goal of 30 percent by fiscal year 2015.

#3 – MAKING US FOREIGN AID MORE TRANSPARENT

The issue: Basic information about where, how much, and for what the US government provides aid has historically been difficult for people to access—both for American taxpayers and for the people in poor countries we are trying to assist. But when the US government shares high-quality, comprehensive, and timely information about our aid investments, it helps:

  • Partners plan better projects;
  • Watchdogs keep an eye on the money; and
  • Citizens both in the US and in partner countries make sure that aid delivers results.

The results: The US government is beginning to disclose basic aid data, as well as make that data more useful to citizens. In 2010, the US unveiled a public website, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, which provides a view of US aid across agencies and countries. President Obama has mandated publishing machine-readable data on US aid via executive orders and through public, international commitments like the Open Government Partnership. There have also been bipartisan efforts in both houses of Congress to require more transparency from US aid agencies via legislation.

In 2011, the US joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a global agreement by donors to share information about foreign aid in an easy-to-use manner. Since joining IATI, US rankings in the Aid Transparency Index have risen across the board, with the MCC ranking number one in 2013.

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#4 – DEVELOPING NEW MODELS OF PROVIDING AID

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a United States foreign aid agency that is applying a new philosophy towards foreign aid. Introduced by President George W. Bush and established by Congress in 2004, the MCC model requires countries to meet eligibility criteria in three areas: good governance, economic freedom, and investments in people. In return, the MCC provides large, five-year grants (“compacts”) toward development projects that are identified along with representatives from the host country government, private sector, and civil society and that are assessed on the basis of expected economic returns and other technical criteria.

From 2004-2013, the MCC signed compacts with 24 countries and committed over $9.3 billion in aid. Lesotho is an example of a country that took steps to improve economic freedom to become eligible for an MCC partnership by passing a law in 2006 that allowed married women to own property for the first time.

#5 – TACKLING GLOBAL CHALLENGES THROUGH LOCAL INSTITUTIONS

FEED THE FUTURE

The issue: About three-fourths of the world’s poorest people—1.4 billion women, children, and men—live in rural areas, where most of them depend on farming and related activities for their livelihood.

In recent years, increasing food prices around the globe have put pressure on many poor households. In response to these recurring food crises, the Obama administration in 2010 launched the Feed the Future initiative, which aims to help small farmers grow more food and grow their incomes. Feed the Future is designed to deliver aid for agricultural development and food security based on a country’s own assessment of needs and priorities. Feed the Future is also intended to focus on results and leverage US investments in local research and training on farming methods, irrigation, and nutrition for maximum outcomes.

The results: In 2012, almost 9.4 million acres—a land area nearly double that of New Jersey—came under improved cultivation and management practices due to Feed the Future investments, supporting seven million food producers. In Senegal for example, the use of conservation farming techniques resulted in at least a 20 percent increase in yields of maize, millet, and sorghum from 2011 to 2012.

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THE US PRESIDENT’S EMERGENCY PLAN FOR AIDS RELIEF (PEPFAR)

The issue: An estimated 35 million people were living with HIV around the world in 2012. The persistent burden associated with communicable diseases undermines efforts to reduce poverty, prevent hunger, and preserve human potential. Launched in 2003, PEPFAR helps expand access to prevention, care, and treatment by funding programs that are country-owned and country-driven, emphasizing a “whole of government” response to scaling-up proven interventions, which are increasingly financed by partner countries.

The results: PEPFAR has helped contributed to historic declines in AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections. Going forward, PEPFAR is addressing the continuing challenges of strengthening health systems in developing nations so countries ultimately care for and improve the health of their own people, better protecting the world from global disease outbreaks.

The Farm Bill reform that will feed millions

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Adam Olson, Oxfam America’s Regional Advocacy Lead based in Chicago. Olson writes about the reforms to international food aid in the 2014 Farm Bill.  The original post appeared on Food Tank.

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Tucked away in Title III of the 2014 US Farm Bill, occupying just one of its 357 pages, quietly sits a reform that will empower thousands of farmers to feed millions more people a year suffering from hunger. Despite its practicality and comparatively low profile, it represents a long, hard fought victory. It’s an expansion of local purchasing of international food aid – and it’s worth celebrating.

Food aid is the backstop of our global food supply. When all else fails, it stands between life and mass starvation. With more than 850 million people suffering from hunger, efficiency in supporting their right to food matters. By using up to $80 million a year to buy food from local sources instead of distant American ones, the reform will feed millions more people. The concept is simple. For instance, if food aid was needed in Vietnam and rice was available in nearby Thailand, it could be purchased there instead of the current practice of shipping it from the US.

This process, proven by other food aid donors and a US pilot project:

1. Cuts food and delivery costs by 25-50%;

2. Reduces the average time it takes to deliver food by 14 weeks;

3. Reaches more people at a lower cost;

4. And, can have longer-term benefit of investing in farmers abroad, making them better able to support their own communities.

Despite all this, even small steps toward permitting local purchasing have been bitterly opposed by special interests, including agribusinesses and shippers. They cling to an antiquated status quo that requires all food to come from the United States. This made some sense when established in the 1950s, when my grandparents were farming in Minnesota. America had a surplus of cheap commodities and food aid was difficult to procure elsewhere. This hasn’t been true for a long time.

The old regime isn’t even particularly profitable for those who defend it, and they know it. In a hilarious Daily Show segment, a shipping industry representative repeatedly cites “heritage” as reason to maintain obsolete regulations. A Farm Bureau economist told Reuters she was more concerned with a loss of “pride” than farm revenue. Food aid amounts to about one percent of US agricultural exports – not enough to measurably impact commodity prices. My grandparents would have been proud to sell that fraction of their crop elsewhere in order to support fellow farmers abroad.

It’s taken common-sense sentiments like that, pushed in a sustained effort over years to achieve this victory. A coalition of organizations, including American Jewish World ServiceBread for the WorldCARECatholic Relief ServicesMercy CorpsOxfam America, and others have helped lead the charge. Champions on Capitol Hill have seen it through. The tragic case of Typhoon Haiyan’s impact in the Philippines and resulting outcry for change emboldened advocates as the Farm Bill went to conference committee. This win is a big, lifesaving step forward.

However, local food aid procurement remains the exception to the rule. If fully funded, the new reform would account for about 5 percent of total food aid activities authorized under the Farm Bill. The best approach is to remove the straightjacket and allow the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to choose the best way to procure food based on individual circumstances. By doing so, an estimated 17 million more people could receive food aid at no extra cost. There is no one-size-fits-all method (see USAID’s great infographics here), and there will always be a need for some commodities grown in the US, but experts should make the call for each situation free of legislative constraints.

We came close to ending more of those restraints last year. President Obama proposed sweeping reform to allow food aid to be purchased locally. Another proposal,offered as a Farm Bill amendment by Representatives Royce and Engel, failed by only 17 votes[i]. The vote was remarkably bipartisan – the issue always has been. In fact, the Bush administration unsuccessfully called for reform. Local purchasing of food aid is something everyone can get behind.

2014 is the year to do it. We expect the Obama administration to continue to push for reform. Budgetary pressures aren’t letting up, mandating the kind of cost efficiencies local purchasing delivers. The need for food aid seems set grow in the short-term; the increasing threat of climate disasters and manmade disasters, like the plight of Syrian refugees, demand a more responsible approach.

2014 is also the International Year of the Family Farmer. What a great time to allow more farmers to respond to food emergencies and break cycles of aid dependency through a more flexible food aid system. Reform in the 2014 Farm Bill, while an important victory unto itself, has given us the momentum to do even better.

 


[i] Correction: Royce-Engel failed by 9 votes rather than 17

FY15 Budget Request Puts Heavy Emphasis on Initiatives

Friday, March 7th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Casey Dunning, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Global Development. Dunning writes about the President’s 2015 budget request. The original post appeared on CGD’s blog.

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President Obama launched the opening salvo in the FY2015 budget process with his recently released request, and while some of his foreign assistance proposals seem destined to go the way of the cutting room floor, you certainly can’t fault the request for having a specific point of view.

The FY2015 international affairs budget request is edgy (a word I’ve never used to describe a budget request) in what it chooses to prioritize and push for, given basically flat funding. Indeed the $50 billion request is actually 1 percent below enacted FY2014 levels due to a downsized Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The base International Affairs FY2015 request stands at $44.1 billion with an additional $5.9 billion for the OCO account.

Here are the priorities, highlights, and surprising reversals that stand out the most. There are quite a few, hence the longer post.

  • Power Africa powers up. This is the first budget request since the launch of the Power Africa Initiative last June.  President Obama wastes no time in seeking to advance this signature initiative, both rhetorically and monetarily. The only actual line item at this point is a $77 million USAID allocation for technical assistance, risk mitigation, and regulatory reforms. But the budget request draws on the resources of the MCC (see more on MCC’s budget request here), OPIC, Export-Import Bank, and USTDA – all of which see increased budgets. If the bipartisan support around theElectrify Africa Act is any indication, funding for expanded energy access in Africa stands a good chance of making it into a final FY2015 appropriations bill.
  • OCO decreased in $ and expanded in scope. The OCO request sees a $600 million decrease compared to FY2014 enacted levels. The President’s request also puts forth a big substantive shift by expanding its country scope. In the past, OCO was almost exclusively reserved for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. However, the FY2015 request devotes $1.5 billion for Syria and to support transitions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This shift away from a singular focus on the “Frontline States” represents a recognition that these three countries can no longer dominate US foreign policy interests.
  • Feed the Future lives on. With its contemporary cohorts dead (Global Health Initiative) or under-resourced (Global Climate Change Initiative), the Feed the Future Initiative stands out in the FY2015 budget request with a $1 billion allocation, roughly 5 percent higher than in FY2013. The multi-year Feed the Future effort is due to wrap up in 2015 (at least for the first phase), and the budget request aims to ensure the initiative finishes strong.
  • Aid for humanitarian efforts in Syria is up; aid for efforts everywhere else down. The FY2015 budget request singles out humanitarian efforts in and around Syria to the tune of $1.1 billion. (And this doesn’t include additional aid for opposition groups and transition funding in Syria).  At the same time, other humanitarian assistance accounts get slashed by over $1.5 billion, with the Migration and Refugee Assistance account getting hit the hardest (a 33 percent cut). Due to large carryover funds, this cut shouldn’t mean a direct hit for humanitarian assistance, but expect some scrambling if any new crises strike.
  • Global Health is no longer a sacred cow. For the first time since 2000, the funding request for global health programs has decreased. This year’s global health request still stands at a mighty $8.1 billion (a full 18 percent of the base budget request). But, this level represents a 4.6 percent drop compared to enacted levels last year.
  • The aid spotlight swings to Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan in the dark. Aid to Afghanistan grew in this year’s budget request as compared to FY2014 appropriations, increasing 4 percent to $1.4 billion. This increase stands in stark contrast to the 44 percent reduction in aid to Pakistan. This near halving comes as a result of the conclusion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill and the availability of sizeable carry-over funds. Yet, the reduction sends a worrying signal at a time when the US and Pakistani governments are in the midst of a successful Strategic Dialogue process.
  • USAID operating expenses, ever the unsexy line item, get a needed boost. The FY2015 budget request proposes a 21.4 percent increase to USAID OE after a painful FY2014 cut. OE funds are necessary in providing adequate levels of personnel to implement, manage, and monitor programs around the world while giving USAID the ability to lead Feed the Future, robustly contribute to Power Africa, and institutionalize its USAID Forward reforms.
  • USAID’s Global Development Lab given funding to experiment. Meant to be a legacy of Administrator Raj Shah, the newly founded Global Development Lab is funded at $146.3 million in the budget request. The Lab is born out of a merger of two offices (and their resources): the IDEA office and the Office of Science and Technology. Administrator Shah is due to officially launch the Lab in late March so details are still sparse, but the new entity aligns with the budget request’s emphasis on innovation, technology, and the modernization of development.
  • Multilateral institutions get much-need attention. FY 2015 looks to be a catch-up and consolidation year as funding requests are up slightly for the regional development banks, multilateral debt relief programs, and most of the environmental trust funds. The request also offers the first official announcement of the US pledge to IDA-17 and includes funding for the long-delayed IMF quota reform package, which the administration is separately seeking to move more quickly in an emergency Ukraine assistance package.
  • Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative makes a big splash, and will most certainly drown. This new initiative – clocking in at $56 billion, with half for defense and half for non-defense programs – is a veritable grab bag of funding allocations. Less than $1 billion is meant for international affairs programs, but these allocations are directed to multiple programs including the MCC, GAFSP, the Global Fund, Feed the Future, USAID’s Global Development Lab, maternal and child health, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. While the extra allocations would no doubt be welcome additions to these entities, the chances of this initiative making its way through Congress are slim to none.

The budget request does an admirable job of honing in on key initiatives and programs that President Obama sees as transformative in power and scope. It also includes a scaled-back but important development-related reform – a proposal to make food aid more flexible, allowing this assistance to reach an additional two million people each year. Stay tuned to the Rethink blog for updates on how each of these initiatives fare as the FY2015 appropriations process gets underway on the Hill.

For a detailed breakdown of the FY2015 budget request including specific line-item changes, see USGLC’s excellent analysis here.

The President’s Budget: What to Expect When We’re Expecting

Friday, February 28th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Liz Schrayer, Executive Director of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and MFAN Executive Committee Member. Schrayer writes about her expectations for the President’s 2015 budget request. This original post can be found on USGLC’s blog.

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On Tuesday the President will unveil the Administration’s FY15 budget and begin yet another round of negotiations with Congress on funding priorities.  The decisions will ultimately have a real impact on the international stage, so here is what’s worth watching once the budget is announced:

  • Cut or Not Cut? The first item to watch is whether or not international affairs programs receives an overall cut, and if so how big will it be? Will it be a small “haircut” or disproportionately cut compared to other non-defense programs? Remember, the Murray-Ryan budget deal brokered last December left little room for increasing discretionary programs for this year — only about $600 million overall.  So no programs are getting much of an increase.  The good news is that Secretary Kerry is a tough negotiator, and the Administration is well aware of the important humanitarian and diplomatic security needs throughout the globe.
  • How Much for War Funding? Over the past three years, some funding for international programs has come from the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCO) to cover the enormous cost of diplomatic and development efforts in Frontline States and some of the emergency and unanticipated security costs in other hotspots.  These additional funds (upwards of $10.5 billion last year) have been vital sources of funding but have to be absorbed into base funding as we withdraw from two wars.  Unfortunately, some years, the Administration limited their request for OCO resources to only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq despite consistent Congressional direction to expand the scope of OCO.

While we are strong advocates for increased base funding, we have encouraged the Administration to make a more realistic OCO request and maintain current levels ($6.5 billion) to deal with humanitarian crises in Syria and elsewhere.  So watch if the Administration’s OCO request includes some expansion beyond the Frontline States to deal with these crises.

  • Presidential Initiatives?  Budgets always provide roadmaps of priorities – both programmatic and country.  The Administration has several priority programs – food security, global health, climate change, Power Africa – and it will be interesting to see how the budgets of key agencies are affected.  Here are a few items to watch:
    • Presidential Initiatives – Will the Administration continue to ask for strong funding for key priorities such as Feed the Future, global health, and their most recent effort in Power Africa? How will a re-energized focus on climate change impact the international scene?
    • Given the crises in Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, how will humanitarian crises, peacekeeping and continued security requirements be reflected in the budget?
    • As the U.S. and Europe try to shore up the Ukrainian economy with a rapid aid package, what pressures might that place on other spending?
    • Will the Administration attempt to build on partial gains made recently on reforming U.S. food assistance?
    • How will the budget reflect challenges in places like Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
  • Continued Commitment on Reform? A signature of this Administration has been to build on the reforms of the Bush era in bringing accountability and transparency to our foreign assistance programs.  Last year the MCC scored highest on the Aid Transparency Index, making the Corporation the most open aid agency in the world.  USAID Forward has led the way with a significant scale-up of its evaluation and learning capacity so we can better understand what impact our programs are making.  Will we see continued investments in operating funds at USAID, State Department and other smart power agencies and what will happen w­­ith new efforts in science, technology and innovation?

There are lots more questions to ask, and we will be up late into the night as soon as all the numbers come out to answer these and other questions about how we see the budget impacting international programs.

The spotlight will quickly shift to Capitol Hill, where Secretary Kerry and other Administration officials will defend the President’s request in hearings and where Chairman Ryan is expected to mark up a competing FY15 budget in March.

Expectations for the President’s 2015 Budget

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow in global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair. Veillette writes about what she expects to see in President Obama’s forthcoming 2015 budget request. The original post can be found on The Lugar Center’s blog.

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The President’s 2015 budget is scheduled for release on March 4.  This marks another year that its release has been delayed despite provisions in the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 that designates the first Monday in February for its submission to Congress.  This year’s delay largely reflects late congressional action in completing the 2014 budget and appropriations processes. Of course, late budget releases inevitably contribute to the end of the fiscal year deadline (September 30) also being ignored.

The President has signaled that he wants to move past our current period of austerity that has defined White House and Congressional budgets for a number of years. What will this mean for foreign assistance and development issues? Will foreign aid still comprise just 1% of the total budget? Will it include dedicated funding for the President’s new Power Africa initiative? Where do administration initiatives such as Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and other new ventures fit? My crystal ball is notoriously cloudy, but here’s where I think some of this will go.

Feed the Future, the administration’s food security initiative that targets 19 countries with activities that stimulate agriculture and related sectors, will likely stay level funded at a little over $1 billion, give or take a couple hundred million for nutrition/health programs or climate change activities. Since these issues are so intertwined, some funding can be counted toward multiple objectives.

Speaking of which, Secretary Kerry’s interest in climate change may well be reflected in the budget with increased funding. Last year’s request for the Global Climate Change Initiative was a slight cut from previous years. Figuring out how much to spend in 2014 will be made more difficult by the fact that the two accounts (Development Assistance and Economic Support Fund) used to fund it took a hit in the omnibus spending bill. Given the administration’s interest in global agriculture, there could be much more done to help small holders adapt to changing growing conditions.

Momentum around food aid reform has been building for at least a couple of years. The administration’s far-reaching reform proposal in last year’s budget was watered down just enough to give hope to reformers while still providing comfort to status quo supporters. I expect that the original 2014 proposal will again find its way into the upcoming budget. I also expect little progress in calendar year 2014 given that the Farm Bill, in which the compromise was included, was signed into law just this month.

It was announced in January that the new Global HIV/AIDS Coordinator will be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that the largest portion of the Global Health Initiative will be run by a non-development agency. The CDC certainly knows its stuff, but using health as an economic growth springboard isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, global health programs remain popular on the Hill and within the administration. The administration might actually propose a slight cut in health programs knowing that Congress will add the money back in.

Power Africa is the latest administration initiative with the goal of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. The White House’s intent is to fund Power Africa at $7 billion over five years through a number of U.S. agencies (USAID, OPIC, Ex-Im Bank, MCC, and African Development Bank) and private companies. I would expect a $1 billion request as the first down payment.

Funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has been maintained well below $1 billion for the last several years despite bipartisan support. With six country compacts in the pipeline, three of which are Power Africa countries, I would expect that the 2015 request will top the $1 billion mark.

Selectivity and focus became catchwords during austerity. Some of us even wrote tomes on how to get more value for our aid dollars. Even if austerity is a thing of the past, and I don’t believe it is or should be, making our aid dollars go further by paying greater attention to efficiencies and effectiveness is a good thing. Having said that, I don’t expect much selectivity and focus in the form of transitioning middle income countries off aid, closing and paring back U.S. aid missions, or getting out of sectors in which we have little comparative advantage.

Many of the administration’s initiatives are quite ambitious but none will achieve their objectives if U.S. agencies are not equipped to deliver results.  USAID Forward, a rebuilding framework to strengthen USAID, find efficiencies and reward innovation, will likely see a modest increase above FY2014 levels. Keep in mind that Congress cut these programs by 10.9% from the 2013 sequestration level so I’m not going out on a limb with this one.  The requested 2015 level will likely allow for a continuation of initiatives but not a robust expansion. The critical parts of USAID Forward, in my opinion, are the rebuilding of in-house expertise, the evaluation of the agency’s work, and learning to work with local aid groups and civil society in what USAID calls Local Solutions. (For analysis on the use of local systems to implement USAID programs, see this Center for American Progress report.)

There are many more accounts and programs that I haven’t the space to cover. We at TLC will be doing some deeper dives come March 4. Stay tuned.